Monday, March 31, 2008

Hey I Own a Specialized... err a Chevy?

I had to share.

Bethel Spring Series - Bethel CDP Gold Race

This was the first Bethel this year without the missus. I woke up at a somewhat normal time, 5 AM, and started the day off by finishing off all the food I was supposed to bring to Bethel. In my delirious state, I didn't realize that this meant I would have no food at Bethel.

The day was surprisingly calm with virtually no wind. This means winds were 5-10 mph at Bethel I think. It was so calm that we didn't tie the tents down and I didn't have to chase down windblown waivers around the registration tent.

I knew we'd be short handed and had to plan on all sorts of stuff - 3 hours of extra driving Saturday to pick up one or two of our helpers, another 2 more hours to drop them off on Sunday, things like that. But an old friend did the driving and volunteered to work the day (minus the one race he wanted to do).

It was the three of them (old friend, two helpers) who helped me clean the mess up at the bottom of the hill. Then, since we were in such a groove, I had everyone go around the whole course. We spent so much time sweeping that one of the helpers, designated to help with the camera, arrived at the line too late to record the Cat 5 finish. The officials, as we've learned over the years, are excellent at picking out literally 20 riders in a (loose) field sprint, and they managed to come through for us in this one.

My fatigue threw off my time frame and I thought I was racing in 30 minutes when in fact I had a couple hours. With the course swept, no tent to hold down (i.e. not windy), and two extra full time helpers, I managed to get my friend to drive me to Dunkin Donuts for some fuel for the upcoming races.

The sun rapidly warmed the area so that the low 20s that greeted us in the morning had transformed into low 40s by the time I took to warming up. Knickers, warm gloves, booties, and just a vest over an LS jersey (instead of a full blown jacket), and I was fine. The 3-4 race was aggressive, with the overall leader forced to chase every time something went away.

I thought he'd destroy himself with all the work he did, and I think the others thought so too. Ultimately the tactic failed because he made it up to a small group that stayed away. A second group formed behind it, and I thought this was the perfect scenario to launch the first group up the road - the second group would splinter as the stronger ones panicked and attacked it, causing it to disintegrate and drop back to the field. The lead group, strengthened by the best of the second group, would be amply motivated to drill it for a bit and - presto! - race over.

I did a minor launch to see if I couldn't be part of the bridging move from the second group to the first one, but by the time I got to the second group, it'd already disintegrated. Faced with crossing a 100-150 meter gap on my own after doing 1/2 a lap under extreme pressure, I backed way off and waited for the field.

Instead a small group caught me, I think the second group reconstituted. I couldn't do more than follow them half way up the hill and then I had to back off. I was totally on the edge. The field caught me at the top of the hill. After a few minutes of doubt, I anchored my position in the field.

With the break gone, the field eased, and the rest of the race was almost boring. It got exciting when a bunch of riders went to the front to keep from getting lapped. 5 or 6 laps of this and we managed to stay alive long enough to have a field sprint.

Like last time I was too far back when I jumped. But, with a lot of guys going backwards on the hill, I managed to snake my way through up to the guy who won the field sprint. "To", not "Past". No points though. Bummer.

I dressed down for the P123s after someone nearby said he couldn't believe it was 54 degrees. I looked down at what I was wearing and decided I should discard some of it. No vest, short finger gloves. I ate a couple Munchkins, drank some soda, sipped some water, and lined up for the main event.

The pace, sitting in, was manageable, and I found myself moving up at times (esp on the hill), and back at other times (like when people attacked).

I forgot how nice short finger gloves are when racing. I figure they're worth at least 200 watts. They allow me to stay on the drops indefinitely because they're more grippy and I don't feel like I'm going to slide off my trimmed down bars. They let me climb better because I don't slip on the hoods like I do with my cold weather gloves. And they just feel more tactile, kind of like how riding without gloves really lets you feel everything, not like the muted "gloves on" feel.

I hammered along in the P123 field, mainly on the drops, and felt pretty good. I started thinking that maybe I'd finish, wondering how many laps we had. I checked the lap cards the next time around.

Big mistake.

I figured I'd see 15, maybe 14. Instead I saw 21, and suddenly I started to hurt. I told myself to get to 20. Roger. Suddenly the pace slowed. Things seemed manageable. Now 15 to go. Roger. I thought that maybe the pace would stay easy for a bit more, and then I'd dig deep to drive to the finish.

A friend of mine (not Roger) came up to me and told me he'd lead me out when the time came. I started thinking I'd be around for such a leadout. But my riding had become a bit sketchy, my fluency escaping gobs at a time.

Then some racers decided they really wanted to be in some break and started launching attack after attack.

One such attack left a gap in front of the racer in front of me. I looked back and briefly saw a strung out line of racers who would be very unhappy if I moved to one side and made the gap another 5 feet longer. I looked up and saw a yawning gap, small in most riders' eyes, a Grand Canyon in mine.

Grand Canyon = 30 feet in this case.

If I closed the gap, I'd be cooked. But my riding was ragged, probably not good for the field, and so after hesitating for maybe a second, I hunched down a bit, firmly grasped the drops with the nice short fingered gloves, and firmly closed the gap.

My legs exploded soon after and I sat up, pulled off, and sat down.

I lay down on the warm pavement, soaking up sun, when the pre-reg girl, sitting about 30 feet away, said something about a crash.

"Someone crashed?"
"Yeah, it's pretty bad, Gene ran down there, Mike ran down there."

I got up in a hurry, almost blacking out when I stood up. An ambulance drove onto the course, headed down the hill.

Ends up one guy had a possible concussion, the other a broken something (I'd later learn it was a collarbone).

I hate it when people crash at Bethel. It just sucks. And the broken collarbone guy, I like him. He's a good guy, nice, treats the missus friendly-like (she thinks he's a good guy too), and I've had some short but very, very good talks with him.

The rest of the day (that sort of killed what we'd done so far) passed by in a somewhat somber mood. It felt like the life got sucked out of me. Guys were telling me to give their prize money to their teammates so they could go to the hospital. Someone said he'd take one bike to its rider's house. All the things you never think about start getting thought about.

Getting hurt somewhere far away from home is not a comfortable situation. I once landed on my head at an EMT's feet during a crit in New Jersey. Despite my protestations, he insisted that the fact that I cradled my head with my hands (until he moved them) indicated to him that I had hit my head. He made me lay still, pinched my fingers and toes, and made lay down on a stretcher.

We drove to a nearby hospital - 5 minutes away in an ambulance that doesn't stop for lights, 15 minutes if you're a worried teammate driving to the hospital in a civilian car.

I sat in the hospital, wondering what happened to my bike (the EMT left it where I crashed). My shoes, gloves, helmet (ditto). How I'd get home (2+ hours away). How I would pay for it (credit card).

My worried teammate showed up a while later. He'd found my bike and stuff at the start/finish announcer stand, asked "Where is the rider that belongs to this bike?", and followed directions to the hospital ("Go down that road and follow the H signs"). Properly reunited with my gear, we headed home.

Later a friend of mine asked me why the side of my head was purple. I checked and sure enough, the whole side of my head was one big bruise. I guess I did hit my head, and later, inspecting my helmet, I realized the whole side was caved in.

Crashing in a race sucks. Getting hurt sucks too. But to injure yourself so you can't ride tomorrow or the day after or whatever, that sucks the most.

So, Mike, here's to getting better quickly.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bethel Spring Series - Bethel CDP Gold Race Prelim Results

Sorry, didn't update the P123s until a week later...

Cat 5 Race 1 Name Team
1 Alwx Salazar Unattached
2 Andrew Nasca Unattached
3 John Nash Pawlig Cycle
4 Adam Ritter Unattached
5 Denis Adiletti Bethel Cycle
6 Brian Amen Unattached
7 Bart McDonough Target Training
8 Thomas Thornton Target Training
10 Edward Novak Yorktown Cycles
11 Michael Buchanan DC Racing/Danny's Cycle
12 Will Hardy Target Training
13 Marc Gagliano Unattached
14 Guido Wollmann Unattached
15 Jim Reid Bethel Cycle
16 Brendan Mansfield Fastar/Target Training
17 Peter Wietfeldt Unattached
18 Carlos Fonseca Unattached
19 Donald Salvino Connecticut Coast Cycling
20 Frank O'Reilly Unattached

Cat 4 Name Team
1 Zachary Staszak Pawlijng Cycle Sport
2 Anthony Santomassimo Stage 1
3 Douglas Allen Signature Cycles/DKNY
4 Pedro Sanchez DC Racing / Danny's Cycling
5 James Rothwell Unattached
6 Charles Litty Bethel Cycle
7 eugene doherty Team DC Racing
8 Rick Magee Bethel Cycle
9 Gabriel Dunn Unattached
10 Dave Hoechster Westwood Velo
11 Eduardo Atehortua Cafeteros Cycling Club
12 Roger Billharz HVVC
13 Steven Suto Bethel Cycle
14 Daniel Sullivan Signature Cycles/DKNY
15 Sam Dodge Stage 1
16 David Bailey Unattached
17 Mario Smith Unattached
18 Patrick Littlefield CRCA/Avenue A-Razorfish
19 stephen paige peddalers paradise cycling team
20 Jay Vincent Cycle Center Racing

Juniors Name Team
1 Kyle Foley Cuevas/ACT
2 Seamus Powell Windam Mountain Outfitters
3 #N/A #N/A #N/A
4 #N/A #N/A #N/A
5 #N/A #N/A #N/A
6 #N/A #N/A #N/A

Women Name Team
1 Anne Marie Miller CRCA/Sanchez Metro
2 Andrea Myers Team Kenda Tire
3 Haley Beann Rocky Mounts
4 Dale Malkames USI
5 Maria Murphy GS Retro
6 Amanda Braverman Block Island Sport Shop
7 Nancy Ford USI
8 Elena Leznik CRCA/Radical Media
9 Cheryl Wolf Bethel Cycle Sport
10 Rebecca Hussey Bethel Cycle Sport Club
11 Karen Franzen CVC/Subaru of New England
12 Jacqueline Paull Watchung Wheelman
13 Peta Takai CRCA / Avenue A | Razorfish Cycling
14 Mimi Boyle Target Training
15 Audrey Friedrichsen Scott Unattached
17 Maria Dumoulin Unattached
18 Katherine Papillon-Rodrigue CVC/Subaru of New England
19 Donna Davis Capital Velo Club
20 Carmen Calton CVC/Subaru of New England

Masters 40+ Name Team
1 Morgan Stebbins CRCA/Sids-Cannondale
2 Stephen Gray Bethel Cycle Sport
3 John Funk Cycle Fitness
4 Fernando Ferreira CRCA
5 Ron Lattanzi CRCA
6 Scott Bodin Target Training
7 Rich Foley CCC/Keltic Const/Zanes cycles
8 Brian Wolf Bethel Cycle Sport
9 Douglas Thompson Clinton Cycling Club
10 Christopher DiMattio Bethel Cycle Sport
11 Jim Escobar ECFA/Honeywell
12 David Nazaroff CRCA
13 #N/A #N/A #N/A
14 0 0 0
15 #N/A #N/A #N/A
16 Rogelio Frutos Zephyr Cycling
17 John Romano Bethel Cycle Sport Club
18 Greg Pelican Bethel Cycle Sport
19 Roger Billharz HVVC
20 Douglas Allen Signature Cycles/DKNY

Cat 3/4 Name Team
1 David Freifelder Westwood Velo
2 Salvatore Abbruzzese CRCA
3 Graham Lang CRCA
4 Peter Hurst Connecticut Coast Cycling
5 Joe Straub Signature Cycles/ DKNY
6 Joe Kubisek Epic Velo
7 Akira Sato Connecticut Coast
8 Chad Dalles Bethel Cycle Sport
9 Vinicius Tavares CRCA
10 Joshua Jamner Targetraining/Colby College
11 Nick Pignatello III Exodus Road Racing
12 Will Fallar Danny's Cycle
13 eric merrill ccc/keltic const./zanes cycles
14 Jeffery Ferraro Greater Hartford Cycling Club
15 #N/A #N/A #N/A
16 Don Catlin Tokeneke
17 #N/A #N/A #N/A
18 Michael Chapleau Stage 1
19 Stephen Lindholm CRCA/Sanchez-Metro
20 Gabrielle Gentile Cafeteros Cycling Club

1 Matthew Baldwin Fastar
2 Julio Lujambio Stage 1
3 Chad Butts Champion Systems
4 Ron Fantano Sommerville Sports
5 Robert Wing Sommerville Sports
6 John-Paul Kaminski Connecticut Coast Cycling
7 Ron Lattanzi CRCA
8 Bryan Borgia CRCA
9 Salvatore Abbruzzese CRCA
10 Stephen Gray Bethel Cycle Sport
11 Bryan Haas Zephyr Cycling
13 Justin Lindine TARGETRAINING / U25 Elite
14 Brett Cleaver Sommerville Sports
15 Anthony Alessio Stage 1
16 Vinicius Tavares CRCA
17 Connor Sallee CRCA JrDev/Orbea
18 Patrick Bonis Cycle Fitness
19 Monte Frank Zephyr Cycling
20 Scott Bodin Target Training

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Equipment - SRM

A short time ago my SRM went blank, its battery dying an unexpected death. A couple emails exchanged with SRM confirmed that this was the case. With a dead SRM PowerControl (that's the computer end of things - the PowerMeter is the crank end) it pretty much can't do anything other than sit there and pretend it's asleep.

Sleeping SRMs don't show wattage or store training info so, after printing out the "work order" form sent me from a helpful SRM person, I sent it out to get the battery replaced.

12 days later I heard the screen door open and close. For a few seconds I waited for the "key in the lock" sounds. It wasn't the missus, no key sounds. It was around lunch time so I thought maybe she'd take a break but no dice.

So either it was a thief or....

Santa Claus!

Well, Santa Claus in March wears brown stuff that says UPS on it or mainly blue stuff that says FedEx on it.

In this case it was the UPS Santa Claus.

Lo and behold a little box. I realized that Blue Nile could probably ship things in that size box but they don't - I think there'd be a lot of mysteriously missing or damaged packages if they did. Instead they use pretty large boxes - you'd think they were shipping out carbon cranks, not carbon based shiny baubles.

This jewelry box held something a little different - my revived PowerControl.

I was expecting to pay a bunch of money for a battery ($50) and shipping ($20 or so). I'd already paid about $25 to ship the thing out west to begin with, so my reasonable expectation was a $100 repair bill.

I opened the box and saw my PowerControl, LCD numbers peering up at me the way the cat does when he realizes I'm looking at him. The invoice fell out so I opened it up. Lots of donuts. Or, as my high school math teacher said, lots of bagels.

Donuts are Circled Zeros.

A bagel is just a various of the Circled Zero.

And, yes, in high school, I managed to get a Circled Zero on a weekly exam.

Circled Zeros are terrible when they're on math exams. They are incredibly awesome when they're on invoices.

Just to be sure I checked my credit card to make sure they didn't charge me and zero things out on the paper invoice, but my card didn't show anything for a while.

I read the invoice more carefully and it looks like there was actually something wrong with it. They replaced said part and considered it a warranty.


To check it out I put it on the bike and did a short test ride on the trainer. What worried me was that whatever I'd been doing before was off - like I didn't check the slope or didn't set the 3 digit number (forgot what it's called) each time I rode.

Very carefully I checked the slope. Default was 25 or so. My cranks are 22.9. And I did the 3 digit thing (wake up crank, wake up head, see what no resistance or still cranks read). 172-173, the default 750. I set it to 172 I think. Climbed on the bike. Started pedaling.

Nothing had changed. I was still a 100-150 watt easy rider. 210 watts made me start to breath. I had to turn the fan on. And finally I did a steady effort - 20 or 30 revolutions, probably more than 20 seconds, less than 30 seconds.

The SRM read a steady 850 watts.

My legs started complaining as did my aerobic systems (rapidly turning anaerobic due to an acute lack of oxygen) so I eased up.

I was back to being a monitored cyclist. I took up Murat's suggestion of inputting data manually and figuring out some average wattages based on average heart rates. Not ideal but it helped fill in the blanks (and, in the process, helped me realize about how many watts I do based on a given heart rate).

I filled in the WKO+ dates, realized it'd been three weeks since the PowerControl went blank (I delayed shipping things about a week), and set about figuring out my data. I'd get average heart rate, distance (calculating it using Google Maps if necessary), and average wattage (based on prior rides which took place between California and March 5th). Typed all this stuff in. And now WKO+ looks happier.

I wanted to do Plainville today so I could test things out, but I had an appointment at 9:45 AM so I couldn't do the 3-4 race. The appointment included some physical exercise, went on for over an hour, and left me mentally and physically exhausted. With less than an hour to the P123 race (and I still had to drive there), I decided I simply couldn't do it and mentally withdrew from the race. Next week I hope to collect some "flat race" data.

Tomorrow I'll do Bethel with the SRM, a perfect "short hill race" for data collecting. I'm tempted to tape over some of the parts of the dashboard and ride just on feel. Should be interesting. But I want to race with the SRM because knowing what kind of power and effort I'm putting down in the last five laps of the race is very, very telling. Measuring, storing, and analyzing that data adds a whole new dimension to cycling for me.

After all, that's why I got the SRM in the first place.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bethel Spring Series - Pre-Bethel CDP Gold Race

With one canceled race and Easter Sunday, the Bethel Spring Series took two weeks off. I know I could use that time off and the missus did too. Hopefully everyone got some nice miles in, some nice racing, and are all ready to go back and do it again.

Of course, nothing is as easy as just taking two weeks off. I got a "Code Red" contact from the town last week - it seems that one tenant noticed a touch more sand on their lawn than they're used to seeing. I called the town and spoke with someone. Apparently one of the many tenants in Francis J Clarke Circle saw more sand than normal. They weren't mad but they wanted to point it out to the town.

When asked if it was "my group" who might have done the sand piling I responded afirmatively. I pointed out that even if it wasn't us, we're just too easy to blame. So I took all responsibility for the sand and I promised I'd get the outer 4 or 5 feet of lawn cleared of sand.

Two days later I drove down to Bethel, stopping to help out someone struggling with a bike fit thing on the way. I drove to my dad's house (an extra 30 min) to pick up some sand clearing tools and managed to make it to Bethel before dark. I drove around the course (habit now - I always do a loop before stopping), parked the car at one end of the lawn in question, and started my own little mini-sweep - a broom, a rake, and a small leaf blower.

I tend to get absorbed in my mission and lost myself in clearing the five feet of grass next to the street curb. I'd clear 30 feet with the rake, go back with the blower, blow the light/loose stuff into the road, and do the next 30 feet.

After a couple hundred feet I realized I was leaving sand packed in by the curb itself so I went back and dragged the leaf blower, point down into said sand, and walked along, tip dragging through the tightly packed sand, letting the blower explode the dirt out everywhere - road, air, my clothes, my hair. Then I went back and blew it all into the road.

Good thing is that the sprint lane will be clear on Sunday. Bad thing is there's more sweeping to do.

When I got to the last 50 feet of grass, I saw a horrible sight. A long patch of dirt, maybe four inches high, about two feet wide, and maybe eight feet long.

I needed a shovel, not a rake.

I gamely attacked it with my rake, alternating between loosening stuff up with that and blowing it onto the road with the blower.

This bit actually took longer to do than the rest of the area I'd already finished. I was surprised when some lights shone onto me - someone turning into the driveway at the bottom of the hill. Then it clicked.


I looked around - it was pretty dark, and in fact I couldn't see my car. And that was parked, what, like 150 feet away. I guess the lights on the lawn made it light enough for me to sweep and rake and I just didn't notice it getting darker.

Car headlights used as a light source once I realized it was dark. Note cleared curb but dirty road. I pushed all that sand off of the lawn and onto the road. Goal here was to get the salty sand off the lawn.

Car headlights light up the road. Note piles of sand. The object in front of the curb-side headlight is a little hand held blower. A wheeled blower would have been much better but I couldn't move it on my own, not easily anyway.

I finished up what I could, blew stuff further into the road (so the cars would move it around), and packed up the car. With a final check - I stopped to pick up a dead bottle I'd blown into the road - I was off.

I spent the next hour and change in the car, focusing on driving, listening to music, and getting a bit giddy with fatigue.

I realized that at some level I felt like the toad in hot water. You know, where if you put a toad in hot water it'll jump out but if you put it in cool water and then heat up the water, it won't jump out? Apparently it's not true but the idea is that small changes may not be noticed, and even if the result is the same at the end, you may not react similarly.

So for me, that evening, the fact that it got darker and darker kind of got lost on me until it was so dark that some car headlights surprised me.

But, as I drove, I realized this hot water thing applied in a much broader context.

When the original promoter of the Bethel Series handed me his thin stack of papers and told me I had to put the race on, that was a small change. I literally took possession of maybe 50 pages of notes, rider lists, extra flyers, and some other inconsequential things.

But, back at the time, I didn't tell him, "Yes, if I need to sweep the course on March 27, 2008 until 8 PM, I will." And all the other things that I've done over the years. Early rises. Sacrificing all sorts of things to get to Bethel and hold the races. Suffering through many years of not wanting to do it. So on and so forth.

I'm not saying I want to jump out of it. But the Series demands so much that I have a hard time realizing it. It's been part of my life for most of my adult life. I just did whatever I needed to do to get it done. The water got warmer, yes, but it always seemed okay. Now it's a whole different creature than it was back in the early 90s, and that's not a bad thing.

So, with that in mind, I'll be heading down to the Bethel area once again, to prepare for promoting the race and to see if, after spending some time and energy looking after the race itself, I can actually race it too.

Hope to see you out there.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Story - First Mountain Bike Race

A long time ago I actually mountain biked on a mountain bike on mountain bike trails. Meaning now I ride my mountain bike on paved roads only. Back then I was exploring all types of racing and I wanted to give mountain biking a shot.

It helped that I knew someone who mountain biked extensively - heck, some of our most prolific placers on the team were strictly off road racers. So when they recommended a race up north - Vermont or New Hampshire, I couldn't tell you - I decided to go. It was the warm season and doing a mountain bike race, a novel thing for me, would beat doing Gimbles again. Plus I thought it might be a bit cooler up north. Closer to Canada, the Arctic, you know.


I started doing some math on speeds. Because I never had a cyclometer on a mountain bike, I had no idea what to expect. I never had one because I couldn't do single track very well and carried my bike everywhere - and if you're carrying the bike, a cyclometer wouldn't do much. I guess a Garmin would be cool, but back then GPS was still a novelty. Or military secret. Something like that. Anyway, I figured out that anything more than 8 mph was pretty fast, and since I could go pretty fast on the rideable parts of a trail, I thought things would be manageable.

That's when I learned that it was a one loop course. And the loop was 30 miles long.

This made me think a bit.

Okay, if I flat 15 miles out, and I'm out of tubes... that's 15 miles of walking. The idea of walking a bike with a flopping dead tire clinging to the rim didn't appeal to me then (and still doesn't now). I figured maybe I could pack hay in the thing (some pro did that at some race). I decided to carry three tubes, just in case.

Water... well, I'll carry two bottles. And since they eject all the time, if they do, I'll stop and pick them up. Can't finish if you can't finish.

Tools - I had enough to adjust or reinstall pretty much everything on the bike. If I broke something, that was a different story. Chain is vital so I packed an extra pin or two. Rest of it, I figured I could fake it if I had to. At that time you'd hear the occasional "I used two big rocks to fix my chain" and not think it was unusual. Truing your wheel against a big flat rock was also somewhat common, and in fact I was fortunate enough to get some practice doing this.

Properly prepared we trundled up to this face. It was so far away we went to a little motel kind of place (cabins really, in the middle of the woods) the night before.

Race day came and it was bright, sunny, and hot. So much for the "cooler north". We got ready, I drank a lot of water, and we got ready to go. I was the only one on my team to have signed up for my class (maybe Beginner, I don't remember, but it wasn't NORBA sanctioned) so I felt kind of lonely in the huge mass of riders.

Suddenly we were off.

I remember very little of the start. I'm sure I got going pretty well because I went flying into the single track just a few places behind the leader. For about 15 seconds I thought, "Wow, I might win this thing." That's when I slammed my foot into a rock as the trail went to single track and I bounced off line and fell. I looked back at the thundering herd of racers barreling down the single track and realized that I'd have to wait forever to get back in line.

Somehow I was back on the bike, in that line, probably amongst some cursing and stuff, and started going again. I had no idea where to go so I had to follow bikers, tracks, and some ribbon stuff strung between trees. Whenever the trail got narrow or went over a log, I had to dismount. Every time this happened another 10 or 15 riders would pass me - I couldn't believe how many riders were back there, it was like a circus clown car or something.

One flying forcible dismount (i.e. crash) twisted my cleat so much I thought it fell off the shoe - I couldn't clip in any more. I gamely soldiered on while pedaling without clipping in my right foot.

It was at a very rocky section (baby head rocks) that I found out, the hard way, that the cleat had not come off but that it had twisted on the shoe. I'd given up trying to clip in and was pedaling with the shoe on top of the pedal. At some point the bike bounced one way, I went the other, my foot was twisted about 40 degrees on the pedal, and I weighted the foot just as I was about to save myself.

Then the cleat clipped in.

I promptly fell over, my foot impossibly twisted on my pedal. My toe wouldn't even clear the frame.

I should point out that I had these absolutely worthless MKS clipless pedals. Might as well have been clipless since you couldn't clip out of them. I pounded on the shoe until I got out, swore I'd get SPDs like everyone else, and got going again, running over all the rocks, my bike bouncing off to the side (too tired to carry it).

After that, to avoid any replication of said accidental twist in, I ran all the single track.

The problem with not clipping in was that I lost a lot of power on the hills, and I really made up ground when the trail went uphill. I was flying past these out of shape guys who had blown by me on the single track, and I was doing it with only my left foot clipped in. I figured I could keep up my fast uphill riding and I'd gain back a hundred or so spots (I figured after the first single track I was probably in 150th place).

I wasn't sure when but at some point I thought I should stop and fix my cleat. So, after passing over two rocks separated by a 2 foot by 1 foot by 1 foot pile of rear derailleurs (Derailleur Graveyard?), I decided I'd break my rhythm, stop, and untwist my cleat.

I'll admit a driving force to this decision was the fact that I flatted a tire.

Nonetheless I stopped at some wider point in the trail, just before an uphill.

I watched a bit painfully as all the guys I worked so hard to pass went streaming up the hill. I, on the other hand, dug into my heavily loaded seat bag and pulled out a tube, freed up my pump, and found that I'd packed the cheapest ever folding allen wrench set I'd ever had. I never expected to use it so I didn't carry a nice one around.

The flat tire was easy. About 5 minutes of huffing and puffing and the tire had some reasonable amount of air in it. The shoe was next. I sat down, twisted my foot so I could see the cleat.

Great. Rocks in the allen bolt head. I felt like an archaeologist, chipping away at my precious soon to be fossilized cleat, trying to clear the head enough to get the wrench in. After a painful few minutes I finally loosened the first bolt.

And then I started working on the second bolt. Whatever happened to one bolt cleats?

Right, they loosened up too often.

At some point someone leaned over and asked what I was doing. Without looking up I told him my cleat loosened up. He asked if he could use the tool after. Sure, I told him. I figured I'd just give him the tool, it was a $2 tool anyway. I pointed out that since I'd be giving him the tool, I would need to tighten my other cleat extra tight. He nodded okay and sat down, waiting for me.

Another guy came over.

Jeepers, I thought, doesn't anyone carry allen wrenches anymore?

"What are you doing?", he asked me, rather impolitely.

I looked up. I mean his voice kind of demanded it, so I looked up. He had a purple shirt on that said "Course Marshal" on it.

I wondered if maybe I was sitting on some endangered flower or something.

"Um, my cleat's loose. I'm tightening it."
"Is that your tool?"

He looked at the other guy. "What about you?"

"I'm waiting for him to finish with the tool."
"You can't take aid from another rider. If you take aid, you'll be disqualified. Your finish and your time won't be scored."

The two started to argue.

Hm. I read something about how mountain biking was like the old Tour de France. You know, get penalized for having a little boy pump the bellows of the fire while you reforge your fork. I thought about this as I played Kathleen Kenyon sitting in her Jericho excavation.

I thought of the derailleur pile I'd passed maybe 1/2 mile back.

"Wait!" I said. The two looked at me. I looked at the Course Marshal guy.

"I know it's illegal for me to give him my wrench, right?"
"But say I broke a derailleur, like a pulley came off. There are like a thousand derailleurs back there jammed between two rocks. If I went back there and got a pulley and a bolt from one, would that be illegal?"
"So what if, theoretically, someone was working on their bike, put their tool away, and the tool fell onto the ground. Would it be illegal for him to use that tool?"

At this point I think my new best friend lost himself the race. If he'd stayed quiet or discretely headed up the trail a bit, he'd have been fine. But no. He couldn't contain himself and started arguing for the "lost and found tool" theory. And the Marshal started getting a bit impatient. But I kept going.

"So what I'm saying is say I rode a bit and my allen wrench fell out of my bag. Anyone could pick it up, not just him, but anyone, right?"

Clearly this Marshal had not been at this point of such an argument. And although it was obvious that we were trying to work around the rules, we weren't racing for a place. This was just some 30 mile death march through the hot forests of wherever we were, struggling to get to the finish without having to walk the whole way.

The Marshal wouldn't budge.

"You can't lend or give him your tool. And I'll be keeping my eye on you. I got both your numbers."

Dejected the other guy whispered to me.

"What should we do?"

Like it was my problem. If he'd just gone forward a bit (enough to get around the bend or something) then it'd be fine. But he insisted on guarding "the guy with the tool", kind of like the way our cat guards his play stick.

Finally finished with my shoe tightening, I straightened back up, got everything back into the seatbag (save the tool), and got back up. The Marshal was still there. Same with the poor guy guarding his potential tool.

"You can't give him your tool!" the Marshal cried out.
"I know, I know."

I threw a leg over the bike, got in with one foot, and started pedaling up the hill. My tool was under my hand, tight against my grip. I clipped in the other shoe - the right one, and it was pretty straight - and started going up the hill. The tool hurt my palm. I tossed it up over my shoulder.

"Oops, I dropped the tool," I said, just to make it clear.

I kept pedaling, never looking back.

The rest of the route was a complete disaster for me. I ran down pretty much every down hill marked with any kind of a danger sign, ran across every single track. Flew up the climbs. I started getting tired.

A couple hours in I got to the top of a longish descent (half mile, tops - to a Connecticut native that is a longish descent). Lots of rocks, some the size of baseballs, some the size of bowling balls, and others even larger than that. A couple logs here and there, but nothing blocking the trail. It looked like a trail back at home, and I knew I could go down such a trail.

So instead of dismounting I decided to try and ride it.

I started down kind of slow. Like riding one rock at a time. Just a little faster than walking pace. As my confidence went up, so did my speed. I'd let the brakes go for more than a tenth of a second at a time, letting the bike build up steam for 15 feet before slamming them on again. Then, balancing while barely moving, I'd ease off the brakes again.

At some point I saw some woman walking her bike down the path. This was not a big deal except a walking cyclist takes up half the room on the trail. I obligingly moved to the other side. Let the brakes go. Let the bike build up steam. And slowed again. Nice right?

Yeah, well right after I passed her, I let the bike go again, let it go maybe 30 feet, and augured into a rock the size of a grown man laying in the middle of the trail. The front tire just stopped and I started going over the bars.

Wham! My privates slammed the stem.

The bike started going over, my body following it in super slow motion. For a horrifying moment I hung in the air then slowly flipped over onto my back.

Wham! My body slammed into the rocks.

My eyes were closed. I opened them just in time to see my bike do a Super Fly Snuka on me.

Wham! My bike landed on top of me.

I felt like Wiley Coyote.

The world started turning with dizzying speed, pain spreading, the intense all numbing pain so familiar to any male out there. I curled up on the rocks, not feeling them at all - I could have been in bed for all I could feel on my side. My body was just trying to preserve its gene line and I couldn't do anything else.

"Are you okay?"

I looked up to the dainty voice. A girl smiled at me. Woman, who knows, it was hard to make out while in such agony. Female at any rate.

I was breathing hard, trying to control the pain. I remembered reading a ninja book where they said that a blow to the groin is usually a fight decider, and that if so struck, you should mount an immediate and desperate attack since it takes a couple seconds for the pain to hit.

In my pain riddled state of mind I mentally checked off that, yes, it takes a couple seconds to hit. And when it does, it's a doozy.

"Yeah, I'll be okay," I finally managed.

"See, that's why I was walking the bike. I saw someone else do that. Boy, that looked like it hurt a lot. I think you'll be okay though. Bye."

She could have been talking on the phone about shopping for all the intonation in her voice. You know, like, "So then I saw someone else buy it and I thought, boy, did that hurt. But you'll be okay. Bye."

And with that she walked daintily on her way.

I don't remember passing her afterwards so I must have been on the ground for quite a while. Luckily no one else rode by in that time.

I stood back up, my shoulders and sides and back suddenly aching from laying on the jagged rocks. I wondered what the heck I was doing in the middle of the woods in some forest that I've never seen in my life before. Not only that, I had to ride my bike out of there. I looked down the hill.

And walked to the bottom, dragging my poor beat up bike beside me.

I remounted the bike gingerly, and pedaled my way to the nearby finish.

I want to say I placed 12th because I think I placed 12th in virtually all the mountain bike races I did except the last one. But honestly I think I didn't. It was something okay, 30th or 50th or something, but not 12th.

I never did find out if the kid got disqualified for taking my tool. But I did see one DQ on the list when I checked results. Anyway, when I saw the DQ, I just hoped it wasn't the tool guarding rider.

Come to think of it, I think they mailed you a copy of the results.

Pre-internet, you know. How quaint.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Story - Drafting The Dump Truck

I am a big fan of drafting. In bicycle racing it allows someone like myself, with a relatively low level of sustainable power, to finish races and be competitive with others who are much more fit than myself.

In fact, drafting is the essence of road racing. Without drafting we'd just be doing time trials all over the place. In England, after mass start racing was made illegal, that's the only racing they could do for a long, long time - that's why they have not only a 25 mile TT but also a 50 mile, a 100 mile, and various other events, including a 24 hour TT.

The problem is that when I go training, I can't call up 50 or 70 guys to go ride so I can draft them.

So I use substitutes.

I incorporate slight downhills to help me build speed without killing myself. I do some small gear work (lower actual speeds means less air resistance). I do big gear work (going slow in a big gear lets me practice bike throws and sprinting technique, all at energy saving effort levels).

And I use substitute racers.

Cars. Trucks. Buses.

Cars are worth maybe 5 to 8 racers. Trucks, little ones, maybe 20. Big trucks and buses, 80-100 racers.

It's much, much easier to find a bus than to call 80-100 of your closest racing friends. So I go bus hunting, truck hunting, whatever I can find to act as a sub for a field of racers. Just yesterday, in the sleepy town of Simsbury, I managed to time trial up to a bus.

The problem was in the sleepy town of Simsbury they're really polite, so the bus driver slowed, moved left, and let me pass.


I honored him by going as hard as I could until I blew, then made it obvious I blew - sat up, stretched legs, and waved as he drove by.

Anyway, as a big fan of drafting vehicles, there are a few tricks to pulling it off without ending up under someone's tire or face planted on some random mailbox or other road side obstacle.

1. Always check what you're about to draft. Someone claimed to have had a friend who tucked in behind a passing truck. Only thing was the truck was pulling a trailer, and the rider ended up getting run over by the trailer. Now I never heard of anyone getting taken out by a trailer like this in my verifiable life but checking the rear of the truck would prevent that from happening. I normally check where the next car is, since pulling out in front of a (much faster) car is never a good idea. I also wait for trailers and such, including the big jump I made the day before I got married (sprinting jump, not a more symbolic one).

2. When you draft a big vehicle, you can get a significant draft while still on the fringes of the "drafting area", i.e. you can be just behind and outside of the outer rear wheel and still get a huge draft. Since a dump truck (or similar) is so big, you'll find yourself either coasting or pulling out into the wind to slow down.

One rider's power chart had massive power spikes and valleys while they were drafting a truck for a few minutes - that seems to reflect this process of "sprint and coast". I do this "peeking out" to check for unknown or new road obstacles. However I've double flatted (twice) at 45 mph or so when I miscalculated where a known manhole cover or pothole was, partially because I didn't peek out (I was tiring quickly and gambled on remembering where things were). Both on clinchers, and both were a bit scary to bring under control (one was on a slight bend and I barely made it - in fact, I had to put my foot down on the curb since the flat clinchers didn't allow me to make even the small curve in the road).

I prefer tubulars when setting out on a drafting mission since they basically don't pinch flat and they also are lighter and wind up faster. It used to be that I drove to my drafting mission rides so I could make equipment choices before I leave.

3. To draft a smaller vehicle (car, a hatchback or wagon is better), you get close enough that you can see through the front window. Even little ole me is taller than a driver in a car so I can see through both the rear and front window and over the hood. I tried to draft a Lotus Espirit once but my body was over the roof of the car. It felt a bit odd and also offered no draft so I let it go.

Most cars are nice to draft because you can see the driver, any passengers, and make a judgement on how they'll drive. An ex-pro friend had a 93 Civic hatchback (I've since bought it from him and still have it). The rear bumper is gouged with tire burn marks from motorpacing workouts.

Note the grooves in the bumper, caused by a front tire hitting the bumper while at speed.

The Civic is nice because you can pop the glass up so it forms a little windscreen for the rider/s behind. The USCF in the 80s would use the Campy Buick wagon for similar workouts - they'd open the rear hatch and blast the heat on cold days so the riders would be training in a little pocket of heat.

4. I don't like drafting SUVs or minivans because they're too high to see through, too small to draft to one side (you really have to be behind them), and they tend to be driven by people who are least likely to know how to drive or are the most distracted. I can't even see into most of them so I have no idea what the driver is focusing on - kids, phone, looking for a store/street, etc. The same may be true for a car driver but at least I can see them being distracted.

5. To catch a truck, it has to be going slower than fast. Even in Breaking Away the truck starts out at 35 or 40 mph (since he holds out 4 fingers after a bit). I normally latch on when they pull away from a light or if they're in slower moving traffic (35 or slower). Someone with a good jump should be able to accelerate smartly to 35+ mph from a 15-25 mph cruising speed, and if the truck is going 30-35 mph, that's all you need. If it's at a light and you are there too, then you'll wait for the truck to make about 4-5 shifts before it gets going more than 18-20 mph, but then you hang on because they can accelerate at that pace for a while. I also run out of breath after about a minute or so.

Incidentally I run a 53x11, and I used to run a 54x11 - you need the big gears to go fast.

6. Finally, although I've drafted police cars (at night, on my favorite sprint loop in SW CT), some don't appreciate the drafting thing. Some will drive a steady pace and let me sit in. Others will move one lane over (it's a 3-4 lane street, one way) so that I have my own lane. This is the worst because I can't draft anything. Finally others will follow me (at night usually) so that I can see where I'm going (car headlights beat bike ones) and no one hits me. I appreciate the concern but this also prevents me from drafting anything. For the latter two types of super-nice cops, I just go as hard as I can until I blow up, then wave thanks to the helpful officer. Then hope the next lap goes a bit better.

One night two friends and I met up to do some sprints on the aforementioned loop. Since one guy was my actual leadout guy and another was his then girlfriend, it was really a training ride for me to get some sprints in. I'd lead out a bunch too, and so would the girlfriend.

As it got late - probably 10 or 11 PM - and both the traffic and our energy started dwindling, we started easing up and skipping sprints every now and then. One lap we approached the right turn onto the "sprint road" (the other roads were the "apres sprint road", the "backstretch", and the "before sprint road" which we were on at that point) and we heard the familiar nasal sound of a jake brake (like that of Mac sleeping from Cars) as a big dump truck slowed a bit for an intersection. With a green light he was good to go and started rowing through the gears to get back up to speed.

My ears perked up, my eyes lit up, and I tore off after the truck, leaving my two friends behind, chuckling I'm sure.

I rounded the slight turn onto the "sprint road" and accelerated hard. Everything seemed right - the cooler night temperatures, the big gear turning at the right rpm range, my legs, everything, and I rode up to the back of the truck.

Normally I look for things like wobbly wheels, missing mudflaps (I read someone a brick/stone caught between two rear tires of a truck and flung out the back is the worst thing that could happen to a motorcyclist behind a truck - and with my more fragile outfit, I'd imagine it'd be worse for a cyclist), broken or extremely dirty taillights (no warning of brakes), things like that. I can't remember anything being out of whack so I think the truck was in fine condition.

I found myself in the 11T all too soon. I had to slide to the tip of the seat (fastest position when seated) and I spun like mad to stay with the truck. When I got going a bit too fast I'd pull out slightly instead of touching the brakes, and pull up next to the rear-most wheel, and coast a touch. Once I slowed enough, I'd tuck back in.

My "speed adjustments" got more radical as I got tired. I'd sprint up to the back of the truck, pull out, coast as long as possible, and tuck in again, hoping I could sprint one more time. My sprints got ragged, out of the saddle efforts that rocked the bike until I felt like I'd scrape my knuckles on the ground. My whole life started revolving around the right rear pair of tires - I'd pull up next to them then tuck in and sprint back up to them.

At some point I became conscious of some flashing red and blue lights. As a driver I've been pulled over a couple times, and there's nothing quite like that sinking feeling when you first see the lights behind you.

But I was on a bike.

And I knew that we were going fast, probably 40-45+ mph.

And the speed limit on the road was 30 or 35 mph.

I figured, oh, man, I got the truck in trouble. You know, like Breaking Away.

I pulled left to let the police car pull the dump truck over (remember, 3-4 lanes, one way, so no oncoming traffic) and sat up.

The dump truck, to my disbelief, kept going.

The police car stayed behind me. I could hear his loudspeaker blaring something, maybe just the "whoop whoop" noises, but something.

You know that feeling I described before, the one you get when you see lights in the mirror? Well, let me tell you, at that moment I felt that sinking feeling. It's not the same as when you're driving a car, but having been pulled over before on a bike before, it too is a somewhat familiar and unpleasant feeling.

I stopped.

I read somewhere that cops that pull you over get really nervous if they can't see your hands. So I tried to keep them in view. I climbed off the bike, holding the seat and bars with my hands. Plain view.

An absolutely furious officer strode up to me.

"What were you trying to do, kill yourself?"

In the half second it took me to answer, I thought of some various answers.

"Well, actually, what I was doing was the safest way to draft a big truck. See, I could check out the upcoming road conditions by swinging out of the draft. I could also recover a bit so when I was in the draft I was less likely to make an oxygen deprived mistake. Plus, since it's night out, it's harder to pick out a cyclist. Drafting such a big vehicle makes it less likely that someone would hit me. So it was really the safest way to ride."

I didn't think that would fly.

I also nixed "It might have looked dangerous but I was in total control the whole time..." as well as "Did you ever see Breaking Away?"

Instead, like a good boy, I answered a quiet and subdued, "No, sir."

He ranted and raved about how stupid I was (well, technically, how stupidly I was behaving) and how immature it was and some other stuff. I mainly remember the stupid and immature.

And, yes, in hind sight it probably wasn't the smartest thing to do. But I'm not a risk taker and when I make decisions like that I've figured the odds. I never set one of my goals when I go out and ride to "come back in an ambulance" or worse. We'd done laps on the road for an hour or two already, there was no construction, no weird weather that might knock over a tree or three, and very little traffic. And although in the past I've misjudged where a manhole cover was (the 45 mph double flat on the slight bend took place on the "back stretch" road), by peeking out from behind the truck I could assess the road in front of me and make corrections to my slightly inaccurate mental map as necessary.

But I still had a furious police officer in front of me.

Finally he stopped yelling, I stopped answered his questions, and he told me to get going. At some point he told me I shouldn't do something like this ever again.

I climbed on my bike and rode down the road. I think I went backwards on the loop to catch my friends on the back stretch, and at some point we reconnected and started riding again. We passed the officer parked on the side of the road - I think he was checking to make sure that I didn't blow by him at 45 mph, glued to another dump truck's mudflap.

My friends told me they'd watched me scamper off after the truck, lost sight of me, then, one turn and three bends later, saw flashing lights.

"No, you don't think..."
"No, couldn't be."
"Wait I see some legs in front of that cruiser."

Legs in lycra, standing.

Standing is good (as opposed to sprawled on the pavement) so they rode by like they had no idea who I was. In fact, I didn't see them ride by and the officer probably didn't either.

We laughed, I told them how cool it was to follow that dump truck, they asked me what the cop said, blah blah blah.

We turned onto the very short "before sprint road".

And heard the familiar sound of a jake brake.

A dump truck, cruising down the hill, started to slow for the intersection. The light turned green for him and he started accelerating again, shifting through his gears.

I looked at the truck. Thought about where the officer had parked his car - at the end of the mile long sprint road.

I instantly put my hands in the drops, jumped as I shifted, chain slamming into gear as I sprinted after the truck.

"Don't...." I heard behind me.

I sprinted through the corner in the 14T and started accelerating and shifting, tagging the truck at 40 or so in my 11T.

Life was good.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Racing - What's In Your Bag?

Someone on Bike Forums asked people what was in their race bags. I listed a bunch of stuff but thought, you know, it might not be accurate. So, in clearing out my car from the weekend, I decided to do a quick inventory.

Little did I know.

This next picture is what I pulled out of the car. I left the tool box in the car. A scary thing is the tool box, pretty heavily laden, is only slightly heavier than my "garment" bag.

I bring two helmets to cold events. The red/white/blue one has its vents taped closed. The Specialized Decibel is left "vented". My pump is wrapped from my trip out West two years ago - I figure it can't hurt to keep it wrapped since its base gouges everything. And, of course, my bag is there, a gift from the missus.

Then I started unpacking it. Honestly I haven't done this in a couple years so I found change, pins, and various crumpled up wrappers and such. I skipped all that (they went into the garbage) and focused on what I put back into the bag.

I laid it all out before repacking that bag though, and this is what happened.

Unpacked. Yeah.

I'll start at the bottom left...
Little things. Lube, extra Tecno buckle for the Sidis (you'll see one grey one on the shoes, the rest are red). Shiny shoe covers, knee warmers, arm warmers, booties. Reflective ankle strap. HR strap for SRM, cleats for SPD-Rs (not longer used), truing tool for Reynolds, tape measure that has metric, valve adapter (I also have one taped to the bike). Tape for helmet vents, tops of booties in the rain, number in the rain. I also have white duct tape in a different bag.

Just above the bottom left...
Above my shoes are some head things (2 wicking, 1 "apres race", and 1 helmet cover). Above that is a thick long sleeve jersey. The blue thing that says "Giants" is my neck/head warmer thing. Long gloves. Sun tan oil (for the legs). And below, a tube box full of Propel mix, a cigarette lighter AC adapter (phone etc), and a box of baby wipes.

To the right of the above picture....
Short finger gloves (2), 3 caps, black water/wind oversocks, deoderant, extra bar plugs (illegal to race without them), a bunch of tubes, Olbas stuff, Atomic Balm, toothpaste (from my trips out West), toiletry bag courtesy Virgin, and one towel. I get more towels if it's supposed to rain or be really hot.

Starting next row up, at the left...
Three thing long sleeve jerseys (the blue one is a bit warmer than thin). My heart rate watch.

To the right of the thin LS jerseys...
Short sleeve jerseys - 1 white (current team), 5 of Carpe Diem Racing. I use the old jerseys as base layers now, or I train in them.

To the right of the SS jerseys...
2 sets of bib tights (one wind blocking, one is not). 6 pairs of shorts. 1 pair bib knickers.

Moving back to the top left...
My "generic" kits for riding "in black". Black one that says Interbike on it. A full Tri State Velo kit (matching socks are in the wash) - SS jersey, shorts, gloves. Reason for the Tri State Velo kit? If you look carefully under the Voler logo on the jersey you'll see a Carpe Diem Promotions logo. We've given them several thousand dollars over the years to their Junior and Women's programs. Note the helmets - the Rudy's vents are taped over with black tape - since the helmet is poorly ventilated anyway, it's been assigned "winter helmet duties".

To the right of my generic kits, one old team jacket, one old team wind vest, one generic blue one, my favorite Hind base layer, clear rain jacket (rolled up to fit in a jersey pocket), and above them all, an old team jacket.

I am missing two old team jackets, all my socks (some cold weather, mostly warm weather), and all the gear I use on the trainer (I wear old kits when on the trainer - jersey and shorts). I have two big plastic bins full of clothing in the basement plus a document box of jerseys carefully stored in gallon zip lock bags. They all have a history and I want to do some posts on them.

Oh, and the kits left over from the old team. I think there are about 15-20 pieces in that pile. And a couple things for trainer use to their left.


What's in your bag?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Racing - Plainville March 22, 2008

With no Bethel on Easter Sunday, the weekend panned out a lot different from the "With Bethel" weekends.

First off we had no scurrying around on Saturday getting ready for Sunday's race. This meant, among other things, being able to sneak out while the missus was at work. So I snuck south a couple towns to Plainville and entered a couple races.

(Okay, to be totally honest, I didn't sneak out - I got the missus's full approval before venturing off with my racing stuff. It just sounds better when I say I snuck out.)

My first race was at 10, the 3-4 race. The second at noon, the P-1-2-3 race. I arrived with plenty of time to register, change, and warm up. I saw a couple friendly riders but instead of chatting a while I went to my car to get ready. I had maybe 40 minutes - I figured I'd change, pump up the tires, hand off my spares to a good friend David who parked 15 feet away from me so he could take them to the pit, and get a decent warm up. This is all stuff I rarely find time to do at Bethel so I was determined to take advantage of my "non-promoter" status to actually prepare for a race.

Instead I spent 35 minutes re-taping my helmet.

I didn't like the clear tape stuck haphazardly all over the helmet as seen in this picture. So I got some black duct tape and replaced the clear stuff with "custom fitted" black tape. This way the helmet would look, well, better.

But my scissors stuck on the black tape (hint #1: when cutting sticky tape, cut with the sticky side up) and the clear stuff disintegrated when I tried to peel it off (hint #2: when buying packing tape, buy the thickest stuff you can find).

So my wheel pit friend David came over and pointed out that maybe I should be getting ready as my race was about to start.


I dressed, put the wheels on my bike, pumped up the tires, and rode to the start.

Then I realized I pinned the number on the wrong side.

So, as the officials were calling out the last instructions, I was pinning my number on my jersey. I got it on, put my helmet on, and started about a minute later.

I did remember to bring my heartrate monitor watch and wear both parts of it (the chest strap and the watch) and remembered to start the thing half way around the first lap. I looked to make sure the "chrono" was "chrono-ing".

Good news was that it was. Bad news was the 161 above the chrono number.

I get uncomfortable when my heart rate is somewhere in the mid 160s and I was rapidly approaching that number. Soon I was gasping for breath, my heart rate ranging, whenever I looked, from 161 to 165. I prayed and hoped that as I warmed up my body would react a bit more favorably to my efforts.

In the mean time I mapped out the route. Meaning I figured out where to ride on the course. Since I hadn't ridden more than the couple hundred yards from the car to the line, I certainly couldn't take a recon lap. Therefore my first few laps of the race were my recon laps. I learned quickly (negative reinforcement is a strong learning tool - and getting clobbered by wind is about as negative as it gets without crashing) that I needed to get from one side of the road to the other four times each lap.

Each half mile lap.

This meant discretely sliding back a bit and getting to the other side of the wheel in front of me, four times a lap, doing it literally every 15-20 seconds.

Since discrete in-field moves are my specialty, I spent the next 40 or 45 minutes practicing the art. For the most part I was successful but in one segment lasting a couple laps I rode in the wind, probing for any changes in the wind pattern. This effort cost me dearly and put me pretty much at the back of the field.

I did notice that when I was in difficulty, my heart rate was 166 (when I had a chance to look - twice). When I wasn't, I was at 165. A fine line, no doubt.

By the way one guy I finally met in a race (not talking before or after one) was Mr. SOC. I tried very hard not to ease him off a wheel or otherwise impede his progress in his second race of the day.

I moved up with a few laps to go, did some less discrete in-field moves, and found myself perhaps 20 riders back with half a lap, 400 meters, to go.

That's about all I did though, and with a surprise negative sprint (I actually went backwards when I jumped), I went to the right curb, braked firmly, and watched the field stream by me to the line.

Looking back I probably could have salvaged a 15-20 position, but that's not really a place and because of my horrible jump, I wasn't inspired to sprint. I had no regrets after my looking back, unlike most sprints where I sit up.

I said hi to Mrs Suitcase, bye to a teammate, rode to the car. A friendly soul who had just parked next to me asked how I did and I told him I just sat up. I asked him how he did, realized he was in street clothes, and then asked if he was racing just the P123 race. He was.

That, as I said to someone later, meant he was at least a 2.

Later I talked with a rider I first met in the late 80s and who seems to get the scoop on the various riders in the area. He pointed out that he heard the friendly racer parked next to me was in fact an ex-Saturn racer.

Yeah, whatever. Whenever someone is remotely strong they end up some ex-pro. Still though, he seemed somewhat serious about this informational (and gossipy) tidbit.

After that I spent the rest of the hour between races dressing down a bit. Did a tights to knickers thing, change out my soaked base layer, dry out my gloves and my head thing on the convenient and unique dash vent.

The latter is a super high power vent which I use to heat up the car quickly, or, in this case, stick the head cover thing on. The vent, at fan setting 2 (of 4), was powerful enough to puff it up so it looked like some cyclist was starting to poke his head out of my dash. It was bone dry after 15 minutes and I put the gloves on next. These, unfortunately, didn't puff up to look like a couple Things sitting on my dash.

Suitably dressed down, I re-emerged, took a few swigs from my neglected (as usual) bottles, and rode back to the start/finish area. Same warm up as before but this time I had the benefit of having had 50 minutes of racing an hour before.

We started right up and the field went bonkers, trying to get some camera time at the front. I expected things to be harder but they seemed reasonable. I glanced at my watch - 165.

But I felt fine.

So my heart rate was at my explosion point but my legs were okay, like totally comfy. I guess I'm a bit more fit than I thought. And warm-ups help a lot. Sitting in reduces the wild heart rate swings, especially on a flat course (that's why motorpacing is such good training - you can adjust your workload 1 or 2 bpm at a time). At Bethel, going fast up the hill meant working hard no matter where you were in the field, and a couple mph either way meant a huge difference in pain. At Plainville, sitting in means you really were sitting in, and the speed could vary significantly without altering the workload.

I felt reasonable, even decent, but my legs told me otherwise. I started getting those twinges, felt a little bit more of that lactic acid, and realized that I wasn't going to do the whole race. I'd spent a big part of the race practicing taking wheels from other people, meaning sliding onto a wheel while someone else was on it.

Problem is that I pretty much know and respect everyone there, so I was really practicing taking wheels from people that, well, I like.

So, 30 minutes into the race, I decided I should stop being a subtle jerk and become an obvious one.


Okay, that was a joke.

I felt sort of bad for doing my wheel stealing practice so I decided to move to the front, just to get a taste of the high life before I dropped out. I saw a guy, a former break companion, plugging away at the front. So I slotted in behind him (in other words, I stole his wheel from whoever was on his wheel) and watched and waited.

Here I am, about 20 seconds from pulling through. Note the spiffy looking helmet that doesn't look like it's covered in clear tape.

A lonely Keltic rider dangled off the front and it looked like this was my former break companion's target. He pulled off just as we got to the windy stretch.


I got into the drops and started doing a steady effort, like the ones I do on the trainer when I fantasize that I'm pulling the field back up to a break. Or, in this case, a lonely Keltic rider.

Reality quickly collided with fantasy. I got maybe 200 meters into my pull when my calves started to cramp. Behind me, the guy (who I discretely eased off the wheel) said to me, "C'mon, pull to the corner."

I'd already told my elbow to wiggle so it wiggled, signaling him to pull through.

"Or maybe not...", I heard from behind me as he did a powerful turn of the pedals.

I veered left to pull out of the race, started second guessing myself, started to pedal to accelerate back up to speed, and my calves really protested.

I raised a hand and eased up.

An enthusiastic Cat 5, taking pictures for his friends and who got that shot above, yelled that he got a good picture of me when I was second wheel. Later we were talking a bit and he asked if I'd had a mechanical.

"No," I said, rubbing my leg, "My legs had a mechanical."
"Oh! You had a biological!"

Now how come I never heard that before?

We watched the sprint (the "ex-Saturn" guy got second) and chatted with a couple guys. One guy asked me what happened to me. I explained that, even with all my training (close to doing my 2007 hours by now), I was at my limit the whole time and I eventually caved in. He asked if I was stepping it up to be a Cat 2 or something, with all my training and stuff.

I told him, no, I was training a lot because I wasn't working. I added that I realized as I trained a lot that I'm a Cat 3 and always will be. He argued a bit, thinking maybe I was a bit off base.

No, I told him.

I am a Cat 3.

(I didn't yell this or anything, I actually thought it in my head.)

I told him I could train forever but my threshold power isn't going to magically jump 100 watts to some mid-300 watt level. I feel good for me but in comparison to the others, I'm just a Cat 3. He started to see the light.

"I guess if your threshold isn't at like 380 watts then it just won't be. I kinda get it."

It was a sobering conversation because it was so true. My threshold isn't above 300 watts right now, and although I might be able to find 30 watts like he did, it won't push me into the wattage stratosphere.

Eventually I rolled back to the car.

The "ex-Saturn" guy was there at some point. He'd gotten a vest to ward off the wind while he cooled down. I recognized it as an older Jelly Belly vest.

Jelly Belly?

I asked him if that was a "real" vest. Meaning did he race for them.

He answered, almost bashfully, that, yeah, he did race for them. In 2003. Just before he retired from racing pro. He'd raced for Saturn until then apparently.

I couldn't help myself but blurt out about how I helped Jelly Belly (or, more precisely, Danny Van Haute) put some roof racks on their cars and such. Nice guys, friendly, mellow.

He said that, yeah, "Dan" is a good guy, has a good group of people around him. The guy seemed totally down to earth, mellow, not hyper about his cycling strengths.

I guess he really was "ex-Saturn". But to me it was more significant that he was "ex-Jelly Belly".

And his bashful way of answering, like he was almost embarrassed by it, meant he was, at that time, really, really, really good. Because the really good riders don't talk very much. They don't need to.

They just pound your legs into jelly.

I never got his name but apparently he lives near me as I followed him to within a couple miles of our apartment.

I thought, wow, it would be cool to ride with someone like that. But then I thought about it. His easy rides are probably at 250-300 watts. I'd die just following his wheel. I think I'll skip asking him if he wants to go riding one day.

Plus I don't know his name anyway.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Story - Middletown

A few Monday nights ago I attended the CCNS/Pedal Power team presentation, held in Middletown, CT.

I went to the presentation not really knowing what to expect. I found a friendly bunch of people, some enthusiastic sponsors, and a very motivated Aidan Charles, the leader of the whole gig. I got to catch up with some of my friendly rivals, guys who I've worked really hard to beat, but at the same time guys that I'd help out in a pinch if they were up against "outsiders".

(On a side note - I think that rivals from the same area band together when strong threats visit from outside their area. I've seen some very fierce rivals helping one another out in the bigger races during the summer, either to defend on home turf or to try and win as Visitors to others' turf. This "regionalism" seems prevalent no matter where you go. Anyway that's the side note. On with the regular story now.)

One guy, a team sponsor, came up to me and thanked me for a fun race at Bethel. I told him that it's rare that people look me up to give kudos - it's normally the mad ones that take the time and energy to get hold of me.

We started talking about various cycling things. It ends up that he and I are about the same age (within a few months, not decades). He went to college in the region which meant we probably raced against each other in college, racing the Bs (Cat 3s and 4s) at various collegiate races. He went on to be quite a successful racer at the highest amateur levels whereas I... well, I was always a 3.

He's a 3 now also, having taken a long, long break to build a company, have a family, and do all the things you're supposed to do "after you finish racing". He requested and received an upgrade since he used to be quite the racer. As a former 1 he's lucky not to have been forced to become a 2. I have a sneaking suspicion that he'll be upgraded sooner than later, based on his palmares, fitness, and enthusiasm for the sport.

Ironically his son has a similar heart condition to mine, causing it to race at times. Due to its more intense symptoms (2 hours for him, a minute for me), he had an operation to fix it. I'll stick with carrying my EKG printout around for now.

Middletown also happens to be the town where I first raced the bike, in Andy Raymond's Firecracker 500, held on July 4th. That year, 1983, was the first year it was held on the "street" course - previously it had been held in some park. The "street" course was a textbook standard old time criterium, held on Main Street in a sleepy town, four corners, wide straights, and some sponsor-provided bonuses for the racers - showers at a Y, a beer tent for those enough to imbibe, some other stuff. They had a race pamphlet (these were a big deal if you were promoting a race back then) which had things like "bicycle racing definitions", the day's race schedule, and the course description, all buried in a myriad of sponsor's business card ads.

Coincidentally Pedal Power happens to be located a block or so away from what used to be Turn Four of the Firecracker 500.

So, after the presentation and the associated chatting, I got in my car and slowly drove down the very quiet, very dark Main Street. I went past Turn 4 and followed what would have been the sprint on the main straight.

My second Andy Raymond Firecracker 500- 1984. I was a nervous wreck, peering out from the Brancale Giro helmet I'd modified and painted.

I remembered the heat during the crit, the relentless sun. We camped out in Burger King, located on the main stretch, nursing our sodas and buying a hamburger every 20 or 30 minutes so we'd be "customers". When they went to putting the soda machines out in the dining area (so you could get free refills) I think I drank so much Pepsi that I couldn't eat anything. Of course it was a good place to use the bathroom too, slippery tiles notwithstanding.

Alas, that night, I saw that the Burger King was gone, now a Rite Aid.

I passed the bit of the sidewalk where a very young Chris Zigmont had parked his 1986 Golf GTI with 287k miles (or something like that). He was rep'ing something, I don't remember what, probably Mavic. I was like a little kid back then and oohed and aahed over his car (I'd later buy a 1987 GTI, black, not like his faded red-turned-orange one - but I never got the body kit that my memory says he had). At the end of the day, when he'd packed up all his stuff, I happened to walk by. I looked at his pretty low riding and heavily weighed down car, the six inch curb, and then up at him in the driver's seat.

"How are you gonna get off the sidewalk?", I asked him.

He had his windows open and turned to me and grinned. Then he gunned the car, peeled out, and launched his poor car off the six inch curb. A sickening metal screech announced the meeting of chassis and concrete but the tires scurried on the pavement below and pulled the complaining car off of the curb. He accelerated away.

Oh. That way.

I drove slowly to Turn One, a familiar church across the street. I think the Y was in there or around the corner. I remembered one year when I finished the race on the brink of fainting from the heat. I spent 20 or 30 minutes in the shower, fully dressed (even my wood soled leather shoes), sitting under a stream of cold water. As I cooled off I peeled off my gloves and shoes and socks and jersey and finally got up, toweled off, and returned to civilization.

Up the hill from Turn One to Turn Two, I saw the "stutter turn" which made Turn Two. Effectively two 45 degree turns, with a bus stop excavated into the curb line between the two bends. I used the bus stop area to move up routinely, squeaking by on the inside as the curb came in for the second bend.

Inside this whole Turn One-Two area is a nice grassy area. It was a great spot to watch the race until one year they put the portapotties there - suddenly people didn't want to hang out around too much.

The backstretch seemed just as bumpy as it did in the 1983. I remember pounding into manhole covers, rear wheel skipping on the cracks at one of the four-ways. I drove past that four-way intersection road halfway down the straight and smiled to myself. One year, in an oxygen debt and fatigued haze, I almost turned right down that road more than a couple times. That would have been a surprise for everyone around me.

Turn Three came up but I couldn't go down the short straight - it is a one way coming up the hill. So I eased and peered down the straight.

It is a narrow, two lane downhill, now lined with parking meters, leading to Turn Four. Since Four was the last corner and it was at the bottom of a short descent, the racers were trucking along at a good clip and guys were trying to move up for the final turn.

Turn Four in 1988 I think - and I'm upright.

After a particularly bad year, when two very strong riders broke things (one racer ended up catapulted about 8 or 10 feet into the air, broke his leg, arm, and a host of other things - his teammate fell a few laps before/after and broke a bunch of things too), they reversed the direction, making it counterclockwise. This really altered the tone of the race, making it much less interesting, so I always think of the course in the "original" direction.

With a car behind me wondering what I was doing cruising the quiet streets of Middletown, I pulled myself out of memory lane and started paying attention to the roads around me.

Someone had talked about holding the Middletown race again. I hope they can make it happen.

Now what to do about those parking meters...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Equipment - DV46 Clinchers

Last winter, before I became a full time cyclist, I sold off a bunch of wheels to finance the purchase of some Reynolds DV46Cs - 46 mm carbon rimmed clincher wheels. They are a virtual twin to the DV46Ts I race on - just the clincher's "more white" decals alert users that I don't have the tubulars.

I got them for a bunch of reasons. The last one is that they are really cool looking. There's something about the image of a deep carbon wheel spinning in one direction, cranks (with the chain on the big ring) spinning the other direction. It screams speed, of fast, of exhilaration.

Imagine someone hammering on this bike, wheel spinning one way past the chainstay, cranks the other. Screams speed, fast, exhilaration, doesn't it?

And, thanks to the Cervelo and Zipp marketing gods, it also reminds me of CSC.

Anyway, the last reason is the least justifiable. It doesn't win budget conversations with the missus ("But honey, these wheels just scream speed, fast, exhilaration... they look so fast. Hello? You got that glazed look on your face again. Am I doing it again?").

I like my bike a lot.

More logical reasons trump cool, fast, exhilaration. I'll list some below.

1. I race on DV46Ts. The wheels feel so different (super light, super fast, different rim profile compared to any non-Reynolds wheelset I own) from any other wheel I had that I would spend a few miles getting used to the wheels. On race day I tend to warm up very little so some of those miles getting used to the wheels occur during the race. You know, while elbow to elbow with 80 or 100 of my closest (in a physical sense) bike racing friends.

This procedure is best described as "Not Ideal".

Riding similar wheels (the DV46C is about as close as you get) would let me get used to the wheels when training. Lo and behold it has. No more weird brake action from yours truly in the first few laps of a race, no more swerving a bit in turns, just the standard "just riding along" stuff.

2. I used to use the same standard brake pads for my aluminum training rims and the DV46Ts. I realize this isn't ideal but I don't feel like swapping pads before each race, changing how the bike feels etc. I didn't want to ruin my DV46Ts by scraping holes through the sidewalls so I decided that I should use the carbon specific pads. But I didn't want to swap the pads all the time so it was either get new race wheels or get new training wheels.

I got new training wheels.

With the DV46Cs I put carbon specific Swiss Stop pads on full time and am now used to the way they brake, feather, etc. There's no surprises when braking on race day like there was before.

3. Since the wheels have the same hubs (I made sure I was buying the same generation of wheel, with the non DT hubs - White Industries I think), there is no need for any fine adjustment when swapping between wheels. Not the case with some of my other wheels.

4. Since the wheels are both nice, the clinchers are a good wheel pit wheel set for the tubulars. Nothing wrong with racing the DV46Cs.

5. I have faith that the wheels will get me home when I go training on them. I popped a spoke in the DV46T front wheel about 10 miles into a 30+ mile circuit race (Prospect Park) and felt fine finishing the race with 50+ mph descents, tight fields, and a massive field sprint, all on a 15 spoke front wheel. I think I got 6th in the wild sprint (which reminds me, I still have a helmet cam clip to finish up - of that race), spoke twanging on the fork the whole time. If the tubular wheel made it through that, I figure I'll be able to get home if the same thing happens on my clinchers.

My stats and riding habits, for comparison sake:

1. I weigh about 170-175 now, topped out at 190+, min will probably be 165 (that was my minimum in the last 10 years or so). I ride a SystemSix pretty much exclusively at this point so not some super flexy frame. I usually carry a small seat bag (very densely packed - weighs about 2-3 pounds), 1-2 bottles, and a mini pump. I don't really load the bike up too much. Anymore stuff I put in my pockets - in other words, when I hit bumps, that stuff normally unweights along with me.

2. I bunny hop everything that significantly threaten my wheels, unweight when riding over normal bumps, and tend not to run into deep potholes and stuff. The last time I pinch flatted a clincher was when I double flatted at 45 mph drafting a truck, maybe in 2004. The rims were unbent. It might have been my panicked hop but I doubt it - the tires blew. It's probably just some luck. I'm pretty sure the last rim I bent bent was in the mid 90s.

What I'm trying to say is that I tend to be easy on rims.

3. I ride 23c tires (Krylions, excellent tire for everything a Cat 3 would do), am religious about checking pressure, and typically run them at 105/110 to 115/120 psi (front/rear). I don't neglect my tires and I don't run stupid narrow tires.

4. I train both indoors and outdoors on the DV46Cs. My rides are anywhere from 30-45 minutes up to 6-7 hours long. Typical rides are 1-3 hours long.

I do have some DV46C dislikes:

1. At 50+ mph on descents with gusty wind (i.e. either gusty wind or a passing truck a few feet off my elbow) the front DV46C gets a bit unstable. I'd prefer a box section front wheel for situations like that and I'll be building one up (aluminum) for those times I may want something more stable.

When I say "unstable" I don't mean "crashingly unstable". I mean I feel the need to get out of my "hands next to stem" tuck and get into a "hands on drops" tuck. I also lean over a bit less - my underside of my chin isn't about to be burned by the tire (it's happened before). With a box section front wheel I feel comfy at 55-60+ mph, chin hovering over tire, hands by stem.

2. I don't like the bladed spokes. The wheel swerves a bit when sprinting. I switched the tubular to round spokes (2.0 DT Revolutions) and it made a huge difference. I am waiting to pop a spoke on the clinchers and then I'll do the same.

I bought the DV46Ts new, the DV46Cs used. Used, Campy freehub wheels like mine are typically sold at $850-900/pair on eBay in good shape, with tires, cassette. Figure $150-200 less for tubulars. I admit I paid on the high side for the clinchers but they included spiffy tires, tubes, a titanium cassette, and some wheel bags.
I'm pretty sure the wheels weigh about the same, but with a training cassette on the clinchers (all steel 11-25, versus a half titanium 11-23), clincher tires/tubes (about 200 grams or 1/2 pound heavier), I figured there should be a slight difference in weight. I confirmed this by weighing the bike with the tubulars fitted first and then the clinchers fitted next. The latter give up about three quarters of a pound penalty, so not very much. With the clinchers the bike weighs in at about 16.5 pounds, about 15.75 pounds with the tubulars. Not illegally light but nothing to complain about.

The tubulars are in front. Note the two different colors in the cassette - the bigger cogs are titanium. Also note the brighter decals on the clinchers -more white and silver make the decals much brighter.

Both sets of wheels. The clinchers are on the bike. The front tubular has silver round spokes. The rest of the wheels have the stock black spokes (round on driveside rear, otherwise bladed).

Incidentally my previous bike, with the identical DV46Ts (including cassette, skewers, and tires) on, weighed 17.5 pounds. It feels noticeably heavier than the SystemSix.
Because I now know it takes a few minutes to swap pads, I'm not as concerned about mixing up my wheels with aluminum rimmed ones as I was before. Changing between aluminum and carbon rims doesn't faze me now. I simply don't have a race wheel set up at this time. Plenty of training wheels but no nice, light, 28H tubulars ready to go.

A final note. It might be my imagination, or it might be that I'm just used to aero wheels, but these wheels, they don't seem that aero. They seem more like the old Zipp 340s I had - light, super quick acceleration, but they top out quicker than more aerodynamic wheels. I don't know, I don't have any data on this.

Plus it's still cold out, and that makes it worse. I ride with a jacket on top of everything else every time I go out. It feels a bit constrictive and not as fast, so I don't like doing max speed efforts at this time. So my top speed efforts are a bit misleading. And finally, right now, without any speed measuring devices on the bike, I can't measure anything anyway.

So much the better, that's what I think.

I'm just waiting for the warm days to hit. And then it'll be time to go out and play.