Sunday, June 29, 2008

ToPA - Pittsburgh Crit

Cough, hack. Hack, cough.

Robin said something to me at the very beginning of this whole shindig. I won't forget it.

"Dude, I gotta wash my hands. Too much handshaking."

And he walked off to wash his hands.

It brought to me the whole "racers are superstitious about trying not to get sick" thing - hitting elevator buttons with elbows, not shaking hands, things like that. I just figured it was kinda like an old wive's tale, kinda sorta true but not totally completely.

Well let me tell you, next time I'm somewhere like a stage race, I'll be pushing buttons with my elbows, washing my hands after every few handshakes, no hugs, things like that. Imagine the scenario:

"Hey dude! How's it going? I haven't see you since... sorry, gotta wash my hands, I'm up to 4 handshakes already."



"Hi sweetie! Oh, sorry, I can't kiss you. No hugs either. I know, I know, you're my wife, but I don't want to get sick."

That wouldn't work out too well. I'll edit that last bit. I think this would work better:

"... I don't want to get you sick."

Alright, she probably won't go for that either. Plus she seems to stay in much better health than me.

Anyway, at race central in Pittsburgh, I breezed through the lobby, straight to the building's gift shop, don't pass Go, and bought an uncontrolled (i.e. no pharmacy or ID necessary) bottle of DayQuil.


I just checked the bottle. It's uncontrolled because it has nothing in it that's, well, controlled. The controlled stuff is what I wanted. And I thought I was just much sicker than I thought. I just remembered in my brain haze that I brought some of the controlled stuff with me. Took some of that, and with no overlapping ingredients, I was a lot better for the day.

Next topic please.

Sunday was a bit weird.

The first weird thing that happened - U23 National Crit Champ tumbles on call up. This is a picture on CyclingNews taken by Scott Schaffrick.

The final stage of the Tour of PA started at 5 PM. Great for TV (live coverage on Versus). The racers liked being able to sleep in. So did all the course tech staff. It made for a long day though because of the 5 (or in my case, 10) hour gap between waking up and race start. But that wasn't what made it weird.

It was the tornado warning.

Now, I don't know if it was a warning or a watch, but whichever it was, a Pittsburgh official basically said "Everyone here should seek cover". You know, in case a tornado touched down. Including the racers. So the race officials duly stopped the race.

I got under one of the many tents out there. After a bit I left to see if there was anything I could help with. I had no idea what that might be, but suddenly we needed ice for some guys who'd crashed just before the race got stopped. Myself and another person ran around, found ice, and brought it to the team car corral just in time to see the riders roll away and line up for the restart.

I put down my 80 pounds of ice, a bit disheartened that it'd all just go to waste (plus it was hard work lugging that stuff around). The team staffs' eyes lit up when all that ice showed up - in a minute it was all gone, poured into coolers and such.

All good, except the rider had to be taken to the hospital. I think the team wanted him to stay in because he was in the GC, but after the pause, the officials decided to make the race a non-GC race, i.e. no GC changes. So the leader yesterday was the winner today. And if you got "lapped", you'd be placed as a finisher today.

I say "lapped" like that because there were no stipulations of effort. A bunch of teams, their riders already withering from the rest of the race, decided to soft pedal until they were pulled, leaving a core group of maybe 70 racers to contest the finish.

Then, after a few laps of resumed racing, it was announced that the somewhat substantial prize money for the stage would be donated to Ronald McDonald House. This would prevent some of the kamikaze type racers from hurting themselves.

Now it was a race of honor.

For a lap or two it went easy, probably as directors tried to explain to their confused charges exactly what was going on. Then one of the main teams, the one with the overall lead, Kelly Benefits, went to the front and started driving the pace. True professionals, these. The TV cameras were out, covering US cycling live for the first time in Versus's history. Professionals race to bring publicity to their sponsors, and Kelly Benefits went to the front to race hard and make this last stage an exciting race. Of course it wouldn't hurt to have their team jerseys and shorts plastered all over national TV.

Doing the pro thing. From Cycling News, photo by Scott Shaffrick.

This prolonged effort literally shelled about a third of the racers, with a bunch more in serious trouble at the back of the strung out field. It did show who was truly in it to race though, and I think it was a great show of professionalism and sportsmanship.

The sun started to come out, the course started to dry just a touch, and I went to the YouSahDah area at the start/finish area. The warm sun had almost completely dried my previously soaking wet clothes. That's when the guys clearing the announcer's tent roof of water accidentally dumped about 10'x10'x3" of water on top of me.

I was in shock, properly soaked, waving my YouSahDah folder around to keep it dry. So much for dry clothing.

A section of wet brick seemed to claim most of the victims today, and a couple more crashes there put paid to all but maybe 30 racers. Slipstream, quick to follow Kelly Benefit's lead and race with honor, put all their guys at the front and drilled it for a good 10 laps, leading it out for their guy, the one who unexpected toppled when he got called up. The Kelly boys tucked just behind, protecting their team leader and overall leader (and victor). Waste Management had three guys in the severely pruned field, PA Lightning had two, Zteam stuck it out in there, Time Pro ditto, a few other teams.

Bell lap and Kelly Benefits went to the front, a standard move taken right from the first chapter of KBS strategies.

"Thou shalt avoid long leadouts if possible. Thou shalt hit the front with one lap to go and drill it."

Waste Management had one guy hammering at the front, looking extremely comfortable on the slick turns. He actually pulled off, sat up, and still had a slight gap at the front, and with that, he decided to push again. Kelly Benefits had two guys up there, Slipstream had a couple too. A final lap crash wiped out maybe 10 riders, delayed another 5 or so, and a very elite group of about 10-12 racers contested the sprint. Ultimately the Slipstream sprinter, the U23 crit champion, rocked the last turn in second spot, jumped like there was no tomorrow, and took a very good victory.

With that, the race was over. Or not. I grabbed my YouSahDah stuff and went to collect a rider. I left him at dope control and went back to get out of my sopping wet clothes and take a nice warm shower.

Tour of PA was over for the racers. For the technical staff, perhaps another month of paperwork. And for me, a long, long day in the driver's seat Monday as I drive from Pittsburgh to Philly to Connecticut.

Friday, June 27, 2008

ToPA - Ligonier to Pittsburgh

Last night I got to sleep in a dorm for the first time in many, many years. It was a barebones operations, sheet and pillow, no blanket. Worried I'd be a bit cold, I wore my American Eagle Outfitters hoody, my long PJs, and I was fine. I woke up posing like a gangsta (okay, I didn't, but the hoody made me want to strike a pose) with what seems to be an oncoming cold (sore throat) but reasonably well rested. A late start helped me, and at about 9:00 AM we got underway.

Yesterday finished in Latrobe. Today we backtracked a bit and started in Ligonier (which, incidentally, I thought was Langoliers, the Stephen King movie). We headed out in a winding route to the heart of Pittsburgh, to the corporate headquarters of American Eagle Outfitters.

The stage today started much later than the others, at noon. We'd be going maybe 4 hours to Pittsburgh. The start of the race looked relatively calm, but the last 15 miles, going through some tough sections of Pittsburgh, they looked really busy. I knew from the prior days that we could effectively clear about 4 or 5 clogged intersections at a time, and I was looking at perhaps 5 or so per mile for a while.

It stressed me out enough that I was at the computer at 3 AM, mapping things out, noting odd intersections, making sure I had a familiarity with the course. I mean, yes, I looked at the course before, but now I was looking at it from a turn-by-turn basis, storing each one in my "seems vaguely familiar" memory files. There were some doozies, and I had to zoom into those sections using the satellite mode so I could see exactly where I needed to go.

The intersection going onto Penn Ave I mention later. Note that my gmap-pedometer follows the actual lanes we would use, at least where it counts.

The good thing was that the expected thundershowers held off until, well, later. But there was no bike racing going on when it was pouring. Also we had virtually no problems with the first part of the route. Long steady roads, beautiful rollers, curves, it was great.

The bad thing was the extremely effective State Police guys just got overwhelmed by the amount of traffic, the road conditions, and a whole bunch of stolen or missing route arrows. I think this is like Blackhawk Down when two SEAL snipers are overwhelmed by hundreds or thousands of indigent people. The guys were great the whole week but Penn Ave was our undoing.

First off, at a huge intersection, there were no arrows. Our guy who set them up swore up and down that his crew set them up, and we believe him because he's really good at what he does (everyone calls him superman behind his back so I called him that to his face). But zip ties are no match for a determined vandal. Whatever the cause, a bunch of route arrows were gone, and we didn't see any for a long, long time.

The lead elements knew where to go because of moi (seriously) because of a laptop, wireless broadband card, a detailed recon spreadsheet with mileage and landmarks prepared by Robin and Andrea, and gmap-pedometer (i.e. stuff like the picture above). I confirmed it by asking a Pittsburgh cop to verify the road name and he did. But we lost precious seconds while things closed up and we got going. And we had no arrows to show riders or the caravan where to go.

We ran into intersection after intersection of busy traffic, my guy calling up his guys to clear this or clear that. The radio was blaring, the sirens wailing, and the man not named Keith in real would ask me, "Which way here??" as we got to each intersection. He'd relay the information to his guys, immediately, without hesitation. He had put total faith in my directions (which would make the missus cringe) and broadcast them out decisively.

Luckily I didn't mess up. And it was extremely intense, to say the least.

I'd be calling out street names and directions loudly, speaking or yelling very deliberately (all the radios were going bananas the whole time so sometimes I had to almost yell). I knew it was working because we'd approach a street, expect to see a certain name, see it, I'll call out the turn, Kevin would turn as directed, he'd broadcast the turn to his guys, and we'd all blast down the next street. I felt like a rally driver, calmly and coolly calling out route directions while the car zigged and zagged. I also radioed any unusual obstacles back to the elements just in front of the race, to prep them for things like missing signs or particularly heavy traffic.

I had a bunch of sill-grabbing moments, some much longer than others. I guess Kevin knows his car like he ought to, and he knew exactly where it would fit, when it would fit, and it fit, but my more conservative approach didn't believe it would fit.

I started wondering what would happen if we hit something and the airbags deployed. I know an airbag is supposed to make things safer, but not if you have a laptop on your lap. I found out later that exactly such a thing happened at another stage race, and one site doing the live updates for that particular race suddenly didn't have live updates for a while.

Ultimately we made it to the finishing loops. We did a lap with all the police, motos, etc., and then pulled off into a huge lot. Kevin had the motos take their glory, leading the race for the last two loops. The rest of the crew stopped and watched the very exciting finish. A small break stayed clear, the overall lead changed hands, and things set up for an exciting finale tomorrow.

Of course, for me, it wasn't as leisurely. I grabbed a YouSahDah folder, saw I had to get 1st on the stage again, found my new best friend (same guy as yesterday), and then handed him over to someone else since my new best friend was also the overall leader. Relieved of my anti-doping duties, I made like a banana and split the scene.

As far as weather went it was a zonker of a day. Hot, humid, I climbed out of the trooper car soaked in stress sweat, feeling like I'd just gotten out of a pool. Running around looking for my new best friend didn't help. I went and found one of our cars and sat in the AC comfort, trying to dry away the stresses of the previous 4 hours.

We found our dorms, manned (womanned?) by a friendly and engaging desk staff, surrounded by a lot of Catholic stuff. Crucifixes were a bit unusual, but the Final Exam Prayer really took the cake. According to the desk staff, the school has posted a bunch of prayers all over campus in public areas. For the students themselves they leave the rooms religiously neutral. As one of the desk staff happily admitted, she wasn't Catholic.

As the riders were all getting ready to eat the skies opened up. A final kick in the butt to end a hard day out on the course.

Tomorrow is the crit at 5 PM. I won't have to ride in any more trooper cars (not for the race anyway) and there is no early start. This means I can eat and drink a bit more than "as little as possible" tomorrow morning. I had to do this because we really didn't have any official opportunity to use a restroom from 10 minutes before the start until the end of the stage. To be safe I simply starved and dehydrated myself. Not ideal but I never had an "accident".

I will definitely miss riding in the lead trooper car though. I feel like it may not be a thing I'd be able to do again, but if the opportunity ever pops up, I'd grab it in a heartbeat. It was an intense, eye-opening, exciting task, well worth the stresses in the heat of the moment. I suppose it's like a hard bike race. Afterwards you go, "Well, it wasn't that bad", but during the race it just seems overwhelming.

Monday we have a 5 hour drive to the warehouse, I swap a caravan vehicle for my own, and then I have another 5 hour drive to get home. 10 hours of driving (I just typed crying by accident, not sure if that was a Freudian slip). 8 AM start. 6 PM end? If I can get across the Hudson River before rush hour, it'll be good.

ToPA - Bedford to Latrobe

I woke up and looked around. The lights were on, the laptop, the TV. I was fully dressed, minus my socks and shoes.

I had no idea what time it was, and I could feel anxiety tightening my chest. Did I oversleep? Did I miss the race? Was my phone dead and therefore no one could call me?

I checked the clock. 5:30.

I glanced at the curtains. I saw daylight underneath them. And since I know I was out at dinner last night, I realized it was the morning.

My anxiety subsided, to be replaced with a deep rooted fatigue. I hadn't missed the start. But I didn't dare go back to sleep.

This was Stage 4 of the race (which I know only because I just checked the Tech Guide), but as far as how I felt? I didn't know anymore. I figured out it was Friday by looking at my watch. I had lost all concept of time, of the week, of the month. Literally trembling from a combination of a lack of sleep and food, yawning uncontrollably, I tried to pull myself together. Today was another road stage, another few hours of alternating boredom and extreme stress.

I met up with the Trooper known as Kevin (not his real name, because I wasn't clear about that before - I was already forgetting things in my fatigued state). I set up shop in the car, carefully placing my radio so as not to disturb his, plugging in the laptop and waking it up so I could see the carefully mapped route. As a bonus the car was blowing ice cold dry air, a bonus in the stifling humidity.

I'd been tapped to be a YouSahDah chaperone, but this time I wasn't given a badge. No worry, carrying things around was starting to become a pain. I also got a couple radios (ditto on carrying them around), and even a start list (now I could tell who was doing what).

We started off a bit late, only 5 or so minutes before the start, and hurried up through the first few turns. Then we got word that a caravan vehicle's battery had died and there'd be a delay. We stopped at an intersection, a bit helpless, unable to go forward.

I'd decided (obviously) not to do a "live" report since trying to get numbers and such was too distracting yesterday. The radios all go crazy at once, traffic seems to appear magically whenever that happens, and basically it gets to be a total mess. So I decided no more live reports.

I sat in the car, waiting at that intersection, not doing a live report, waiting for the race to start. Then suddenly we were told they'd just started and they were "up our rear bumper". Or something like that.

Whatever, we leapt forward into action. We went by the usual oblivious drivers. We were clearing roads all the way to the last lane to the left, or shoulder if there was one. Yesterday, on a particularly wide section of road, I questioned the necessity of doing so, but when I saw the following picture, I realized it was.

Good thing we pushed traffic all the way to the opposite shoulder.

I relayed this discovery to Kevin who nodded in understanding. Our goal, as usual, was to clear the road well enough that the road-closure type problems would not affect the race, and to keep the caravan on course.

A couple times he had his troopers give particularly clueless or fast or otherwise unusual drivers a "talk", i.e. scare them into thinking they were on the edge of getting a ticket. Usually it was those drivers either going 70 or 80 towards us (that still gets my heart going since we're usually on the wrong side of the rad) or those that give extremely dirty looks because of the inconvenience of having to give way to an emergency vehicle.

Now, granted, a bike race isn't an emergency, but if that person's kid was in an ambulance, they'd probably want everyone to get out the way quickly, not mosey on along to the shoulder while casting dirty looks at the "freakin' ambulance that is going to make me late for whatever".

You'd think that they'd want to move over, but no. A state police cruiser with its lights flashing is merely an inconvenience. Nowadays it's all about me. No one else matters, just me. But that's a different topic altogether.

You could tell the good drivers, the ones that respected the law. They pulled over firmly and decisively, sometimes hit their hazards, and waited patiently. Truck drivers always did this, to the best of their ability. Keep in mind it takes 300-400 feet to slow an 18-wheeler down from 60 mph, and since most of the speed limits were 55 mph, it was reasonable to expect them to take a full 100 meters to slow and stop on the shoulder. You could smell the brakes and I felt bad for the truckers, using up 5000 miles of brakes for the bike race.

At least they'd have time to cool them off while they waited for the race to pass.

We screamed up and over the first KOM, clearing the descent long before the field even got to the base of the climb. I took advantage of a park's "Visitor Center" bathroom. Something I ate early on didn't agree with me, and drinking a "friend of the race's coffee shop's" coffee didn't help either. Properly de-stressed I jumped back in the car, good until the finish.

What did stress me out was the blast up and over the mountain just before we stopped. We flew up the climb, going deep into the national speed limit speed, braking heavily for the various curves. We did the same on the (posted speed limit 20 mph) downhill, the car struggling to slow on the wet and curvy descent. I definitely felt a few wiggles from the tail of the car under heavy braking, but it might have been my overactive imagination.

Part of the reason we stopped at that Visitor Center is the brakes got severely overheated on the descent, causing the car to buck wildly every time we needed to slow - it felt like we were driving on egg shaped tires. Kevin stopped the car and walked around the car, seeing if there were any obvious problems with the brakes. I did too, and except for them smelling like we'd driven with the parking brake on, they were fine. He let the car idle for a few minutes, reconnecting on the comms (a relay went down so we lost our radios, and we had no cell phone signal either), and let the brakes cool off.

The brakes cooled nicely and we were on our way once again, without getting jerked around when slowing.

Things went pretty well for the most part until the last 5 km of the race, when things went down the tubes. It was not quite totally hairy, but it was definitely hairy. There was a lot of construction with orange and white barricades all over the place, and we had to turn right off of that road onto another road with tons of construction. Our right turn was so narrow that Kevin almost drove past it, me crying out "981 north, to the right!" just in time. He jammed the wheel sideways, we stopped, and he asked the marshal if it was 981 north. The marshal nodded affirmatively.

The Tech Director was just behind us, the break just behind him, and there was perhaps 6 feet of width of clear road, the rest of it packed with cars and trucks coming towards us and gridlocked at the closed intersection. I imagined a Cat 3 coming into that turn hot with 3 k to go. I think maybe the first or second rider would have made it. The rest of them would have plowed into the waiting vehicles.

I hoped these guys were better than that.

They were. They were U25 elite level riders and they demonstrated that they have what it takes to, say, succeed in the narrow roads of Europe, where 6 feet wide roads might as well be a superhighway. The Canadian DS Steve, when I asked him about the corner, shrugged.

"We had a lane open. That was fine."

I queried him again, giving him a chance to edit his answer. He remained resolute.

"You gotta fight for position. It was fine."

His smile told me that it really was fine. Robin, listening in, looked at me.

"Dude, he knows. He knows that they gotta be able to handle this (bleep). It's part of racing."

It was sketchy, no doubt, and even the stage winner said so. He didn't mind though, it kept things strung out, and I'm sure it helped him out.

Right after the finish Kevin parked the car. I told him I had to do dope control and I'd have to go right away. I packed up the laptop, phone, grabbed radios, and huffed it back to the finish line. The YouSahDah woman was there and handed me a clipboard. I opened it up again. Who would I have to escort?

"1st place Stage".

Cool. The winner. I saw him blow by the trooper car shortly after we parked, number 71, the Canadian hotshot on the Kelly Medifast team.

I found him, tagged him, and I became his new best friend. Or, more accurately, a bodyguard. I went where he went, and he kept an eye out for me. If we got separated, it's possible he'd be considered positive, and neither of us wanted that. 1:39 PM. He'd have to report by 2:39 PM.

He was called to the finish line area and we walked over there slowly, navigating through the crowds at the finish. They found a chair for him and he took a seat. His director eventually caught up with him.

I checked my watch.

He waited around, got interviewed by a couple local TV stations.

I checked my watch.

He got called up to the podium presentations. They presented everyone. The stage winner. The KOM guy. The sprinter guy. The leader guy. The most aggressive guy.

I checked my watch. After each guy was called. This was taking for-freakin'-ever.

He came back. Waited for the press conference scheduled with the news channels that hadn't caught up with him.

I checked my watch about 20 times. 30 minutes had gone by.

Press conference. A few cameras showed up.

Jeepers. I checked my watch again. These things drag on forever. And we didn't have forever. We had about 28 minutes. Not that I was counting.

Suddenly, from the middle of all the cameras, the people, the reporters, he looked up. Caught his new best friend's eye. Nodded. I pointed towards the control location. He nodded.

I checked my watch. I wouldn't have to run. His DS Jonas Carney and he started walking. I trailed behind since I can't lead him unless I was walking backwards, those are the rules.

Then some folks asked him to sign something. Someone else wanted a picture of the winner with his kid. You absolutely cannot screw this stuff up, this is what will make bike racing popular. I actually stopped caravan traffic to give the kid a chance to take a picture with this bike racing star.

Dope control? Look, we had at least 27 minutes, plenty of time. We're talking cycling fans here. This is important stuff, as important as dope control. I didn't even have to check my watch, it's that important.

I delivered him to dope control about 40 minutes after I tagged him, 20 minutes before he'd be an automatic positive. Because Jonas was there, I got to hear some of the tactics that took place at the finish. Jonas read the race to perfection and told his guy when to go. The guy went and ended up hitting a corner "10k faster than everyone else" (his words).

I wonder if I'd have read the finish the same.

Afterwards the tough as nails soigneur Ryan and I tried to turn off the Kelly-Medifast car's rear wiper. It was giving the bone dry rear window a swipe every 5 or so seconds and it was driving me nuts. It drove her nuts too, but it was like my SRM - German, works well, and completely unintuitive. I fiddled with it for a minute or two. She asked what I was doing (in their car) and I told her the rear wiper swiping the dry window was driving me nuts.

"Me too! That thing is such a pain!"

So I wasn't the only one. She came over and said that there was something with the right side control stalk that turned it off. After squirting wiper fluid on the windows, turning on and off the front wipers, and making the rear wiper interrupt its rhythm, she finally got it to stop. We smiled like a couple kids who just figured out where the chocolate was in the cupboards.

Today we stay in dorms. I chivalrously traded Amy my single-with-bathroom for a single-without-one as there were a bunch of guys on the floor and only one female. This got me a stack of points in her book, reduced in part when Andrea said "Oh, you were supposed to trade rooms with him". Amy still appreciated the sacrifice though.

And now I'm exhausted. It's 4:29 PM. I'm hungry - I didn't eat after 7:45 AM due to the stomach-churning food I had at breakfast. I'm tired - I fell asleep on the keyboard a few minutes ago, but now I'm wide awake, and I didn't even have to delete a few thousand k's or some other stuck-key-letter. And I want to do laundry.

Tomorrow is a tough day for the caravan. We're already calling it an SS day and it hasn't even begun. 15 miles of twisting turning stuff in the worst part of Pittsburgh. It ought to be interesting.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

ToPA - Carlisle to Bedford, live

This is an experiment to see if I can type, navigate, listen to the radios, and type stuff.

10:01 AM - race start. 4.9 miles neutral. Light rain, road is drying, we're looking at humid but allegedly drier conditions.

10:04 AM - Two KOMs at 66 and 82 miles. Two sprints at 16 and 46 mi.

10:07 AM - crash. Oh, a car crash. Not a race crash, it'll be on the course though.

10:22 AM - multiple issues, I think this is going to be a short experiment. Train crossing blocked race, riders flatting, etc. And now I have to focus on my tasks, sorry.

10:28 AM - okay now it's a bit calmer. Roads are dry, sun is out. Coming up on sprint 5 mi or so. 27 mph.

10:32 AM - flat rolling farmland. Field is winding up for the sprint. 28-29 mph.

10:34 AM - coming up on I-81, about 14 miles into the race. Meaning we're coming up on it, the race is behind. Race averaging 23.6, field is going about 28 mph. Very light traffic, and a strong wireless signal.

10:37 AM - almost hit a car head-on. I no longer wonder how a Secret Service motorcycle person can get hit.

10:39 AM - coming up on the sprint line. Roads are incredibly clear, tons of marshals. Field going 31 mph.

10:39 AM - we passed by the DA apparently. He's taking a break to spectate.

10:40 AM - Passed two elder couples setting up chairs on the side of the road. Field at 28 mph.

10:45 AM - Motorcycles passing to clear an intersection (Allen Road and Route 11). They're like the super mobile leadout men, clearing things so that the less maneuverable stuff (like a field of racers) can get through.

10:46 AM - someone on a cell phone makes a left turn in front of two police motos and a police car, close enough to be a bit of a worry.

10:49 AM - yesterday there were earth movers, dump trucks, garbage trucks, tractors, and all sorts of other DPW type vechicles. 24.5 mph for the field (average), 19.6 miles. Beautiful huskies in a kennel. I think we're 4 or 5 miles ahead, now taking a break. Great shoulder here, Route 11.

10:51 AM - A golf course. Lots of people playing, strong crosswind from the right (north).

10:52 AM - Two guinea hens on the road. Farmers keep them around to eat bugs and to act as a natural alarm because they chirp when they get flustered. We got them off the road.

10:53 AM - if you want any gleaming new tractors, head just past Cinda Lane, there are a bunch of them out there. Road is excellent here. 20 mph field. 24.3 mph avg. Taking it easy before the two big climbs.

10:57 AM - we're passing a lot of young corn things. Plants. With all the flooding elsewhere I think these farmers are looking forward to a good year. The field is taking it easy.

10:59 AM - I wonder if the field is in some echelon. The wind is pretty strong from the right.

11:07 AM - Field is at 15 miles, I think 2:33 behind the break. We're at mile 26 or so.

11:08 AM - 24.5 mph avg speed. 5 riders off the front. 63, 15, 36, 125, 22.

11:09 AM - #155 caught the break.

11:10 AM - field is chasing now.

11:11 AM - field is 15 seconds down from the break. This whole thing is harder than it seems, typing updates like this.

11:12 AM - rider dropping back, #5, for service. Passed a Mennonite family, the dad had a three wheel recumbent.

11:13 AM - leaders have a 10 second gap. Chase group, 31, 131, they're chasing. 123. 24. 61. 84. I don't have a start list so I don't know names and teams.

11:15 AM - there are about 30 young cows running away from us. Trotting, but they're moving a bit. Chase is 5 seconds up.

11:17 AM - Two guys go off the front.

11:18 AM - Notification there is some pavement work going on.

11:19 AM - Some riders go off, I got 83, 84, and two more riders. 5 seconds. We have battling radios, lots of stuff going on because of the pavement work.

11:20 AM - Riders are at 10 seconds. I should have gotten more of the numbers.

11:22 AM - The road is down to one lane with traffic alternating one direction and the other. So it'll have to be totally cleared for the race.

11:22 AM - Gap is increasing. 15 seconds. And there are lots for sale, 5 acres each, if anyone wants any land around here.

11:24 AM - Someone down the road bought some land because they're building a bunch of town houses and such. The construction folk offered 1/2 more lane but it's hot tar. I think we'll turn them down on that offer.

11:25 AM - Some busy stuff now. Intersection with 174, 11. Big truck.

11:26 AM - 15 second gap to the break, 1 chaser, and then the field. Little hill after the intersection, perfect for an attack.

11:29 AM - busy little town. The Chief himself was out doing traffic duty.

11:34 AM - Some unsecured intersections, the racers picked up the pace. Back on the wrong side of the road, pushing a bit. A bit hectic.

11:38 AM - Went through the one lane area. Lots of pebbles. Apparently is 1:20 ahead of the chasers and the field. But they are hammering.

11:40 AM - Gap is a bit big now. I think we're the ones 1:20 ahead, but I dunno.

11:42 AM - There is a break that is 1:40 ahead. Jeepers, where have I been.

11:46 AM - Team cars behind the break so it's serious. Coming up on a sprint.

11:50 AM - another close pass, the driver was simply intent on going somewhere and almost took the mirror off of the PSP car.

11:51 AM - Coming up on the sprint. Slight downhill, looks fast.

11:56 AM - Chambersburg Square, lots of people cheering, very cool.

11:57 AM - Field is entering the town, break was 1:35 ahead.

11:58 AM - another push, lots of traffic, more wrong side driving, sirens, radios, stuff.

12:00 PM - Mobile home on the side of the road.

12:08 PM - The road is rolling, big climbs, big descents, all visible. Demoralizing. Break is at 55 seconds.

12:10 PM - I think one of the motos had a flat tire.

12:13 PM - Break is at 40 seconds, pulling team cars. These hills are hard.

12:14 PM - Saint Thomas, this is the town. Seems pretty quiet.

12:15 PM - Someone's pulled everyone over. It was like we were already there.

12:16 PM - 30 seconds. The break is in its final throes.

12:17 PM - all new pavement here, coming out of Saint Thomas. It's like the Tour was coming here, it's freshly paved. Well, last summer, but we can pretend. The lane stripes are new though.

12:18 PM - We lost one moto, it won't start. I don't know what the driver will do.

12:19 PM - field is at 35 seconds. 4 miles to the base of the mountain.

12:21 PM - Over and over I'm reminded that the truck drivers immediately pull over, the cars look like they're going to plow into us before they swerve off. Many of the offending drivers are on cell phones, but in PA that's legal.

12:22 PM - Break is at 40 seconds. I don't know if they are the same ones.

12:23 PM - 45 seconds. I wonder if they can climb.

12:24 PM - Caddy almost drives off the road, flying past us and almost going head on into the car behind us.

12:25 PM - Gap is 40. Beautiful scenery, beautiful pavement, big hill in front of us. Looks like annihilation for some riders, if I was racing I'd be afraid.

12:30 PM - This is a hard climb. In a PSP cruiser it's pretty easy though. But man, it just goes on and on. Steep at the beginning, then not too bad, but relentless.

12:35 PM - People at the top, waiting with cameras, the inflatable stick things, all waiting. The racers will be a while though.

12:40 PM - We're waiting at the bottom of the hill. Beautiful clear roads. What an awesome descent. Curves hard enough to carve, easy enough so you barely have to brake. If I had a bike with me...

12:49 PM - radio dead zone, waiting for the racers to crest the climb. They are at 1 km to go.

1:17 PM12:52 PM - solo rider, chase at 20, and field at 30. So not too fragmented. So we started up.

12:53 PM - we're still flying down the hill

12:53 PM - field is broken apart.

12:54 PM - 36, 12, 11, 134, 123, the top 5.

1:00 PM - Some racers are having problems, but the barrage of radio was hard to understand. Flat tires, a chase group forming, I think someone fell. Someone flatted, but it might have been a caravan vehicle.

1:03 PM - Passing by Licking Creek Township sign.

1:04 PM - Field is at 3:30, chase at 1:45, another chase closer to the break, and the break.

1:12 PM - This whole road racing thing is tough. With the climb and descent, we rushed ahead, and now we're sort of moseying along. I feel like I'm just out for a drive now other than the blaring radios in the car. I actually have a headache and I never have them.

1:14 PM - dead mink on the road.

1:17 PM - we're driving through the feedzone but the racers won't see it for a while.

1:24 PM - solo leader. This guy is strong. We've hit the scond climb, it's a doozy too, not as long but steeper.

1:31 PM - narrow windy descent. Windy like it winds a lot, not like there's a lot of wind.

1:46 PM - Waiting a bit as we got ahead. Having some Giant Strawberries from the Giant Strawberry guy (the motos had some).

1:52 PM - stragglers got over the top of the second climb.

1:53 PM - racers in Breezewood. Normally busy but today it's locked down.

1;54 PM - Rider 123 caught by field. I don't know where he was, other than he was in front of it.

1:55 PM - 30+ riders are 4 miles behind. The race has blown apart on the two big climbs.

Posted a little late as we lost all cell signal right after the KOM.

2:13 PM - It's hot. I can't imagine racing this. Wide open highway, no shade, white pavement, reflecting heat back up at you.

2:23 PM - I guess we moved too far ahead. No chaos like yesterday. Sitting pretty.

2:26 PM - I guess the break is 40 seconds ahead. The field is a mile or two behind.

2:30 PM - oh 1 KM to go. Road is nicely controlled. Lemme see if I can watch the finish.

2:55 PM - unbelievable. A Fiordifrutta rider pips a Kelly rider and a Konica (South African) rider. Curt Davis, Director of Fiordifrutta, will be very happy!

4:51 PM - So, after speaking with a few people, including Curt Davis, it appears that Peter Stetina (VMG/Felt) was away for the two KOMs, he had up to a 4 minute lead, and then got caught at 250 meters to go. Ouch. I mean, I can't relate to it, but ouch. Fiordifrutta had three guys in the last group, one that formed when four smaller groups merged on the fast run in to the finish.

Overall this means that it proves I can type without looking at the keyboard very much, and I can post when there is a decent signal, my information is so inaccurate (since race stuff is third most important - first is the police, second is race ops), it's probably not worth it to try to do it.

Plus one of the stages is going to be a lot worse than today's milk run.

Now for a refreshing shower, some dinner, and perhaps some laundry or something.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

ToPA - Downington-Carlisle RR

The man known as Kevin looked at me and grinned.

"Don't worry, I won't get you killed."

I looked back at the road. We were on the wrong side of the road, going into oncoming traffic at about 30 or 40 miles an hour, and we'd just slowed down from running a bunch of red lights, passing on the left, and reaching, at some point, speeds that would easily get you pulled over by the Pennsylvania State Police, or PSP.

I loosened my grip on the sill of the door, one that conveniently lets me grab it with my hand, my fingernails pressing against the front passenger door window.

There could be, and there was, only one explanation why the PSP weren't pulling us over.

Kevin was the PSP. And my fingers were curled around a PSP car, its blue and reds flashing, the headlights doing their left-right-left-right thing, and, when Kevin felt the need, the siren blaring.

Welcome to the Tour of Pennsylvania.

Like the other days this day started out on a totally different tone. I felt a lot more fatigued this morning, woke up later, and barely got showered before Robin called me. When I opened the curtains I realized with a sinking stomach that all the team cars that had been there last night were gone.

I hurried downstairs, grabbed a plate of food (I was supposed to eat there, contrary to the other buffets where I, um, didn't eat), drank four glasses of cranberry juice while standing next to the juice thing, and ran out to the car holding a PB&J muffin. I got to take a bite of that before I got to Robin's car.

And except for 2 swigs of water from a bottle, that's all I had for the next five hours.

We rolled into the start area, many of the cars already staged. The PSP folk were still setting up, figuring out their comms, and doing the meet and greet. Since the same guys would be with the race, it was important for them to meet people, say hi, and figure out whose orders they'd need to heed.

I lost my worth-its-weight-in-gold Race Guide before the race even started. So much for my precious Guide. I resorted to one or two pages of notes, a route correction sheet, and some other small things. I had a GPS unit, my laptop, my cell phone, and a race radio, and I found out that the trooper would be a guy named Kevin.

I found him, shook hands, and I loaded out the car. When I saw that the PSP car had a 15" GPS unit bolted to the dash I ditched the 3" one in the Tech Director's car, but otherwise I hung onto everything. I set up the laptop, plugged it into one of the many 12v power supply plugs in the car, stuck the race radio next to my seat belt buckle, and put the phone in the armrest hole thing that you grab to close the door. The engine idling, the AC on, I decided I'd reduce the chance of missing the start by just sitting there.

We started off and miraculously all these cops and marshals and people were blocking roads, drivers were pulling off to the shoulder, and things were good.

That lasted about, say, 5 minutes. Then it got hairy. I quickly learned that when people see a state trooper car, all lights flashing, driving down the wrong side of the road, arm out motioning to move over, they, well, they keep driving straight. The siren helped but then you couldn't hear the radios, and Kevin had some monster radio unit and a race radio tuned to Race Ops. After a while I tuned mine to Officials. And he also had some phones that kept ringing and such.

We'd be clearing the road, he'd be waving drivers to the side, the radio would be squawking, and he'd pick up the phone and ask the Command Post (I think) to notify such-and-such county that we were entering their area. Or such-and-such town.

Man, talk about distracted driving.

We almost plowed into oblivious drivers on the phone who didn't see or notice a car driving at them, lights flashing, until Kevin would break the sound barrier by either hitting his horn or popping the siren. Then you'd see them jump in their seat, slam on the brakes, and swerve right.

Like 50 feet in front of us.

So when you read about the guy who plows into the back of a police car who'd just pulled someone over, and you wonder "How the eff does someone not notice that there's a police car with its flashing lights on?", now you know. People get distracted, and when they get distracted, they only notice what they want to notice.

I noticed really quickly that truck drivers were the best ones out there. I suppose they have a somewhat antagonistic attitude towards cops because cops have the ability to effectively end their livelihood. So when a cop asks them to do something, they do it right away.

Car drivers, on the other hand, are not so good. Once Kevin stopped in order to tell someone to pull over. The driver's response?


Kevin had already floored it to get going, but he shook his head in disgust. As he drove he editorialized.

"People think that you don't need to pull over if the emergency vehicle is going the other way, but that's not true. My kid is 16 now and I hammer the point home with her."

Point taken.

When things are normal-crazy, it's hairy. But when it's worse, it's really hairy. And when we crested one hill, it became really hairy. In front of us was a truck, its boom extended, workers on the wire, and cones blocking off most of the road. Traffic was backed up heading towards us, I radioed it in, and Kevin hit his siren.

I was reminded of my ant battle a few weeks ago (was it that recent?). When I lifted their cover, the ants would scatter instantly. The siren had the same effect, scattering the cars to the side, clearing a way.

"Really hairy" got downgraded to just hairy.

We had a few interesting things like an unmanned exit fork (the exit area forked twice, and the second fork had no marshals of any kind) where the folks behind me almost missed the turn. We made the turn but it only took a 50 yard gap to be out of sight on this sharp curve, and a bunch of the lead vehicles almost missed the exit. SRAM realized they missed it, backed up, and the red station wagon backing up at the caravan made them realize that, hey, we don't want to go down there.

Just like there's a Cat 4 problem (hairy), a Cat 3 problem (really hairy), there's a Cat 2 problem. That's when it's really insanely hairy, and that's what we ran into in Harrisburg. A four lane road, 18 wheelers on either side jammed in traffic, side streets busy, cars trying to get on, and lost in the midst of all this a few cops desperately waving cars to turn and get off the course.

The race was a couple minutes behind us and flying into town.

I know I almost crushed the sill of the door, hanging on while Kevin navigated the "mobile chicanes" (i.e. cars and trucks in the road), blasting the siren, barking out orders to his guys, even jumping out of the car to direct one particularly poorly placed vehicle out of the way. We stormed through there, took names, kicked butt, and blasted a way through for the race.

A short time later the race came flying through, oblivious to the chaos traveling in front of them.

We had to do something similar in Carlisle, clearing tight roads full of cars, blasting across a bridge at an unbelievable speed. I'd have gladly taken the opportunity to check the speedometer (when the engine is whining that loudly you know you're going fast) but I couldn't take my eyes of what I thought was the last thing I'd ever see, the rapidly approaching logjam of cars. I realized my fingers and stomach totally clenched, knowing abstractly that it would be okay, but emotionally thinking "What the heck did I get myself into?!"

Finally, inside the last 10k of the race, the police were out in full force, closing everything down, marshaling even gas stations and larger parking lots. You don't want field sprints to deal with, say, a stray vehicle. We cruised through to the finish, rolled through (normally we have to turn off before so we don't get to go under the banner, but this route made it impossible to turn off early for us), people cheered us on, and it was great.

Kevin pulled over and parked the car. We both took a deep breath. I was staring blankly at the laptop, the last bit of the course (missing a detour at about mile 70 into a park due to construction) still on the Firefox browser. I finally looked up, and I guess he noticed that movement out of the corner of his eye. He looked at me and grinned.

"So what'd you think?"

My mind was just started to unravel from the chaos of driving into town. My fingers finally unclenched from the sill.

"I don't know how we're gonna make it through the next two days," I replied. "This was supposed to be the easy one."

Kevin grinned in response.

"Look, I don't think either of us lost their jobs, so it'll be fine."

With that he hopped out of the car to meet with his people.

After a bit of dazed wandering I found Robin, got back to his now-mundane car, and we headed out to the hotel. We ran into all the commissars while checking in and I asked them how their day went.

"Great! Everything went smooth! Well, I probably could have fined a few teams but that's a different issue. Everything with the race went fine."

Well I'll be. I guess we did do a good job and the bike race worked out without a problem.

Oh, right, there was a bike race. Who won? I have no idea. Who got second? I have no idea. One of the Belgian guys is in the lead, a Kelly Benefits guy has the sprinter's jersey, and I don't know what else. It seems the South African team is also good.

But I don't know very much about the race.

But it's okay. I was exposed to something totally different today.

Racing a bicycle? That's fun. Fighting for position with 500 meters to go in a crit? That's great fun. Riding in the lead State Trooper cruiser clearing the road for the Tour of Pennsylvania?


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

ToPA - YouSahDah

The little boy belted out the Star Spangled Banner, his voice carrying over the PA system. As he got to the end, he held onto "Free" ("Land of the free"), to the cheers of the crowd. I didn't see him do the last phrase because I was busy wiping my eyes, um, I mean my glasses. Allergies. Yeah, I had allergies.

It never fails, hearing that song. I've heard a lot of criticism about that song from a technical point of view (pointing out various problems with its rhythm or note choices etc.) but the fact that it's the national anthem makes it very special. And when a young blind boy can sing it like he sings it, well, it's special. No weird practice scales inserted into the song to prove the singer can sing (and is not lip synching). Just a solid, full-of-emotion performance.

We all put our caps or helmets back on and the officials started the countdown. "5, 4 BANG 3, 2, 1" and half the field was already by. The surprise gun is a trademark, I suppose, for starting "serious" crits. And they were off.

The day started when I finally slept in. I kept forcing myself back to sleep, trying to get some rest. I woke up every 15 or 20 minutes from 5:30 AM on, hitting the mental snooze button until 7:30. I knew we had to get to the course by 8:30, and since it was 2 miles away, I figured I'd get some food at, say, 8:15 AM.

Then my phone rang.

"Where are you?"
"Um, I was just about to come down."

After, you know, showering, dressing, brushing my teeth, and figuring out what to wear. But I skipped that part.

"We need you down here. We have a crisis."

And so the day started.

I forget the exact crisis but shortly after that I found myself standing in the lobby doing Race Tech kind of stuff. I may have unofficially snuck some food from the racer buffet but I don't think I did. But I found the petite pastries might have tasted really good.

After not sneaking some food from the buffet line, Robin and I left for the TT. We dealt with more standard Race Tech stuff and I wandered over to the staging area for the team cars. They were to line up about 100 meters past the start ramp and slot in behind their rider after the first turn.

Somehow I ended up staging and checking team cars in the TT. Although this seemed like a normal kind of thing, it wasn't.

One team seemed really distracted, the director missing virtually all his riders. He missed the second by such a margin he had to tear across a hundred yards of grass to shortcut the course and catch up to his flying rider. Another of his racers happened to launch right when the power to the PA cut out, and since the director wasn't paying attention, I had to scream his team name out to point out his rider sprinting past him. A big squeal of tires and he was off.

Ends up that his mechanic did something like fall out of the car while they followed their first rider crashing into the ground (broken wheel), and the director ran over his mechanic or something. Ambulance trip, double sets of stitches (internal and external), and the mechanic was back in time for the evening crit.

I guess running over my mechanic would distract me a bit too.

That director's antics amused the one following him, so after a couple mishaps he'd roll up to me with a grin and ask, "So, where's your friend?" And then 30 seconds later my "friend" would tear by to catch up with his guy.

To be fair the distracted director had a good racer that placed way up there, but then again the following director got two in the top ranks, so neither team was shabby.

Another distracted director almost launched his car with only one fork dropout sitting loosely in the fork mount, the other dangling an inch above the other side. I screamed a warning, they jammed on their brakes, almost booting the bike off the side of the car by doing so. They got out and started fiddling with the fancy shmancy roof rack, an unfamiliar one (provided by the race for their use while they were in the country), and managed to figure it out, adjust it, and slam the locking lever home as their guy launched down the start ramp. By the time he flew by both the director and the assistant director were in the car and roaring alongside the racer.

The rest of the TT pretty normal, all considering.

We didn't eat with the riders again. In fact I might not have eaten some fruit and didn't drink a glass of water because just before the racer's "dinner at lunchtime" was served, we ate at Chipotle. Appropriate, as you'll see later, and it was a first visit for me, I think. I might have had some in California but I can't remember anything about that experience if I did, so I counted my Chipotle visit today as my first time.

Just before the crit I learned how to be a dope control person. I got a USADA tag (say "you-sah-dah", not "U.S.A.D.A." like I used to say). We went over our tasks, got a YouSahDah pen, a YouSahDah badge thing for the race, and were told to meet the YouSahDah person around the finish area after the race finished up.

At some point I had to kill a couple hours in the hotel lobby, just like everyone else in the race entourage. I nodded off, trying to catch up on sleep, but succeeded in sleeping for only a few short minutes. Bleary eyed I watched a hundred bored 19-24 year old guys wandering around the lobby of the hotel. They were all slim, tan, and sleepy looking with their ruffled hair and rosy cheeks. I think that if a collegiate aged girl showed up she'd think she just died and woke up in heaven.

The crit was pretty cool, the riders so fast, so strong, so aggressive. VMG/Felt (Chann McRae, DS), the Slipstream feeder team, tried to do a big leadout at two to go, putting four guys at the front with their U23 champion sitting 5th in line. At the bell a ZteaM racer (Steve Bauer, DS) tried to Cancellara the leadout, but in the end VMG put their U23 national champ on the top step of the podium.

I found the YouSahDah rep, got my folder with my racer's number in it, and went and found the racer. I don't think I messed up anything, took a pic of my YouSahDah badge, and returned it to the YouSahDah folks.

One day down. Five to go. How are we going to make it? It's unfathomable, luckily. If I could imagine all the stuff that I would have to do, I might snap. But I can't, and in this case being blindly ignorant is a blessing. I know this because of how I feel right now.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow. The first point to point road race.


ToPA - Team Meetings and Presentation

The second full day of ToPA (for me) dawned bright and early after yet another 4 or so hours of sleep. I had to leave my beloved car behind for the duration of the race and pick up a caravan car in exchange. With Bethel I go to my dad's and get a broom or two, perhaps a leaf blower. Here there's a parking lot full of cars and trucks and minivans and stuff. It's a different world.

The trip itself was a bit difficult. First of all rush hour traffic in Philly is the worst. I mean, yeah, I-95 in Connecticut is bad, but this was just plain horrible. Nightmare.

Because I had simple directions (take the first highway, take the second one, take an exit, and turn left), I left my laptop with all its wireless internet stuff on the desk in the hotel room.

Of course I promptly got lost.

It happens every time I decide not to geek out and bring the laptop, sit it sideways with Google Maps up, and fiddle with it as I travel over the roads on the screen. Okay, I should buy a GPS system, but with a 17" screen, this non-GPS laptop is an acceptable alternative.

So I was lost. Normally I'd call Robin or Andrea, but of course they were in a very important meeting. When things go wrong, they have to go really wrong, otherwise it's not a challenge.

To avoid complicating things more I made very sure I didn't run into anyone.

I started driving the standard Race Homing pattern, i.e. figure out about which direction the target lay (lays? lies?) and then just keep turning to keep the car pointed in that general way. It sometimes works, especially if you're only a few blocks from a race and trying to find it, but when you're 5 miles away from the site and on some winding country roads, it isn't quite as effective.

As my alloted time wound down I started to worry. I knew the Tech guys needed to get out of the supply depot by 9 AM, and my extra half hour was now about 14 minutes.

I did what any guy would do in such a critical emergency.

I called the missus.

Luckily she wasn't with a client, she wasn't on the phone, and she got logged on and started checking the maps. I guess a second reason I haven't gotten a GPS is that the missus has come through every time. If possible, and this was one of those times, she guides me literally to the target destination, walking me through each turn, each cross street, her voice calming me down, settling my nerves, and steadying me as I drive along.

My version of aural therapy worked its magic again as she guided me to the lot only a minute or two late. I thanked her, said some quick good byes, and pulled into the lot.

A guy waved some keys at me. He told me I got to drive back Michael Aisner's caravan vehicle.


He asked if I knew the way, I automatically said yes, and he sent me off. I got in, started it up, and realized that I had no idea how to get back. After I relayed this to the lot guy, he told me to hang out for a sec because there were four other vehicles going to the hotel.


Carvans are cool when you have team cars or whatever, but to have five stickered up cars in a row?

Very cool.

Of course one peeled off quickly, another we dropped at a light, but I tailgunned the group all the way to the hotel.

Aisner is a big name in the US scene, the guy who made the Coors Classic, the guy who ferverently told the world why Philly was so great ("The most important thing was that this course was made for TV" or something like that), and he's been working the mic around here for a while.

So, out of respect for him and his contribution to US cycling, I didn't open a can of tuna fish and leave it in the corner of the car, or crank the volume on the stereo on a heavy metal station, or anything weird like that. In fact I pointed all the vents to neutral locations, found a background music kind of station, and carefully parked the minivan nose-out so it'd be easy to drive away.

Good thing too, because when I parked the minivan, Aisner and Todd Gogulski, the two commentators for the race, were walking towards me. Gogulski is another US name, formerly a Coors Light rider, and known, in my memory, for a heroic but ill fated break at CoreStates one year. The two of them were off to the press conference and climbed in, accepted a ripped page with directions to the press conference out of my Tech Guide.

The Guide, I've learned, is worth its weight in gold, and mine is already battle scarred, stains, and notes scribbled here and there. Now I can add "ripped pages" to that list. It's like Aragorn's leather duster, a coat that the actor got at the beginning of filming and was told to wear it as hard as possible, to get it truly weather-worn. My Guide is starting to take on that characteristic.

Andrea and I started setting up for registration, the manager's meeting, and some other stuff. It's weird, with registration it's all different than, say, Bethel. See at Bethel you have 200-300 riders, all registering for various races. At this race there was only one event, only one person from the team registered the team, so we really helped out only 18 people.

Big difference, right?

Well, those 18 people got a bucket load of stuff. Three numbers per racer, race bibles, Tech Guides, tons of pins (yeah, they use pins), staff and rider passes (the things that hang around their necks like rock star backstage pass things), and the packets I prepared the day before. Some got vehicles, some got supplies you can't fly cheaply across the Atlantic. It was interesting to see the same release form we use for Bethel, with the same kind of handwriting (except for the really prepared teams which printed them all out), but for such an important race.

Oh, and before they got to me, they had to go through the UCI officials too.

With all that out of the way the manager's meeting went on. It was pretty interesting, the rules, the regulations, notes, etc etc. Basically the officials were running a really tight ship. No derailleur "adjustments" up big climbs, no "cleat adjustments" when chasing back on a flying field.

However, to be fair, and I've never seen this before, once a rider gets back into the field on his own power, he's allowed to drop back to the team car (just behind the commissar's car), and receive relatively substantial shelter. The way the comms see it, that rider earned his way back to the field, demonstrated his level of strength, and is now allowed to drop back and take what shelter he wants while he loads up on bottles or dumps some clothing in the team vehicle.

Dope controls are very, very strict here, and it's just amazing that anyone would even think about doping. The message is that this stuff is treated very seriously, it's very official, and you can kiss a fledgling career goodbye if you choose not to try to follow the regulations as best you can. Each day alternatives are chosen for dope tests, and even though they may not be tested, they still have to sign in.

If you don't, you're suspended. Ouch.

After all that, you'd think it was all done, right?

Wrong. We just got into the middle of the afternoon and we still had the team presentation at a Ronald McDonald House a short drive away. Robin had collected my staff clothing for me and tossed me a very nice red Tour of Pennsylvania shirt for the presentation and dinner. I ran upstairs, changed into pressed khakis, slipped into the shirt, and turned into a somewhat presentable Race Tech kind of guy.

For the next few hours I got to meet with a bunch of folks I only read about until now. Being Robin's sidekick (lol Robin's sidekick? Okay, I was a big fan of the very high tech Batman when I was a kid) was a boon because he knew all these guys. Suffice it to say that it was pretty cool to listen to cycling war stories with these guys that I consider to be almost fictional as far as their reality is concerned. I mean, seriously, how real are the people you read about in the news? To me they're just names and stuff. But in real, well, they're real. And it's always cool to see that.

We schmoozed with them for a while, I had to tell the story of how I ended up there a few times, and since the blog featured in the story, some very important people now have my blog name (if they can remember the name).

I ran into someone who remembered me from "something". Ends up he is a buddy with a guy from the Valley in NY. We shared some stories, I talked to him about my LEO thing, and it was very cool. Amazing how small the world really is.

I didn't eat until the last second so I was still trying to swallow the last of the chicken as I boarded the trolley bus thing for the trip home. Ends up someone had saved Robin a couple seats, and being Robin's sidekick, I took the other seat. Aisner and Gogulski were there, as was a certain Canadian named Steve. Very nice personable folks, and they don't have to be, they could be mean and nasty if they wanted to. They're just doing what they love and it shows.

I was really glad I didn't leave the radio blasting in Aisner's vehicle. And, no, I really wasn't thinking about the tuna fish thing until I started typing this up.

Robin and I got back kind of late and walked next door to Target ("Tar-jay") to do some shopping. I needed a cheap ($7.99) duffle bag to carry my new gear, and I also needed to replenish some supplies. Specifically I lost my two good pens already - not the Cross or Mont Blanc, to sooth the missus's fears, but two roller ball pens I like, and I got a few more, meaning I got some extras. You know. Just in case. I think 15 ought to do okay, what do you think?

Then, while talking to the missus, I got the 911 kind of call from Robin. Luckily the fourth person in our team (Robin, Andrea, Brian, and now Amy) had just arrived, albeit after a hellacious trip. The team had another crisis plopped in their lap, resulting in yet a bit more brainstorming. I started slurring words, something I do when I'm getting accumulated fatigue, and I realized my focus was starting to fade a bit. Amy's relative freshness made me realize how tired I felt, a revelation because comparing myself to a tired Andrea or Robin made me feel fine.

With a slightly less early wake up call tomorrow, I had to call it a day. My eyelids are drooping and I'm backspacing more than I'm typing.

I feel like I've been doing this for weeks. And would you believe it, we haven't even gotten to the beginning of the race. No one has even turned a pedal in anger.


Tomorrow: the TT and the first Crit.

Monday, June 23, 2008

ToPA - Racers Arrive

I floored it again, the V-6 whining in protest.

21.3 mpg, the gauge stubbornly read.

Too much. I braked. The car dipped a bit quickly. I remembered when my mom first drove an American car with power brakes. The kids in the back (me included), unbuckled because that was okay back then, would slam into the back of the bench seat, fall to the floor, and burst out laughing.

Then we'd get up and wait for my mom to hit the brakes again.

Now normally I don't drive like this. But I had an excuse. I was trying to learn a car in 30 seconds, at night, flipping the wipers on trying to turn on the lights, spraying the windshield when trying to signal a turn. I found the light switch, turning them on to "On". This way if I went under a particularly bright tunnel, the lights wouldn't turn off. As a bonus the high beams went down. I wouldn't blind Andrea, nor would I illuminate the handily borrowed Time Pro team van just in front of her.

The gap opened up. I floored it again. A moment's hesitation and the car lunged forward. I braked. The car reminded me of the chase scene in "To Live and Die in L.A." (warning language but it's the bestest chase scene ever with a boy-ish looking Gil Grissom in there), specifically the engine sounds an automatic transmission car emits when alternately floored, coasted, and braked.

I saw my first true obstacle in our caravan to go rescue some stranded German bike racers from Philly's International Airport, launched at some time past midnight from a parking lot I cannot identify.

A stop sign.

We were almost out of the hotel parking lot.

After the initial scary 200 meters, I was actually on public roads. What followed was a crazy drive to Philly International. I had no idea where this airport sat, no direction, nothing, just a vague feeling it's about 20 minutes away. Also one of the two cell phones in the two leading vehicles was on its last legs and the other seemed to go to voicemail immediately, so it would be hard to call if, say, I missed an exit. So in a blatant, "Do as I say, not as I do" maneuver, I rode Andrea's bumper for much of the drive to the airport.

Okay, I let a small gap form when I tried to find a non-hip-hop station at 1 AM, and I also let a gap go when I started fiddling with the air conditioning, set initially on "Freeze" (I set it just a touch warmer than that). Both times I successfully closed the gap, closing the door on eager racers, err traffic, trying to cut in.

This day all started about 18 hours earlier, at 6:30 in the morning, when the alarm went off next to the bed. It hooted like an owl, startling me out of a fitful night's sleep. Okay it scared the blank out of me, I thought there was a bird or a steam boat sitting next to my head. Part of it I'm sure was that I'd had a hard time falling asleep, not really able to sleep until past 3 AM.

I got up though, showered, and met my two bosses for breakfast, Robin and Andrea. We went over a number of things for the race, specifics. Which truck would carry what to where before, during, and after the races. Where people would sleep, what vehicles would get driven where.

With the teams arriving today, there'd be a lot of chaos. We expected a few rooms have problems (i.e. not booked) but Nicole, the person who'd arranged all that, had done a beautiful job and there were basically no problems. I spent a bit of time in the lobby meeting a lot of people (all team staff), the ones that would make it possible for the racers to hopefully not think about anything except two pages in the extensive Tech Guide.

The Prize Money.


It's a LOT of money. You could put a down payment on a small house if you won a bunch of stages. Okay, a really small house, but still. You could definitely pay a decent sized mortgage payment with a single day's winnings. I've never seen money like this on a prize list for a bike race, and to think that it would all be paid out to the U25s wandering through the lobby, well, it was a bit astounding.

One rider to show up was the now-infamous winner of the Harlem Rocks crit. He races for Time Pro, the team that would lend us their van for our late night run.

One tech support guy was the guy in charge of the airport pick ups. It takes one cargo and one 15 passenger van to pick up 10 people (6 racers, 4 support staff) and their equipment (typically 6+ bikes, wheels, frames, parts, gear, and street clothing). They were busy shuttling to and from the airport, some teams arriving a bit late, and slowly and inevitably falling just a bit behind schedule. They had an extra long 2 hour-each-way trip to pick up two somewhat local international teams (they were already in-country). This last bit caused the German problem because the fully laden convoy was 90 minutes away from the hotel when the German team called to say they were standing at the terminal.

We didn't want them to wait the 2+ hours it would take to get the two other teams to the hotel, unload them, and then make the drive out to the airport.


Luckily I'd just finished making up the packets for each team so I was officially free (and dreaming of a short lifting session in the "efficient" hotel fitness center). As I was still on the clock ("Hey, you've only been up 18 hours!" - okay, they didn't say that, but I was thinking that), I got recruited into driving a third vehicle.

Driving? Sign me up. I don't care what it is, but if it's a SEC car ("Someone Else's Car") then I'll drive whatever the key starts.

Before I get too far I have to point out one thing. When I was a kid, I always tried to touch every cool parked car. I'd pretend to look in the window and then touch a finger tip to something that wouldn't show a smudge, maybe some trim, a tire (which, now that I think of it, is not really the "car" per se), or the underside of the sideview mirror. I counted coup like that, chalking up a car when I got to touch one.

And now, in a similar way, I counted coup in ToPA.

I can definitively say I touched every single number that you'll see lined up tomorrow in the Tour of PA, and no one else can say that. I even touched all the frame numbers. I even touched all the anti-doping test info sheets, the schedules (I made a run to Kinkos to make about 200 different packets, stapling them all until my thumb pads were raw).

Apparently my work didn't go unnoticed. They said I earned the status of "Trooper". Like, "Oh, he's a Trooper".

I guess the next step is earning "Real". Like, "Oh, he's a Real Trooper".

I had started on the packets when we got interrupted by the German team's cry for help. I finished up by the time we'd decided on a plan of action. And so I found myself in this crazy caravan.

With our decal laden vehicles led by a lime green van sprouting wheel forks like a spiky haircut, we made for a convincing caravan, a runaway team car pursued by two angry officials.

Being on a mission emboldened me beyond my normal self and I was quite aggressive in playing tail gunner to our trio. I think it's the same motivation a domestique finds when they have both a clear mission and a strong leader.

I could block a lane when the road narrowed, I backed up a bit when we finally found a spot at the crowded pick up area (i.e. a spot that is three spots long), and I tried to keep an eye out for the local LEOs. We ended up tailgating one of them for a bit and afterwards I learned the tailgater didn't know it was an unmarked state trooper.

We loaded up at the airport, stuffing our two caravan cars with bags and racers, the bikes and some more racers and staff piling into the Jell-O green van.

The two German riders with me were pretty quiet except when I asked them about the temperature. I guess they'd been in ice cold air conditioning for the past 13 hours, and the Freeze+ setting in the car wasn't to their interest. I turned it up to the point that I felt beads of sweat form on my head.

Interestingly enough they started to talk a bit more when the air warmed up, after I asked about a universal commonality amongst young males (that wouldn't get me arrested for any lewd type talk) - cars. They jabbered in amazement over a left exit ("Exit from the left?"), thought that we were going kind of slow ("60" I heard, then I heard the other say something like, "But that's in miles"), and commented that in Germany you can go 300 kph (186 mph) if you felt like it.

But for all that, Germany has fewer of something else. Big, huge, gas guzzling V8 type machines. "Oh, Chrysler!" "Jeep!". And of course they first commented on the automatic when they first clambered in.

When they started oohing and aahing over all the cars, I turned and looked at the two kids, because that's essentially what they resembled in the deep blackness of the backseat.

"You two ever been to the US?" I asked.
"No, never", they replied.
"Well, then, I would like to welcome you to the US."
One grinned at me.
"Thank you," he said politely.

I guess those standard opening phrases in English class really do come in handy sometimes.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Racing - Nutmeg State Games 2008

Well now.

The short version: bronze in Connecticut, 9th in the race, no money (6 places).

The long version is, well, a bit longer. And a bit flat as I'm working on no food and some accumulated fatigue. After I post this I'm going to get some Chipotle or something. If they're still open.

The day started out pretty early because we decided to watch a good friend of ours race. Ends up that a few other people we knew were out there so it worked out nicely, but we got up at 7:30 AM on a Saturday so we could hang out with friends.

Just as we were getting ready to go, the missus saw I'd missed a call, from the good friend. She called him back and learned his car had broken down on the way to the race, and he wasn't going to make it.

Although a big damper on the day, we were committed to going because we were going to see other folks so we went anyway. We reconned the newly discovered BBQ place, got to the race, parked, and started walking towards the registration area. A racer parked in front of us was frantically getting ready for the next race.

It clicked with the missus first - it was our friend. His kids picked him up and drove him to the race.

I went into domestique mode, pumping up his tires, and the missus found her rhythm pinning his number on snugly. With smiles and good lucks we let him warm up a bit.

In a perfect world he'd have gone out and won the race but it wasn't quite so rosy. He was in contention, had a tough sprint, and ended up placing in the top 20 or so. Although a great disappointment, he seemed in good spirits nonetheless.

We went to the BBQ place after watching a few Masters races. So fast, those guys. There's a reason I prefer to race with the 3s, not the M30s or M35s or whatever they were. At this point we decided to take leave and pick up some food. We drove right past the thing because I was focused on this bright blue Camaro (69 or so), one that Hob termed "bitchin' Camaro". This seems to be a familiar theme for me, getting lost because I got focused on a cool car in front of me. We eventually got there, Hob and Mr SOC and Mrs SOC both joining us. It's a take out joint so we brought everything back to the race, where Dorothy also joined in the food. Personally I found it less than spectacular but that was just me.

I debated carrying my Helmet Cam II but decided against it, with no real waterproof way of carrying the set up. It was warm and sunny and I figured I'd need to dump water on my head, and I didn't want to ruin my setup to stay in the race. I also didn't want to drop out because I got too hot out there.

With a bit of spinning around, lots of drinking Gatorade, I got ready to race. As a last minute reinforcement for my hydration paranoia, I procured a third bottle from Hob, and after filling it with water, stuck it in one of my pockets.

The race itself was pretty uneventful. It seemed steady, not too fast, not too hard. My heart rate wasn't registering properly ("48" just didn't seem right) and whenever I looked down I was coasting (0 watts), so I never had an idea of my power or heart rate "numbers". I dwaddled midfield for a bit then dropped to the back, hot and a bit tired.

I'd been so paranoid of running out of water that I was bloated from drinking a couple quarts of fluid in the few hours before the race. With my stomach on my mind I didn't pay attention to too much else in the race. I did have the wherewithall to toss my first empty bottle, replacing it with the one in my pocket with a graceful sweep of my arm. Really that was the only significant event during the "non-exciting" part of the race, at least for me.

With five laps to go I started to move up, inching my way through the field. I had hoarded water, partly out of paranoia, partly because I couldn't drink even if I wanted to, and so I started dumping more and more of it on my head, letting the salt wash off my face. At two to go I emptied my second bottle of water, accidentally almost dumping the sugar bottle on my head.

I'd started to dream about the finish, the unfavored left-side headwind on the straight (I prefer a straight on headwind), and started thinking back from my optimal jump point. I knew I should be about 4th when I jumped. This meant I had to be perhaps 5th-7th through the last turn, overlapped to the outside (and wind side). To get out of the turn 5th or 7th, I'd have to be inside the top 20 at the top of the hill.

That's a bit far back but I felt confident I could move up on the straight going into the last turn.

I stopped thinking about it when I realized I'd totally zoned out, didn't know what was going on around me, and I'd almost ridden into the blue and yellow guy in front of me. I got busy doing the move up thing.

At the bell I tossed a second bottle after emptying it on my head. A bit cooler, I started feeling a bit antsy. I fought a bit for good position on the outside of the first stretch, getting it, and tucking in perhaps 20th in the field. At this point a break of five dangled just off the front, inevitably doomed, but a distraction nonetheless.

A big surge from a Cafeteros rider closed this gap at the base of the short hill and guys started gunning it for the finish.

It all went well until the top of the hill. The long left curve isn't consistent in radius, causing problems on the inside, so I usually use the outside. It was pretty good every lap of the race, except for this last one. A guy in front of me blew at that spot, wavering as to whether he should pull off or just keep pedaling. I was getting onto the brakes to avoid him, riders on both sides of me, the one to my outside eying the inside line, me eying the outside line, and a collision imminent.

Finally someone let out a primal scream (not me, for once), frightening the rider into simply holding his line. The guy to my outside went outside and I followed, desperately sprinting to get back up to speed.

At that moment I realized it was the first time I'd pedaled hard the whole race. Out of the saddle. Felt the resistance. Felt the bike leap forward.

And it felt good.

I shifted, keeping my rpms good, keeping my legs working, flying up the unprotected right side of the road, when suddenly the whole field shifted right.

Unwilling to waste my jump, one of perhaps two jumps I had for the race, I couldn't brake, I just couldn't bring myself to brake. Instead I took the right side exit, getting onto the grass. I started coming back when I saw the sunken sewer grate, the metal a good 3 to 4 inches below grass level. My front wheel was aimed right at it.

I cringed, imagining flipping over the bars when the front wheel pounded into it, but instead I somehow avoided it and got back on the road.

I jumped again, hard, feeling the bike leap forward again, trying to get myself into that top 5 spot in the last turn, and I almost succeeded. I flew into and through the turn, set up for the sprint, and...

I didn't do anything.

I don't know what happened. I started to jump, decided to turn off the gas, and soft pedaled to the line. No bike throw, no sprint, no shifting while jumping, no nothing.

It was the weirdest thing, it was like I forgot to sprint, but I didn't. I just didn't sprint.

Although I didn't know why I did that, I did know I was disappointed in my finish. 9th or 10th I figured, and probably totally out of the Connecticut rankings for top 3. I counted at least four Connecticut riders in front of me when I finally looked up.

There's always next year, right?

One guy in front of me passed me after the line. Another told me he thought I got in there for Connecticut. I started hoping.

I waited diligently for the results. The official started taping up the results and I started reading down the names.

I wasn't there.

"I'm not there!" I blurted out.

The official looked at me. What's your number?

I didn't know. She looked at the sheet.

"Oh, I have the wrong sheet. This is from 34th place. Could you do me a favor and get the other sheet from the guy?"

I started hoping again.

Ran over.

Got the sheet.

Found me. 9th. Started reading down the license numbers (the Connecticut ones had CT in front of them).

I was third!

The official was waiting.

"Hey, I'm supposed to be reading those numbers!"

Oh, right. I grinned sheepishly, gave her the sheet, she taped them up, and then I looked on it again.


The missus was psyched. I smiled.

Okay, so it wasn't a bad day after all.

I waited around a bit for the podium pictures, the missus anxious for me as I had to leave for the Tour of PA as soon as I got changed. And these pictures were taking a while.

Finally, pictures done. I changed, left the medal in my gear bag, took the t-shirt, kissed the missus good bye, and zipped off into the sunset.

A whole new adventure, a whole new shindig. We'll see how it goes.

First thing to do?

Find something to eat. 11:55 PM. I hope something is open. And tomorrow, Tour of PA stuff.

I have no idea what it'll be like.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Racing - Pre-Nutmeg State Games 2008

With some stuff happening in the background in my life (and the missus's), the lead up to the Nutmeg State Games has been less exciting than normal. Each year, at this time, I'm stressed about building a wheel for the race, or maybe getting set up with some new part, or something. But the distractions (not related to my racing) have succeeded in freeing me up from all that stress.

I guess it helps that I have good equipment, good wheels, relatively new helmet (about 6-8 uses), and a relatively new kit (3 uses on one set, the other stuff is still sealed). It's hard to worry about equipment when it's all new.

Okay, fine, I'm putting off a chain swap until after the race, figuring that if I do it before the race, something will go wrong.

But otherwise, clear sailing.

I'll be leaving right after the end of my race to get down to Philly for the ToPA. Because of this, and because a number of friends are racing early on, the missus and I tried to figure out a good way to go cheer on our friends while still allowing me to race comfortably.

As an extreme drama queen, especially when relating to pre-race prep, I have a number of specific needs and requirements for diet in the day or two preceding a race. First off I need to eat a carb heavy meal they day before, ideally grazing on such food for the entire day. My day-before-race food has evolved into a standard, stomach friendly, carb heavy, and just-as-good reheated fare consisting of pasta and meat sauce. Being properly fueled is important to riding well, and my pre-race food helps me approach race day without worrying about another variable. Second, I need to eat a relatively big breakfast on the day of. For stupidly early races like Prospect I eat on the way, but I really prefer to eat, prep, and then go to the race. Finally, the pre-race meal needs to fall within a certain window before the race. As far as actual food, it could be anything, but I need to eat in the couple hours leading up to the race.

This becomes a problem when we're at a race at 10 and my race is after 2. My meal window would be about 11 or 12, and we're not going to drive back for food, nor are we hauling around a cooler and a microwave like we did at Bethel.

The missus happened to check out a food review of a good BBQ in the area, and after checking out Google Maps (including a Street View thing I hadn't seen before), I saw that it was just down the road from the race. We decided that we'd get to the race early (after an early breakfast), cheer on some of our early-racing friends, retire for some excellent pre-race BBQ food, then return for my race.

Because I'll be gone to Pennsylvania essentially from tomorrow morning (when we leave for the Nutmeg Games) until late June 30th, I have to get ALL my stuff done today. Laundry, packing, cleaning up, cooking any pre-race food, stuff like that. I'm a heavy packer, bringing about a week of clothing for the overnight trip to Philly, so I need to tone down my packing since I'll be gone for over a week, and my whole dresser won't fit in my car. I also want to leave the apartment like a blank canvas, getting what I can out of the way so the missus can work her magic. So although I may not be good at actually organizing things, I'm competent at doing chore type things. So I'll do those things.

All this makes the actual race tomorrow seem like more of a stepping stone, an interruption to the day, rather than the focus. Unfortunately this is sort of the case, but I always like this race, I always target it, and I always go in wanting to do well.

Okay, now to get to the chores. Plus, as you might expect, I'm hungry. And I have some pre-race food to get cooking.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Racing - (Pre) Tour of Pennsylvania (ToPA)

No, I'm not racing Tour of PA (warning: audio on that page loads right away.. for a quiet page, click here). First of all, I'm about 15 years too old for it. Second, there are some damn good riders in it and I'd be crawling into a team car faster than you could say "Boo!". And thirdly, there are climbs. Big ones. And I hate racing over climbs.

But I'm going to the race anyway, to help out a bit.

This isn't quite the Philly thing, helping the Super VIPs enjoy the day, a volunteer thing, a "give back to the racing community" thing. This is a little more serious as evident by the 60-something page list of tasks I have to perform over the course of the six day, seven stage (if you count the prologue TT) race.

Okay, I'll admit it, the 60-odd pages is a race bible, not a list of tasks. My list of tasks is pretty short:

"Don't screw up."

Still, though, when I get all my notes on, say, the Bethel Spring Series, it comes out to, oh, say, a page. Two on a busy day, and four on the last day (since I have to print out the overall GC). So 60-odd pages is a lot, like "I gotta reload the printer" lot. Heck, I even got out a notebook, punched holes in the printout, and started a ToPA notebook. Sittin' right next to the laptop as I type.

My title, according to the bible, is "Technical Assistant/Team Liason".

This is pretty cool. I have an actual title, and it means something. At pretty much all my IT jobs my title meant nothing. My last one was "Associate", that in a company that has only Associates, Senior Associates, and the guys that run the company.

Or "Telesales Manager", which is what I was before I was an Associate.

I did tech support at that company.

So a title is cool, and the fact that the title has something to do with my responsibilities is even more cool.

It is serious business though. $150,000 prize money, the most ever offered for a U25 race. I guess that titles follow money. What exactly do those titles mean? It just means I'm busy before, during, and after each race.

I'm not alone. There are two pages of names of people helping out, a few of them familiar to the domestic racing scene, most of the others people I've never heard of but I'm sure comprise the group of unseen heros that make races happen in the US of A.

This whole shindig is a big enough deal that even though the race starts on June 24th (a Tuesday), I need to be down at the race by June 21st (Saturday).

Saturday, in case you don't know it, is the Nutmeg State Games.

Since I've been waiting for the Nutmeg Games since last year, I'll be doing my race. But then I have to leave. So after I cross the line, I'll be changing, packing up, and zipping off down to Philly.

ToPA also means a week and a half away from home. No missus (well I can talk to her on the phone), no cats (can't interact with them, and the phone would probably just confuse them), no plants (I'll have to remind the missus about watering them, especially the new ones).

I think ToPA means 20 hour days, but I'm not sure. I figure that's what it'll be, and any less than that will be a bonus. I'll be mighty sleep deprived on the way home, that's for sure. And my responsibilities end at some point on June 30th, the day after the ToPA ends, not June 29th. Team Liason duties and all that.

ToPA means that I'll be working closely with a bunch of racers I've never heard of, U25s, guys that show up on my radar only when they get signed by a big team or win some stage in some big race somewhere. I feel like the ToPA will be something along the lines of a "preview", a demo if you will, of some of the talent that's out there.

It also means I probably won't be riding too much. I'll bring some running stuff, but that may not happen either. Maybe I'll be reduced to running up and down the fire escapes at the hotels, I don't know, but I hope to get some sort of physical work in while going through this whole experience. I have this fantasy of borrowing the neutral support bikes and taking them for a spin but I highly doubt that will happen, based on how much work those guys do before, during, and after each race.

And, finally, ToPA means I can see what it takes to run a big, big race. Largest purse for U25s, huge logistics, enormous support staff, multiple cities, international teams, road closures across town lines and county lines. It certainly beats Bethel, that's for sure.

I feel good about this whole gig, and I hope I can pull it off to my satisfaction.

Now to go for a ride...