Friday, July 31, 2009

Racing - That's The Hardest This Year

"Wow, I think that was the hardest it's been here so far this year..."

I heard that just a few days ago after the races Tuesday nights at East Hartford. I forget who said it, and it wasn't even to me, it was to someone nearby, but when I heard that phrase, I realized two things really quickly.

First, I'd dropped off about 30 minutes into the race.

Second, I hadn't experienced pretty much any of the race finishes. Because if I'm off the back, I'm not around to figure out exactly how hard the race ended up.

This latter thought stopped me for a second.

See, I'd been kind of plodding along this year thinking things were going reasonably well. I mean, yeah, I have some places in races, but more importantly, I haven't gotten totally and utterly shelled in many of the summer races I've entered. The Keith Berger Crit, for example, ended up much better than I expected. Instead of getting shelled after a few laps, I managed to make it to the end.

But at Tuesdays @ The Rent, well, I only finished one race in reasonable position, i.e. not lapped.

Every other race I've been well shelled, lapped at least once, and often a spectator by the time the racers sprinted for the line. Or saw the 5 laps to go lap card.

This reminded me of something that I thought of a while back. I realized that, just like me and The Rent, Robbie McEwen, as strong a rider as he is, has never witnessed nor experienced the "hardest" part of a mountain stage in the Tour. It's simply because he's never been at the sharp end of the field when someone like, say, Lance is driving the pace 10 kilometers into a 15 kilometer climb, with just 5 kilometers left in the stage.

McEwen, for all intents and purposes, was doing what amounted to a different race altogether, one for the flat finishes, the sprints, the short and intense stuff.

Anyway, I've also realized that I haven't seen crazy heart rates for a while. Last year, at Harlem, I'd been at the limit for quite a while, into the 170s, which for me is quite high.

The primary reason I haven't seen any crazy heart rates for a while is that my SRM/Polar coded heart rate strap started to fuzz out on me this spring. I'd get spiky readings, making max heart rate kind of pointless ("Look, I hit 230 on this ride too!").

How do you fix that?

Simple, just don't use the strap.

Accordingly, I stopped wearing the strap regularly after Bethel, and after a few months of internal debating ("Do I really want to know how much I'm hurting? Cause it really hurts.."), I finally broke down and ordered another strap from SRM.

I like their service, their promptness, and I got the strap in quickly.

Of course I used it right away, downloaded the data, and looked for the telltale spikes in the red line, the ones that peak at 230 or so.

No spikes.

Ah. Much better.

Then I looked a bit closer.

The line, once I examined the red numbers along the side of the graph, seemed strangely muted, depressed, low.

It seems that in even my most difficult periods at East Hartford, at least this year, my heart rate rarely strayed from the mid-160s.

My perceived efforts were high, higher than even, say, Harlem last year, because I came off in East Hartford but not at Harlem. I mean, yeah, at Harlem I was motivated not to get shelled, but I never really drifted too far back in the field either. I patrolled the front. And my heartrate soared through the roof.

A year later, with a lower heart rate, I was exploding.

So my high effort and low heart rates were getting me nowhere.

I think things have stayed the same. Same equipment, shoes, clothing, everything.

So what's different? I don't know.

I'll have to think about this for a bit, figure out what's happening. I know I'm training less than last year (I was a "professional cyclist" last year, aka unemployed), I stopped any kind of weight lifting, and I'm using 175s instead of 170s.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Life - Estelle

Estelle is an adult we're housing, but with our 6 other cats, we've housed her with idea that we're doing it until she finds a home.

In other words, she's up for adoption.

Estelle, tentative on the left. Grey on the right. Kitty in the middle. This is the post-fix-Gray but pre-shelter days, so October 2008 or so.

Estelle was always a bit shy out in the wild, darting away at the slightest noise. This is about as close to the food as she got while I was there under the building.

We trapped her during our "fix and release" sweep. The "release" part came hard for us - one cat was adopted out, Kitty (pictured above, her name given to her by the cremation folks) passed away suddenly, and at that time we never caught the one that ended up being White, the male.


Big pupils in light means intense emotion. And in a wild animal, it's usually fear. It could be love or happiness or trying to look at something but it's usually fear.

When we caught her in February 2009, her fur was matted pretty badly. We had her fixed, de-matted, and brought her home. The missus argued for keeping her in the house, I thought releasing her would be better, especially considering her quality of life under the desk (i.e. quivering in fear). Or the litter box, where she hid if we tried to get her out from under the desk.

Since the default was to tend towards sheltering her, we kept her in the house.

May 2009

At some point she came out of her shell, probably in late April. I actually asked someone with literally decades of feral cat experience about getting a cat to come out of its shell. He told me it just takes time, patience, and sometimes it'll never happen.

I had just about given up when, one day, she popped out from under the desk unbidden.

With this new Estelle, all social and stuff, we installed double baby-gates and left the door open; this way she could smell and interact with the other cats without losing her "home base".

Rubbing against the chair.

Then one night I woke up to find Estelle missing from her room. After a pretty intense full-house search, we found her tucked away behind some boxes of bike stuff. Estelle had figured out how to get out past the baby-gate so we left them open.

Within a few weeks she and the other cats were reasonably happy. Hal is her biggest fan, approaching her like a boy with a crush. He has yet to cuddle up to her since she runs away, but it's obvious he's fascinated with her.

Estelle, when she determines that you're not trying to pick her up, will walk up to you and rub up against your legs. Usually this happens when I'm sitting at the kitchen table or the computer desk. I also find her waiting outside the bathroom when I shower in the morning (and after rides/races) and near the bed when I wake up.

(I also find Hal, who wants to be in the bathroom and cries loudly if he's left out, and Bella, who sits patiently outside until I open the door - then she stands, tail quivering, wanting her back rubbed.)

Riley, at the top of the stairs, and Estelle.

Riley treats Estelle in a curiously aggressive manner. She doesn't do anything until Estelle tries to walk by, then she bats at her repeatedly, chasing her for a few seconds. Then they both pause and sit and pretend nothing happened. In the picture above, Riley is just waiting for Estelle to try and go up the stairs.

An alert Estelle.

Estelle yoga.

When a cat sprawls on its back, especially when it's near you, the cat really trusts you. Estelle is getting more comfortable around us, even when I'm holding a black gizmo called a camera that flashes really bright every now and then.

ph34r* me for I am fierce!

(*ph34r = "fear")

Either that or she's yawning. She mews quietly, kind of chirp like, when she wants to talk. Usually she's pretty quiet. When I was trimming her nails the other day, she actually growled at me. And let me trim another 7 or 8 paws worth of claws.

No ears.

Her fur is in good shape, very shiny, no mats. She's still recovering from her "fixing", so her underside is a bit barren of fur (you can see some pink in the above picture).

She's still shy about treats, but if you toss one her way, she "discovers" it, stares at it to make sure it really exists, then, after a sniff or two, pounces on it and gobbles it up. Then she looks around to see if any more treats will teleport her way.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Racing - Penance

So we just got back from the last rendition of the Tuesday Night World Championships. The race went well for all involved - decent numbers, nice weather (albeit a tad hot), and an exciting race.

Two guys went early and crushed the field, but that field kept forming and reforming into various permutations of itself. Ultimately a group of six escaped the others to contest third place.

However, for me, the race ended much earlier, about 27 minutes into the race. I rode another 15 minutes or so, but that was somewhat useless, with tired legs and worries about using up whatever I have before tomorrow's track day.

I didn't mean it to be that way. I started conservatively, intending to finish the race. I even moved up enough to keep an eye on things, to give me some fall back room, and let the wind and the early aggressiveness take its toll on the front runners.

On one of my move-ups, down the backstretch, I made what in any race would be considered a "racing move", but for me, they were unacceptable.

For the first time in a long, long time, I made contact with another rider.

I was moving up the road, in a straight-ish line, down the middle of the road. I knew it'd be a bit tight on the right side, but I felt riders to the left and didn't feel I could move over there more. Plus I was trying to be efficient and move up within the field, not around the outside.

Then someone moved left a touch just as I came up on them. Nothing weird, for sure. But with a guy to my left, I couldn't move left, and I didn't slam on my brakes. I think braking would have been the worst move, but my wiggle to get through the gap actually had me touch the rider to my left.


I think I may have touch a bar, maybe an arm, but whatever, it was a big shock to me.


Then, as if that weren't enough, as I let my speed drop down, another rider moved left just as I drew up to them, and again I felt some contact.

The heck?

Although nothing happened, other than maybe a surprised yelp or two, I felt terrible about what just happened. Neither of us made any particularly bad moves. Usually in these races you can move laterally relatively easily, and no one was swerving, just easing. Polite, nice, and safe. I figure I was a bit tight with my tolerances, and I was making a slightly more aggressive move than the tone of this race.

Therefore I had to pay penance.

We swung through the last turn and the guys around started easing up a bit. A few guys had rolled off the front, hunting for a prime, and they'd gotten a good gap. My move up had been to see if I could find an opening to jump after them, or, more precisely, to jump after a move that jumped after them.

Instead I'd committed these two errors.

In any normal situation I'd have eased up when the front guys eased, but to make good on my perceived errors (two of them!), I did not ease up. In fact, I went to the front of the group.

And I pulled.

And pulled.

And pulled.

Now, for those of you there, it may not have been a leg breaking pull. In fact, you may have been on the brakes and such. But for me, for me it was a crazy hard pull. I'd look down every now and then, and I was doing mid-300s each time I glanced. My legs started to load up, my breathing got ragged, and I realized that if I didn't pull off soon, I wouldn't have anything left.

So, after something like two laps (I know, pitiful for most, but for me that's it, all gone), I pulled off.

For about 30 seconds I didn't think I could get back in, but just before the tail of the field rolled by me, I found some shelter.

I sat in, refusing to come around, trying to recover. One guy pulled steadily, me right behind, but everyone else kept jumping up the road. I groveled for a while, watching a chase group form, then grow steadily as rider after rider bridged to it.

I decided to ease up a bit and seek more shelter to prepare for my own bridge, but when I looked back, there was only one rider there.

We were three off the back.

Somehow the whole field had managed to bridge up to the "chase", effectively making us the first group off the back.

This happens in video games, but this was the first time I'd been in a situation like this.

One guy peeled off, giving up. The other guy too, seemed less than keen. I'd been trying to save some gas for a bridge attempt, but the wind had been killing me, and I hadn't done anything but maintain a minimal level of reserves.

Penance time.

I went to the front, in a Hail Mary kind of move. No attack, no jump, just roll and do what I'd hoped to be a successful one lap effort to bridge the minor gap.

I got the gear going reasonably well, stayed inside for the shortest line (remembering the Human Derny's remark that going to the second line on the track, just three feet up, it worth a second a lap). Hugging the barriers to the inside, I closed maybe half of the small gap, maybe 30 or 40 meters of the 60 or 80 meter gap.

Then, as I tried to imagine myself at the track, digging in for the next few hundred meters of racing, my legs kind of faded. Kind of hard, actually.

And that was that.

Off the back. I poured some of my ice water on my head (almost fell because of the shock), poured some more, and soft-pedaled around a bit.

I got back on for a lap or something, trying to get some motivation in my legs. I jumped out of the saddle out of a turn (I rarely do, so this was a special effort), worked hard to keep gaps closed, to become the glue of the line of riders...

And my legs went.

I half-heartedly tried to jump back in using smaller gears, track gears, but that lasted only a couple hundred meters. My legs started to cramp. And I started thinking of the track tomorrow.

I sat up and pulled over.

Equipment - Product Liability

I'm no lawyer so I'll let one do the talking. This relates to those two pieces by Mavic about their much-maligned R-Sys wheelset, originally recalled by Mavic. I have some thoughts on the wheels but I'll save that for another day.

The article about the post-recall wheel failure.

The response from Mavic.

Overall I thought the whole wheel thing felt, well, negative, especially from Mavic's point of view. I had no concrete idea of why it felt that way; I couldn't dissect Mavic's response in a logical way.

However, someone with some legal experience did, and he sums up the fiasco quite nicely:

Article on product liability.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tactics - Drafting, A Note

Or "What New Riders Need To Understand To Race"

It seems straightforward to explain to a new rider how to do a group ride. Learn to draft in a smaller group, maybe groups of 2 to 4 riders. Then go on a larger group ride (10 to 20 riders) and practice drafting, watch the group's dynamics, and get into a "group rhythm". Then, as you get more comfortable drafting, explore other things - pulling, attacking, chasing, even sprinting.

Then try racing.

And if you race, you should know that after a bit of suffering, maybe a week, maybe a month, maybe even a year, you'll be able to hang in there. You'd be able to make it past some of the hard bits, and eventually, at some point, you'll be the one laying out the advice, even if it's as simple as "Well, first you need to learn to draft".

You've made it.

The reality, for many, ends up being totally different. Throw a bunch of those new riders into a bunch of group rides and you'll see a huge portion of them simply drop out. Discouraged, they ride away, at some point not returning to the sport.

I can't tell you why. I mean, yes, I've talked to some "never-raced" riders (one has been riding for 20 or 30 years on the road) about what it is about racing that keeps them from racing. Some guys worry about being able to go to work on Monday, after hearing all about the crashes and wrecks and various disasters in the races. Others point at their lack of pace. Still others simply don't feel the need to enter a race, a competitive event.

For sure there's a certain intimidation factor, the fear of the unknown, the reluctance to leave one's comfort zone. I don't know why that didn't dissuade me from racing, but somehow I made it through that obstacle. I think that an always supportive group helps a lot. It helps too that I could see some progress, even if it meant that I got dropped just a bit later in the group ride.

And finally, with the long term approach to learning that I discovered with the violin, bike racing seemed like a pretty easy-to-master sport. After all, it only took me a year to start placing in races. With the violin, it was maybe 10 years before I started feeling comfortable expressing myself with the "fiddle", as my last teacher called it.

Anyway, the other night the missus and I went out on the tandem. For the first time for us, though, we went on a group ride of regular riders. Meaning riders on normal bikes, on "singles" in tandem-speak.

We got shelled almost immediately.

Okay, on the tandem we climb worse than I climb alone, and for a number of reasons.

The tandem has what I consider, under physiological pressure, "widely spaced gearing", with relatively large jumps between commonly used cogs, and that's with the "close ratio" cassette I installed. This widely spaced gearing makes it difficult to fine tune cadence when at the edge of threshold.

Another gearing issue - we have an inability to stand while pedaling. I just don't know how to approach it. We've tried once and almost rode off both sides of the road. We simple never managed to make it work. Whatever my single-bike instincts, for standing they definitely don't cross over to the tandem.

There's this weight thing too. We have a heavier bike, equivalent of two 19 pound singles. With our gear on it (just bottles, flat tire stuff, some lights), it pushes the weight well over 40 pounds. With us on board, the bike weighed well north of 350 pounds.

And as much as I love and respect the missus, she puts out just a tad bit less power than I can, so it wasn't like there were two racers on the bike. She pedals for sure, and at times I've had to go over 600 watts to stay with her when riding singles, but no, it's not quite the same as riding the single.

Add that to the fact that I basically tossed the missus into the deep end - she'd ridden all of 10 miles on a bike this year prior to the day's 40-ish mile ride - and you can see that we entered the ride with less than ideal conditions.

All in all, poor preparation and a bike that handicapped us (or that we handicapped by not mastering).

On the good side, we could never drop each other, so I could pedal as hard as I wanted and I could still talk to the missus. Or, if I was struggling on a hill, she'd dig extra deep and turn on the reserve power to crank over the top. And coasting downhills... well, let's just say that I used the brakes a lot. And finally, since I was piloting the bike, we could sneak into tighter spots than most riders, sit on wheels, etc.

At least until the road went up.

The tandem did teach me a couple things about group rides. I think those things were so ingrained in my head, learned so long ago, that I didn't even think of them as "things". They just "were", like the sky is above and the pavement is below.

For new riders (we were all new riders at one point), my observations below may seem obvious. But for more experienced riders, like me, the ideas are so basic that they may have already been filed away as "it's just part of pedaling the bike".

My two huge observations on group rides based on riding the tandem the other night:
1. You must learn how to draft, and you must get comfortable riding 3 feet or less behind the rider in front of you.
2. If the gap opens up beyond that 3 feet (or less, if you're okay with that), you must close that gap immediately. Immediately. Not in 3 seconds, not in 2 seconds, you need to close it NOW.

Note: the distance increases with speed, and I'm talking drafting distances at 20-25 mph on flat and slightly rolling roads. For 35+ mph descents, you can back off perhaps a bike length per 10 mph, so at 40 mph, maybe 4 bike lengths. Mind you, that's for descents. For a flat road 40 mph effort, I would have to be inside of a foot to find enough draft to hang on. But I consider that to be "advanced" group riding. First get the 20 mph stuff down.

The first point is a rehash of sorts for experienced riders. They'll think, "Three feet? It should be just a foot, not three!" But, for everything that I've forgotten, I do remember a sense of abject terror when approaching closer than three feet to the rider in front of me. So 3 feet it is. Work on a foot, but the minimum needs to be a yard.

The second point... I never realized how critical that second point is for effective drafting. When the gap opens even a little, you need to close it immediately. Not, "Oh, the gap is 5 feet, let me pedal a bit faster... okay, it's 4, I'm making progress... Okay it's 3 and ah, hm... oh they just accelerated, and now it's 7 feet..."

It should be "Gap is 3.5 feet" (if you want to stay at 3 feet) and you immediately, and I mean immediately, throw in one hard downstroke. Then continue pedaling normally and see what happens - you should find the bike rolling up the extra gap, slowing gently as you get within 3 feet of the bike.

If the gap is a bit bigger because you weren't paying attention, you'll need to accelerate accordingly. Two hard downstrokes. Maybe three.

Now, for many riders, the first thing to pop into their heads is, "Wait, he's telling riders to surge while in a group? In a paceline?"

Yes. And no.

When a new rider does these surges, it will result in some surges and corresponding braking. It's like a new driver in a car trying to drive a constant speed. The experienced driver may find it a bit annoy to see a car surge, then brake, then surge, then brake, but everyone has to start somewhere.

In this case, hopefully, the speed's sine waves taper down quickly, so that first the brakes become unnecessary, then second the surges seem more gentle.

With the additional mass of the tandem, I learned really quickly exactly how hard I go to close a tiny gap. I found myself suddenly, unexpectedly, doing a hard downstroke or two. Then, to my total dismay, I realized that I had not reduced the gap in front of me.

(Note: as the pilot or "captain" of the tandem, my view is similar to one of a single bike, with bars, levers, and a front wheel. Therefore it seems that my instincts are honed as if I were riding a single bike, even on a double.)

What I found was that instead of one or two hard instinctive downstrokes, I needed to go 10 or 15. 10 or 15, that's like accelerating out of a hairpin turn from 15 mph to 35 mph.

That, in case you didn't know, is hard.

After about 10 or 12 gaps, all along one meandering road, my legs exploded. I couldn't keep the bike in the draft, on the flats, we would drop further behind on the hills, and that was that.

We did the rest of the ride pretty much solo. And I filed what I learned in my mental "I should write about this" folder.

One of the hard things about drafting is learning to deal that whole sine wave curve, where the rider learning to draft alternately accelerates and brakes. This needless braking, and the resulting acceleration, wastes a lot of energy.

In fact, I read an article where the author mentions something about Tom Boonen. Apparently he's not just a good sprinter, he's a good bike rider (duh!). He's good enough that even in tight field situations, you can see him riding the tops regularly.

Tops, in case you don't know, means he can't brake without moving his hands.

And in fact, he doesn't need to brake. Even as other guys are alternately pedaling and braking, Boonen is simply pedaling and coasting along. No brakes. Efficient.

You've got to believe that this efficiency translates to some additional power in the last 200-300 meters.

You can't just decide to have this skill though - it's not like Boonen got on the bike and said, "Okay, from now on I'm not going to brake in the field unless I absolutely have to." It's something he learned over the course of riding from age 12 or whatever.

So how do you get to this point?

Lots of practice.

Seriously, though, it takes a lot of saddle time while you're focused on actually drafting. This means not looking around at the scenery, although you should keep an eye out on traffic.

You can definitely try "not braking" while in the group, although I'd do it with your fingers near your brake levers first. Save riding the tops for later.

You can also isolate your own sine wave so it doesn't affect the other riders in the group. Let me explain.

When I first learned to draft, I had problems dealing with the "I surged, but now I'm going too fast, now what?" My first "trick" was to coast up alongside the rider in front, meaning I'd slide over a foot and roll up next to the rear wheel, or derailleur, or even the cranks of the rider in front of me. Then, as my speed dropped (due to soft pedaling, coasting, or even braking a touch), I'd slide over and get back behind the wheel.

I figured out, too, that keeping an eye out on the second rider in front of me helped. If that rider surged a bit, I knew I should expect "my" rider to surge too. I tried to focus less on my front tire and more on the two or three riders in front of me's front tires.

(It's kind of like driving - you don't keep your eyes glued on the road 10 feet in front of your bumper, you look up at 50-100 yards away, or around the bend, at the cars 3-4 cars in front of you... don't you?)

Suddenly, as I mastered this drafting thing, I forgot about the surges. I'd toned them down so that a discrete pedal mash or two would keep me within my drafting window. I would ease a touch when I noticed the riders in front of the riders in front of me easing, and I would find myself slowing just enough to ease onto the wheel in front of me.

Then the field would naturally accelerate a bit and I'd do my one downstroke.

I didn't realize this after a while. In fact, I don't ever remembering telling myself, "Okay, if the field surges just a touch, do one slightly harder downstroke."

I didn't realize, that is, until I rode the tandem with the missus. And then suddenly, with my single bike reactions slowed by the tandem, it became crystal clear to me.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tactics - Last Corner Blunder

Yesterday, Sunday, I had a lot of stuff I had to do, errands to run, things to pick up, stuff that isn't totally bike related. Okay, I had to collect some stuff from the CCC Crit a month or two back, but that's about the extent of the bike stuff. Oh, and wash the van for the Bethel Spring Series.

Okay, so some bike related stuff.

But nothing to do with riding them or, unfortunately, working on them (I should degrease and retape the Cannondale at the least).

However, when I tuned into the last day's coverage of the Tour, everything got put on the back burner.

Granted, watching guys tool along at 18 mph isn't really exciting, so I dealt with some stuff around the house while the laptop blared Phil and Paul's voices. When I returned to the laptop, the missus excitedly told me that a group was 36 seconds away, and that Columbia was chasing.

I sat down.

Columbia-HTC had the field strung out in a long, thin, line, but as the corners approached, especially the U-turn at the top of the Champs Elysee, the field flared out, guys either trying to move up or trying to protect their positions. This told me that as hard as Columbia was pulling, the field had plenty of reserves.

Although a Cavendish admirer, I thought this particular stage would suit a less jumpy sprinter, a Tyler Farrar for example. Since I usually vote for the underdog, I hoped that Farrar would win the stage.

Thing is, if there is one place in the Tour where the leadout counts, it's the Champs. Therefore Farrar needed his Garmin team to do something special.

With an opponent like Columbia-HTC, Garmin would have to pull some good moves beyond just doing a good leadout. I figured that there'd be a few different factors, all in the last kilometer.

1. Extremely wide roads at 1 km to go flag - you can go literally 20 or 30 wide. This means totally insane speeds, probably 38-42 mph.
2. Narrow left bend. Since the bend is taken so fast, and you need to set up for the right, it's literally a single or double file bend. Again, this has to be taken at, say, 38 mph minimum.
3. Narrower right bend. If the left is narrow due to the play of the race, the right is literally just one rideable lane wide.
4. All this takes place on (smoother) cobbles so riders can't make immediate line adjustments like they can on asphalt.
5. A great leadout will have one rider used up with 200 to go, another at 500 to go, another at 1 km to go. This means 3 guys in the last kilometer, maybe 5 or 6 with 2 k to go.

So with all this in mind, I planted myself next to the missus and watched the final two laps of the race.

Impressively, Columbia-HTC sat at the front, accepted their responsibility as favorites for the finish, and just pounded away. Their pace told on the field as they followed in a long, thin line behind.

As time started to run out, though, the shape of the peloton reflected the true nature of the race. Just behind the big Columbia leadout, the field flared pretty wide. This meant that Columbia's pace just wasn't hot enough, that others were starting to think of their own chances.

Garmin seemed especially active in moving up, surfing the side of the field, surging forward, then losing position after a few hundred meters, then repeating the process.

That's when I started doubting Farrar's chances.

The energy required to move up repeatedly costs riders a lot of energy. Holding position isn't easy, but if they're holding position, that's a good reflection of the rider's ability to maintain the effort. If they keep surfing the edges to move up, then try and hide, this means, to me, that the guys can't hold the effort. It means they're moving up too early or they're starting to fade.

I know the latter because that's how I am when trying to stay abreast of a super-fast leadout.

As the field approached 3 km to go, Garmin finally went to the front. Although they had some of the best time trialers in the world, they only had three of them in front of Farrar. I distinctly remember mumbling under my breath, "3.4 k to go, 3 guys, they went too early".

The Garmin guys started to visibly fade, and after a supreme 1k effort, the first guy pulled off. As they approached the red kite, incredibly, they still had two guys in front of Farrar.

My leadout math led me to believe that, even with Garmin's talent, this wouldn't be enough. They wouldn't be able to sustain sprint speeds for 800 meters with two guys. Faster leadout men would be able to pounce on this less-than-lightspeed train.

Sure enough, Columbia-HTC, with a slightly rested Hincapie in front of Renshaw in front of the Cav, launched just after the red kite. Hincapie accelerated violently, swinging left, towards the inside of the second last bend.

This was exactly what a leadout should be, a superlative effort consistent with an all out sprint.

Garmin's last leadout man saw the threat, moved over, and tucked in behind Hushovd and Cav. With 700 or 800 meters to go, this was an acceptable launch point, but not for the sprint. The leadout man knew he had to position Farrar further forward, probably either on Cav's wheel, or, preferably, launch Farrar well in front of Cav.

Hincapie drove through the left bend, and, with the wind from the right, pulled off to the right.

At the same moment the Garmin duo made the "must make" move. They had no choice because they had to launch Farrar early and in front of Cav, and now they only had one more natural obstacle before the line.

They went inside, probably because the shorter line outweighed the benefit of sitting on the slightly sheltered outside line. Hincapie, though, interrupted their flow, and they had to make one more desperate effort to get to the right bend before the Renshaw-Cav duo.

Farrar, already at the limit, seemed to have exploded here. He lost his leadout man's wheel, had to go a few pedal strokes in the wind, and that was it.

Behind, Farrar's leadout man tries to get into the last right bend before the Columbia duo, but fails. He either brakes or "violently coasts", and some confusion with Farrar (as to which side to jump) results in a little stutter jump by Farrar. Part of what caused this is the aforementioned cobbles - with asphalt it wouldn't have been as much an issue, but with cobbles making minor adjustments at high speed becomes, well, major.

Hushovd, almost forgotten in all this, had let a slight gap go, then probably eased even more to let the Garmin duo in. When they fumbled the bend, he got gapped away. In retrospect, he should have fought tooth and nail for Cav's wheel, but Renshaw's acceleration opened a gap between Hushovd and Cav, so Hushovd wasn't in the position to fight.

Hushovd's and Farrar's hesitation, along with the awkward leadout swing-off for Farrar, meant that Renshaw and Cav gapped the field as they exited the last bend.

Renshaw, fresh off of Hincapie's launch, and with a brief respite while cornering, accelerated in an almost leisurely fashion. He got the big gear going, looked down regularly, and seemed so relaxed I couldn't believe we were watching the final sprint on the Champs.

Cav, though, looked ready to pounce. You could almost feel him gathering himself, and when he launched, he went hard. The sideshot vividly illustrated his compact, low position, one that's got to be worth a bit of speed. It also shows how his downstroke isn't a leg-extended effort, but rather a kind of leg-crunched one.

Whatever, it works.

Predictably, with a gap behind them, Cav won handily. They were so far ahead that Renshaw got second. Crazy good.

For Farrar, well, it'll have to wait. But with all this practice with field sprints, I think that once Garmin gets that last bit of teamwork down, they'll be flying.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Life - More Kitten Stuff

Come on, you know you want a couple kittens.

When I got the kittens in their room, I set up the carrier, a bed, another bed, the scratch post with the built in hiding place, and set the lounge chair in a strategic location. I used up a yet another bin of litter filling their kitten-size boxes.

Then, instead of breaking it down, I set it on its side. I figured the smaller opening would be appealing.

Later that night, I went up to check on them. None on the beds. None behind the chair. None in the carrier.

On a hunch I checked the empty litter bin.

Shy male on the left, the large male, and the female on the right. Tabby behind.

A closer look.

Today at lunch I checked them out. The female had made herself comfy on the bed. The tabby and the non-shy male were on the sill, and the shy male, with the darker mohawk, was in the litter bin.

Female seems most at ease after a day.

Sinking even deeper into the bed. This after some scritching.

Tabby and the non-shy male.

I pulled the shy male out of the bin. Here he looks a bit pensive.

Tabby and the shy male. He climbed up on his own.


The three boys.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dateline: 20:28, 22 July 2009

I'm eating salad.

That's desperate, at least for me.

The racing went reasonably well, but once again I felt like a total newb. I learned more mechanical stuff, tried to throw my bike at the line (which, in a road sprint, would involve coasting), and I failed miserably at what I thought would be my best event, the match sprint.

Let's rehash.

First, the day started with some chores, like programming two garage door openers, the keypad and the one in the mirror of the blue car. I felt pretty pleased with myself when the door went up and down like magic. Little triumphs make life good.

I also went to clear out all the cat catching stuff from work, and managed to snag some awesome Panera's food (someone brought in a bag of stuff). I fed Grey, spotted White (the fixed male who really doesn't like me right now), and collected the trap, a carrier, and some other stuff.

I realized that I have a pretty solid fan base at work, probably the most supportive non-family (family includes the missus) family. Kim and Jill, the two daughters, always ask me about my racing. Sincerely, not just politely.

"Make us proud," Kim told me one day, when we were leaving work.
"You can win," Jill said once. I remembered that and dug extra deep in one of the Rent races when I thought about dropping out.

Karen, the mom, has always supported my racing, my leaving early on Tuesdays, the Wednesdays off, and even Saturdays for Bethel and Nutmeg. She's also very thoughtful about my whole mosquito thing, and today she gave me a wristband that has stuff in/on it to repel mosquitoes. For the record, while I had it on, I didn't get bitten on that arm.

I think I'll ask her if she has one for my other arm. And maybe one each for my ankles.

Anyway, it was nice to go to work and get all this support, and it set the tone for the day.

I brought the four kittens home (anyone want some kittens?), set them up in their room, packed up the car, and set off.

(btw, I can't believe it. There are mosquitoes in this McDonalds. And I used Active Wipes to clean myself off so I have no repellant on. This may be the shortest post ever.)

As in, "Okay, tonight I raced and then went home, itching all the way."

Okay, I'm just kidding.

I just got bit 4 times on my legs. Arg. And I am not kidding about that.

Where was I...

I got to the track in good time, put my bike together (rear wheel pretty tight so as not to drop the chain like I did last week), and said hi back to a few people that said hi to me. I realized that I'd forgotten my number so I had to get a new one. I didn't have any cash, just some change in the "ashtray", so I issued a verbal IOU to Tony for $3.

Hey, if Arnold can do it, so can I.

I decided I wouldn't kill myself in the Scratch race since I wanted to do some good sprints. I also wanted to work on holding a line when sprinting, so I did a partial sprint and did all the tricks I know to stay down on the inside of the track. I tilted my head, looked at where I wanted to go, and my bike stayed low. Slower than a sprint, but still, it seemed to work.

On the warmup a rider came up to me in familiar CVC colors. She introduced herself (Kim) and mentioned she knew SOC among other people. Apparently she raced last Saturday and Tony told her to come up for the Wednesday A/B races, not the Tuesday C/D ones. I should have taken note of that distinction, but I sort of let it slide.

We lined up for the Scratch and they announced they'd offer a prime.


I needed $3, and if they gave out, say, $1, I'd be less in debt.

So when they rang the bell for the prime, I decided that I'd go for it. I happened to be about 5 back, and one guy kind of went for it, but I came around him and got it. I sat up, deciding to end my race there, but it took a while for everyone to kind of regroup.

Then Kim rocketed out of the field. At some point I totally sat up and went into la-la land, but she basically rolled through and past everyone else. I can't remember how the race ended but she definitely made a good move, staying away for a long time.

I should have taken note, but I was too wobbly to do anything but put a foot down.

I learned I got $2 and some drinks, so I told Tony to apply the $2 to my IOU. I passed on the drinks since it'll be a year or two before the missus and I dig into the martinis I won last week.

Next up, flying 200 meter times. Basically you get up to speed and sprint for 200 meters as fast as you can. This is totally me so I rode around and calculated where to dive down the banking, when to accelerate, and all sorts of planning type stuff.

I watched the Human Derny do a 12.9, shaking his head in disgust at his "poor" sprint. No one else broke 13, although one guy did a 13.00.

I decided I wanted to do a 13.00.

When I got called to go, I got rolling pretty hard. I knew I'd have to jump from some reasonable speed so I could dive down the banking, and really launch hard across the line.

I dove down the banking and POP something clicked hard. My pedaling stumbled a touch, but I kept going. Not really a good jump, but not bad, and I got going pretty good. The final bend came up way too quickly and I drifted way wide. I heard another POP. What the heck?!

I sprinted to the line, pretty disappointed with my effort.

My practice sprint hadn't been enough, and I lost tons of time climbing the track. And the popping noise, similar to a hard shift, distracted me twice.

Ends up that when you lean a bike left, the chain wants to come off the chainring to the left. If the chain is loose, it'll pop.

No duh, right?

Well, an easy way to test this is to hold the bike sideways so the drivetrain is pointing up, and pedal the bike fast. If it's quiet, it's good. If it clicks and clacks, it's bad.

I did that and heard some regular clicking. The chain was trying to drop off to the inside. Getting the chain tighter would eliminate this.

I went back to the car and tightened the chain.

Before I did, though, I rode up to Tony.

"What was my time?"
"Oh, man, you're just like my kids. 'What's my time? What's my time?' They never shut up!"
"Well? What was my time?"
He didn't even look up from his scoring.

Dag.Three quarters of a second slower than the Derny. And he was unhappy with his sprint.

The time was decent though, and it gave me confidence. Too much confidence. My first sprint was a three up, and I led all the way, trying to keep the pace high, wanting to be able to jump in my 50x15. What I did, in hindsight, was to eliminate my strong point, my jump, and make it more of a speed race.

I learned tonight that I ain't got speed.

So this guy Andrew led out and I couldn't come around him. I couldn't believe it. My jump was worth nothing.


(Say it like what's his name... the Italian guy... DeNiro. He's Italian? Or just talks like a gangster?)

To top it off, the third guy, Andrew's dad, almost got me at the line. I kind of panicked and threw my bike at the line.

Throwing the bike means coasting. On a road bike, not a problem.

Coasting on a track bike means doing a header.

My back wheel came waaaaaay off the ground, but nothing bad happened. Well, it kind of thumped hard when it landed, but otherwise nothing happened.

Total newb.

In Match Sprints there's a "second chance" sprint, a "repechage". I think it's called that, but the mosquitoes are driving me insane, so that's what it is for now.

The repechage was a four up, winner goes on. I decided to play it a bit cooler, and not lead all the way. I can't really remember exactly what happened, but I took the sprinter's lane on the backstretch and held off a guy Mike trying to come around me.

This qualified me for the 3rd-6th race. Kim, having won her first heat (by going from the gun for two laps and winning in a super close sprint), and second in her second heat (thus forcing her into the repechage), was in this race. I think we all looked at her to make sure we wouldn't be caught napping when she launched.

Of course, as soon as she did one hard downstroke, we all jumped, and suddenly there were three guys leading out Kim. What's funny is that she did that one downstroke to get everyone going, and it worked. Unfortunately for her she blasted around us a bit early and ended up leading us out. I couldn't get the sprinter's lane so I got second in the sprint, fourth in the Match Sprint. I think I swore out loud in the sprint when I realized I wasn't going to get third overall.

So for all those sprints I got one point in the Omnium.

We went to the Miss N Out, and I decided I wouldn't really contest it. I tried to lose after a lap, but someone had come off so Tony hollered I was still in. I had already gapped myself off the back so I did a little dig to move up. This caused me to accelerate kind of hard, and because I don't have brakes, I had to move past people as I slowed. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I found myself about 5th wheel.

I started thinking "Maybe", but after a couple more eliminations I decided I'd sit up. I felt pretty wasted, and I wasn't interested in doing another match sprint (the last three guys do that).

When I was getting packed up, Scotty came over and we chatted a bit. I told him I was still making newb mistakes, like the chain popping and the back wheel in the air thing.

From the next car over the guy looked up.

"I saw that!"

Great. I'm sure he'll go home and say, "And then there was this guy, total newb, almost flipped over the bars when he threw his bike at the line. Can you believe it?"


I learned more today. How to adjust chain tension on a track bike. Not to coast. Not to throw the bike. And to keep the Match Sprint speeds low before I jump.

And that I have to, have to, have to, have to work on my pedal speed. Because right now it totally sucks. I may have to lower my saddle a touch. I definitely need to do some high rpm work with 170s. On one of the cool down laps I even daydreamed about using some angle bar to make a frame for my rollers - they way Kreitler made them, the front roller is about an inch too far forward when all the way back, and I end up dropping off the back of the rollers all the time.

Rollers and trainer work, for sure.

I should also get more fit. Lose weight. Get stronger.

Hence the salad.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Life - Kittens For Adoption

Note Aug 17, 2009: all kittens were adopted.

Not really cycling related but this is one way to find a home for 3 males and 1 female. The one female is the smallest of the white ones, the two larger white ones and the tabby is a male.

They're hungrier than scared.

Currently they're all at a local veternarian. We'll be picking them up Wednesday.

I think the right one is the female.

The dad. Very regal looking. He's fixed and released so not up for adoption.

Tabby contemplating risk vs reward - human nearby versus food nearby.

Tabby sneaking along.

Tabby and one white kitten decided food trumps risk.

I think the female is on the right. She's the smallest of the white ones. I think she has a full mohawk pattern on her head.

Two white kittens. I think the one on the right is the female but I don't know.

The mom and tabby.

The mom is being fixed now, and although she's currently scared of people, I think she'll come around with a lot of patience. If she's like Estelle (a cat we have for adoption), it'll be 4-6 months. We plan on releasing her. The tabby is a male.

We also have a black/white almost adult female who we call Estelle. She's been fixed, shotted, etc, and is ready to go "as is". She's friendly, a touch timid still, but based on our experience with the others, she'll be a great companion. She purrs readily, enjoys being scritched, and doesn't even mind getting her claws trimmed. She uses the litterbox and likes dry food and treats.

Rolling around.

Yawn. Or vicious snarl.

What she does most - rub up against you.


Silly pose.

Racing - Rules and Regs

When I was 14 years old and wanted to race, I pestered my (also 14 year old) racing friend all the time with questions about racing.

Finally, when I probably asked the same rules question for the umpteenth time, he gave me his rulebook (it was pre-pdf days, i.e. it came in a printed version) and said "Read it." I protested but he was firm and refused to answer my questions until I could cite some of the major rules in it, things like exactly what constitutes your finish in a race.

After you read it then you can ask questions.

Some good things to know:
1. Let's start with my friend's first question. What constitutes "crossing the line", i.e. what determines when you finish a race?
2. What is a free lap?
3. Do you have to have bar plugs?
4. Can you use an unmodified track bike in a time trial on the road?
5. When can you ride without a helmet on your head?
6. What is the penalty for rolling a tire?
7. What is the Junior gear limit (definition and gear)?
8. How long do you have to protest a race finish (like you thought you won but they placed you 10th)?
9. What category are you and how would you get to the next one?
10. What is your age group and with what other age groups can you race?
11. Can a woman enter your race/s?
12. Can you use aero bars in a road race? How about a disk wheel?
13. What happens if you miss your start because they started the race a few minutes earlier than the published start time?
14. What happens if there is a dead heat, i.e. two riders actually tie?

Although it's important to be fit physically, to be prepared equipment-wise, and to have some common group riding skills, all before your first race, it's also important to know the rules.

My take on rules is not particularly rebellious. For example, I don't necessarily agree with Critical Mass rides. I think that pushing for various laws or programs would be a better way of doing things. Those laws and programs take a lot of time, energy, and money though, and can take years to pass, so I understand some of the more edgy ways of attracting attention to the cause.

But with bike racing, the rules change annually. It's not quite as big a deal as it is changing an actual law. So changes happen all the time. For example, a big rule change (for me) for 2009 was a default "No feeding in crits".

Come on, you say, wasn't it always illegal?

Nope. I'm sure some incident pushed the idea to become a rule (I recall riders being DQed for taking feeds at Somerville), but by default feeding was legal. Perhaps someone tried to feed a racer flying along at 38 mph and caused him to crash. Whatever, now it's specifically illegal.

Another new rule is no loose equipment on the bike. No bags, pumps, things like that. Again, I imagine that something happened to push this rule through, like a frame pump went flying on a 55 mph descent, wreaking havoc with the riders around, and costing USAC's insurance company a bunch of money.

I fell victim to this rule just yesterday, when an official told me to lose my helmet cam if I wanted to start the race. After fumbling through some potential rules that would prohibit me carrying the camera (the official initially thought it was a radio), the official finally cited the loose equipment rule.

Because I'm not rebellious about rules, I decided not to fight it (although I did question exactly which rule would prevent me from carrying the camera, because riders give up their media rights by default now). I felt pretty disappointed because I really wanted to get that particular race on tape, but now I'll just have to wait until next year.

However, for the next race this year, I may have a ruling from a higher up which I can refer to if someone gives me a problem about the helmet cam. For example, if I pinned my camera into my pocket, it would be virtually impossible for it to fall out. Or if I had a CamelBak, or some other carrying system that mounted on my body, it wouldn't be "loose".

I'd like to record some more races, but now I'll just have to be more prepared.

The rules do, after all, apply to everyone.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Racing - Naugatuck Criterium 19 July 2009

Today was the Naugatuck Criterium, the Donovan-Ruhlman Memorial. I've written about the Ruhlman bit, and I've raced here, somewhat unsuccessfully, before.

When things get fuzzy in my memory, I try and go to backup sources, like articles or videos. And since my mind got fuzzy today at the Naugatuck Crit, I'd want to go to the video tape... except an official I hadn't seen before didn't allow me to start with the helmet cam.

No archive. No backup.

Therefore my fuzzy minded recollection is about what you're going to get.

The day started pretty early, after a short night out with friends and a cumulative fatigue that sent us to bed early. I got up, fiddled with our DSL stuff for a while, gave up, used the Verizon Wireless Broadband card (it's awesome, what can I say?), and poked around a bit on the Internet.

The missus joined me and we went to Versus to watch the Tour - today would be the day, I thought, and I wanted to see at least part of it. I'm tired of explaining to people that, no, they don't race all out every day, but they really save it for only a few days.

But not really, because even an easy day is a hard day.

Sort of.

It's confusing, I know, and I want to go to work on Monday and say, "Now the race has started."

We got worried for a bit as the coverage seemed to never load, but then we realized, oh, hey, it's not 7:30 yet (or was it 7:40?). And that's when it starts.

The clock ticked over the one minute and suddenly, hey, presto, we had some "highlights". Then we went to the live feed. Shaky, 15 frames per second or so, but it certainly beat the spoilers put out by CyclingNew's live feed (the victim of what has to be the worst site redesign ever, and which I only read now after I've exhausted Velonews and BikeForums, both of which contain spoilers too).

Anyway, we sat glued to the screen towards the end as Contador somewhat predictably smashed all others. I was surprised at Armstrong's difficulties, but having been shelled many times, I could finally empathize with his feelings. I like to point out that although I've never seen Armstrong climb in anger, neither has a lot of other really, really good pros. Maybe 20 riders a year experience his climbing first hand - the rest aren't around to see it, even if they're in the same race.

After the main riders trickled across the line, I hurried downstairs and hopped on the trainer. Loosen my legs after 3 days of nothing which helped me recover from 4 really hard days (1 hr race, 2 hrs tandem ride at essentially race pace, 1.5 hours of which half was racing, and then 3 hours of which 0.5 was racing).

I figured 20 minutes was good, so hopped off after that. Had lunch (prepped by the missus), drank a protein shake with crushed ice (my new favorite lunch drink), packed the car, and split.

We got to the race okay, I changed, rode around a bit, and set up the helmet cam.

We were about to take the line when an official pointed to my pocket.

"I'm not going to let you race with that."

"What?", meaning, "What do you mean by 'that'?"

"The radio in your pocket."

"It's not a radio." When asked questions by authority type figures, answer just the question.

"It doesn't matter, you can't race with that."

"What's the rule you're referring to?"

"The course has a lot of potholes. You can't race with loose equipment."

I pondered this. The official was right, there's a rule against loose equipment on a race bike - no pumps, saddle bags, stuff like that. And, although I may have jammed 4 PowerBars in my pocket to make the same lump (and it would have weighed more than the battery pack in question), my camcorder was kinda heavy and not secured.

Okay, fine, what if I pinned it in place? It would have been secure, right?

Being a promoter, I know what it's like when dealing with rider-official conflicts, and the last thing I wanted to do was to create additional stress for the promoter.

"Okay", I agreed. I turned to SOC, my warm-up partner. "I gotta go ditch the cam."

I received some empathetic support from other racers (along the lines of, "What is this? That's crazy"), but I pointed out loose equipment is technically illegal.

And I went and ditched the helmet cam.

The race has a short bit of straight before the first turn, a 90 degree left with crosswalks and manhole covers. A nightmare in the rain, a non-issue on the sunny, bright day we had today.

A short downhill with a dropped right shoulder (before a now-really tall curb), littered with various manhole covers, sewer grates, and more crosswalks. Wind from the left.

Left turn, three manhole covers, onto a narrower, quieter road. Overgrown bushes stuck out pretty far from the shoulder, with riders frequently wading through them at full speed.

A short lump at the middle of the backstretch, worth 4 or 5 pedal strokes, a brief left bend, then a slightly more substantial rise, say 10 to 15 pedal strokes in a overly big gear. Wind from in front or to one side, but basically really windy.

Hard left, way more than 90 degrees, but one that you could pedal through, leading back onto the main straight. A long haul to the line which lay about 50 feet past the banner.

I had mentally committed to working for SOC in this race. I knew that the double rise on the backstretch would kill my legs, and I thought that it'd be hard for me to pull out a sprint after being at the limit for half a lap.

Incredibly, for about 5 laps, I sat near the front, in the top 15 or so. On a course with a hairpin turn and a strung out rest-of-the-course, this race actually followed the "ride in the top third" rule.

Of course, when my legs went, so did my top third position.

I realized I would run out of water when we passed 17 to go (we started at 28), and I already had basically nothing left. I started getting deep into my domestique role, trying to save myself for one huge effort at the end of the race. I saved a splash of water and a sip of RockStar for the last two laps, and pretty much use little fluid from then on.

I started riding a bit erratically, at least in my opinion. I had a couple moments of inattentiveness, requiring me to jerk the bars to avoid running into someone. I cornered a bit wide (like 2 feet, not 5 feet) regularly, trying to buy myself room if someone to my inside slid out. The wider line really helped in the second turn, because the line allowed me to miss all three manhole covers and it set me up nicely for the run up to the little bump.

I also hit a perfectly edged hole so hard my bars moved a touch, and one of my bar plugs went flying. Yikes.

And, finally, I had a massive moment. At least I want it to be a massive moment. Coming out of the last turn on some lap between "I have fluids" and "I don't have fluids", I took a slightly wider line than the guy in front of me, all while overlapped by a good 4 or 5 inches. What can I say, my Sphere is pretty small.

I slammed my front tire into his rear.

I'm not sure what I did, because whatever training I did with touching wheels came back to me instinctively, and I just rode through it.

In fact, I didn't holler, no one else hollered, and the guy I hit looked down a bit puzzled, like "My bike just wiggled... do I have a flat?"

After looking around for a moment, he decided his bike was fine, and he went on his merry way. Therefore it wasn't a massive moment, but when someone asks me if touching tires is serious, I have to say that it is. If that's the case, my massive non-moment has to be, by definition, a massive moment.

Anyway, with about 4 laps to go, I saw SOC standing besides Mrs. SOC, the missus, and a whole lot of other people (spectators).

When the sprinter is not in the race, the leadout man has to... re-adjust.

I tried to get into the sprinting mentality, moving up aggressively with 2 to go, getting to the front at the bell. Then, on the backstretch, as my energy meter petered away to nothing, guys were going all over the place. My legs were not happy, and I decided I really didn't want to go into that pain cave.

When I came out of the last turn, I didn't sprint. A few guys, friends and teammates alike, thought they had a good wheel, but unfortunately the wheel didn't go like normal. They sprinted around me, and I soft-pedaled to the line.

I stopped at our little spot, grabbed a bottle of ice water from the cooler, and sat near a cautiously curious boy, alternately drinking some of the water and pouring it over my head.

SOC, Mrs SOC, and the missus came over. SOC had a non-mechanical, i.e. a bike problem which is not considered a part failure, and therefore did not qualify for a free lap. At least he didn't roll a tire - instead, he hit the same pothole I did and this caused his brake to rub.

All that talk, not much action. A beautiful day too, not like the last time we went and it was pouring rain. Well, I kept wiping water and sweat from my face, but, hey, it wasn't rain.

We were sitting there when the missus perked up.

"I think they're calling you."


I vaguely heard my name. Crap, I thought. I wonder if I did something totally bad on the last lap. I didn't think I did, but hey, you never know.

I got my helmet (it wouldn't be good to ride over and get fined for not having my helmet), hopped on the bike, and rode over to the start/finish area. I almost grabbed my headband and gloves, but I figured my soaked head would overwhelm the headband, and my hands were nice and cool without the gloves.

The announcer said that someone wanted me there. Ends up it was the Connecticut State Rep from way back when I was a Junior, 25 years ago. She was an integral part of the Laurel Bicycle Club, the club that Paul Ruhlman raced for way back when.

And this race was named in part after Paul Ruhlman.

Paul's mom was there for the start of the P123 race. Rob Lattanzi, a kid from that generation and now a Masters racer, spoke a few words about Paul before the race got under way.

Afterwards I walked over to Mrs. Ruhlman, leaving my bike leaned up against something nearby. She'd found the post I did about Paul (her neice did, actually, but she learned about it eventually). I guess she wanted to meet me, to share some memories about Paul.

I was wearing my mirrored sunglasses which I consider to be "impolite glasses" because they hide those windows to your soul, your eyes, and I usually avoid wearing them if I'm talking with someone. But I didn't know I was going to be talking to anyone so I had them.

I did what I could - I took them off.

And we started talking.

She told me that he'd try and help everyone with their bike riding, even walking up hills with friends who couldn't ride quite as hard as he could.

She detailed to me about exactly what happened. It was a little different than what I heard but no less tragic.

At some point we finished talking. I could see the memories in her eyes, and I felt that it would be best to let her think in private. We said our good-byes and I walked back to my bike.

I had to wipe my eyes on the way.

I could tell you it was just ice water and sweat, but I'd be lying.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Life - Banning Bikes On Select CO Roads?

Apparently some folks in Colorado want to ban bikes from certain roads (selected at the locality's discretion, if I understand correctly).

A guy who knows the ins and outs of law and who I met at Interbike posted about it here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dateline: 20:48, 15 July, 2009

Yet another Mass Pike Rest Stop post.

This time, on the way to the track, I decided to risk all and go through without stopping (in a previous Dateline I explain that I stop to keep my average speed down). We'll see what happens. As it is, I got in the mail the EZPass statement, the first one with the tolls for the Mass Pike. And sure enough, the statement includes all the actual times. I'll have to figure out exactly how far it is, and therefore how fast I've been driving.

On second thought, maybe I won't.

Whatever, I rushed through because I had spent a lot of the day doing errand type stuff, things like trying to catch two kittens (negatory), clear a gutter (negatory, but I was soaked afterwards), wash the van (check, but didn't do the roof - I need a taller stepladder), eat (two protein shakes, some Chicken Picata from last night, and... um... oh, two hotdogs for breakfast), and, um, I think that's it. Well, pack the car. Drive the van around. Some other stuff.

I didn't change after my last venture into the shop's crawl space, so I'm wearing a shirt I normally reserve for private use - family, PJs, or scrounging around in a crawl space. It's an IT shirt that I got from ThinkGeek:

Yeah, it's a little obnoxious when in a non-IT environment.

I like this shirt for really just one reason. I mean, yeah, it reminds me that I did IT once, and I have some cursory knowledge of such things, but the other is my sister. She asked me what "root" meant, and I explained that it's the default superuser or admin on Linux servers. So if you're root, you're bad.

Like good bad, not bad bad.

Anyway, my sister digested this info, tilting her head, then perked up.

"If you're root, I must be a leaf or something."

So I can't help but think of my sister when I wear this shirt.

For everyone else, though, it's kind of obnoxious. Like I'm a gaming freak or something. People say hi, their eyes travel down my shirt, and then they look at me... differently.

But I digress. (And I just thought, holy smokes, this is going to be a long post... I better type quickly.)

Mass Pike, didn't stop. Yeah.

The reason I didn't stop is I wanted to get some warm-up in before the races launched at 6:15, and it takes me a good 15 or 20 minutes to get on the bike. So I drove all the way to the track, stopped and got gas ($2.69 for 93 octane - at home it's $2.69 for Regular), hit the john, and bought some PowerBar with protein, and a Gatorade (because I used a whole can of Gatorade mix in about a week). With that, off to the track.


Before I go on, I should explain that I'm a rank novice on the track. I mean, yeah, I know a bit about bike tactics, and I'm able to pedal a bike, but that's about it. I have no clue about track racing, none whatsoever. I just fumble along and try and dredge up any old memories on tips and tricks and such.

Think of me as the clueless new racer at a crit. I don't know how my bike really works, I do dumb things every now and then, and I don't even know some of the wrong things I'm doing.

So, to continue, I... pulled my bike out of the car (using the chain holder I received as a present), put in the rear wheel, and adjusted it so the chain was really loose.

See, back in the day someone told me that the looser the chain, the better. That's only half true, but I'll explain later.

I also remembered my Liquid Fence Yard Net (mosquito repellent) and my Cutter spray. I also found out the blood sucking critters don't like oily suntan oil, and since I use that instead of heat rub in the summer, I sprayed it all over my exposed skin. I sprayed the Yard Net around my car, and Cutter on my jersey and shorts.

I walked out to the track with my squishy cooler, one my dad got from his last employer. It's really convenient, holds 6 to 8 bottles, and actually keeps things cool. I had my Gatorade (half gone before I got on the bike), two bottles of ice, two Cokes, and a Rock Star.

After popping a Coke (the second to be saved for the drive home, Rock Star got vetoed - too much peeing) and leaving one bottle of ice out (I forgot water, duh), I started rolling around, warming up. My legs felt really, really stiff, due to a bunch of riding I've done. In fact, my lack of posts is partially due to the incredible fatigue I've felt from the riding. This fatigue hints at my goals for the day - to just ride. I just hoped to make the drive worthwhile.


They brought the Moto out. The Moto is a small motorcycle, a regular one, with one roller attached to the back. It's used for the Keirin, to pace the field until 1 lap to go, but it's also a great tool for doing a steady warm-up.

It made an appearance a few weeks ago, and one thing I saw the Human Derny (Kurt from CycleLoft) do is skim the roller, making it turn.

I wanted to do that too.

So, with only one guy behind the Moto, I dove down the (slight) banking and took up second spot. And after a few laps, the first guy pulled off.

The Roller beckoned.

I tried to hit it, but my natural instincts were killing me - I'd get literally half an inch from it and my legs just automatically eased. Then we'd hit a corner, so I'd back off a bit (I didn't know what would happen if I hit it in a corner). I'd make another charge at it on the next straight, come within a hair of touching it, then back off for the corner (or is it a turn? I don't know - see? Clueless new racer).

After 5 or so laps of this, I had a small audience following me around. And it's kind of fun being the first rider behind the Moto, so I started feeling bad that I was hogging the spot.

But I had to spin the Roller.

It's like the brass ring on the merry go round, or, um, well, the brass ring.

Finally, I charged up to the roller, eased forward...

And it spun!


I pulled up the track, smiling. I think I even made a "Yeah!" fist.

So.... at some point we started racing. Scratch, then a Miss N Out, a 20 lap Points race (4 sprints), a Keirin, and an "extra" race.

The Scratch is hit or miss for me. I either hang in there until the end, then I can demolish guys in the sprint, or they go hard and I get shelled.

Tonight I got shelled.

I also tried to coast in a turn. I asked someone later if I was super sketchy, and he smiled and said no, it was okay.

I don't believe him, but I'll try not to try to coast anymore.

Anyway, I got shelled. It reminded me that I really need to work on going fast for more than 2 laps at a time. It's really, really hard for me to do that.

I almost finished the Gatorade, but I figured I'd want it for later, and so I almost finished the Coke instead. And started sucking on the ice-filled bottle, trying to drink the water slowly puddling at the bottom.

Miss N Out, where the last rider each lap gets pulled. I usually get killed in this, and that's a pity because the last few riders ease after they're left, and then they do a match sprint. And I'd be good at that.

When they started out kind of easy, and I felt reasonably comfortable, I started getting my hopes up. I gambled on staying low, on folks not going too nuts to keep alive in the race, and...

I got eliminated. Dag.

I wasn't even breathing hard.

This boded well for the next race, the Points race, because I was pretty fresh and the other guys, they were kind of annihilated.

Of course, that's all relative. They shelled me in the Scratch race like nothing, so my freshness would be worth only a little.

I rolled with the first sprint, not trying to win, but looking for the inevitable counter. So I was up there as we crossed the line, looking around, alert.

No counter.

So, instead of hiding back in the field, I decided I would train. I had ended up at the front (I accelerated up to the line so kind of rolled past everyone by the turn) so I stayed there and went not-so-fast, but it was all I could do. Three or so laps later, just before the next sprint, everyone took off.

I was off the back.

Now, along the lines of "I need to train", one thing I really need to do is to be a better pursuiter, a better time trialer. So I decided that, "You know what, I really need to train."

And, like a clueless racer, I chased.

And chased. And chased.

10 laps. At least.

I sat up a couple times, just briefly, but I got so vested in my effort that I didn't want to give up. So I kept chasing and chasing. I knew everyone would feel kind of embarrassed for me, but, hey, I'm the clueless racer so I'm going to train.

Imagine my surprise when they announced the results. Apparently I got a point in that sprint, and because I finished, I got 6th.


Training is hard, and my 10 lap time trial after my 3 lap time trial (at the front) really cooked me. I pretty much finished off the Coke, and dug into the last bits of the Gatorade.

Then, after watching the As show us how to do it, we did the Keirin race. Scott, a good guy I met the first time I raced at NEV, pointed out that second wheel was the best wheel.

I adjusted that mentally for me. If I can jump hard, I should be okay in third. Fourth would be acceptable but not desirable. Since the positions don't change too much during the 6 laps the Moto leads, it's really the start that's critical.

See, you start from a standing start, held by, in this case, the A racers. And you accelerate up to the Moto's speed, about 18-20 mph in this case. The Moto increases the pace until it's going 28 mph (for the Bs), then releases us on the backstretch just before the bell. So it's all out for one and a half laps.

The last time I did a Keirin, the Moto went to at least 30 mph, maybe higher, and I couldn't stay below the Blue line, about 6 or 8 feet from the bottom of the track.

But with the more casual 28 mph peak speed, it seemed a lot more manageable.

My new favorite holder Brooke (she's an A racer) held me more securely than my CycleOps does, and when the Moto went by, we were off.

I didn't get a great start, I didn't dig super deep into my reserves, and I ended up only fourth wheel on the Moto. Not bad, but definitely not that good. I thought about my ProCycling Manager 2008 game, where you do the Keirin, but the biggest thing I remembered is that if I tried to move up before the sprint, I had no sprint left.

Since that's about as much experience I have in a real Keirin (I sat up in the one I did a few weeks ago), I decided I'd gamble all in the last bit after the Moto pulled off.

As the speed climbed, I started second guessing myself, but committed to the plan, I didn't budge.

The moto pulled off and we went even faster. We flew by the bell, dove into the first turn, and I started realizing that I'd have to jump super, super hard to get by three guys at this speed.

So when we hit the backstretch, I jumped super, super hard. I dug into that reserve I hadn't touched when we started, I looked for reserves in my pinky nail, I mean I totally and absolutely killed myself to get going.

I got pretty much nowhere because everyone was flying.

I hit the final turn in third spot (the guy on the Moto's wheel led out and then blew, so he was out). Scott, crafty rider he is, had been in second spot, but the guy in third was a strong rider, and he came around Scott going down the backstretch, hence my jump doing nothing but drawing me even with the third guy Sam.

I was coming up on them but didn't think I could squeeze between them, like above Scott and below Sam, so I went above Sam. Like way the heck up the track, like I was going to Siberia.

I blew by Scott (he won't mind me saying that because he came up to me after the races and told me he couldn't believe how we went around him), but I couldn't quite get Sam.

I lunged desperately at the line, trying to eek out just another inch or two, then I heard some awful grinding racket coming from the back wheel. I felt all resistance disappear from the pedals, and I heard the distinctive noise of "chain in spokes".

I looked down and yep, my chain came off.

Freakin' clueless racer. Didn't tighten his chain enough.

Another new racer asked me if I'd gone to Kurt's (the Human Derny and pro track rider) clinic on track bikes.

Obviously I didn't.

Anyway, when you tighten a track wheel, you push on the side of the chain while you turn the cranks. If the chain doesn't come off, it's tight enough, no matter how loose it feels. But if it derails, it's too loose.

Since my chain popped back on just using my fingers, my chain had been too loose.

But I got second in the Keirin. Yay!

The encore race was a Handicap race. It's where racers start based on how fit (or not) they are, the idea being that the group comes together between 2 and 1 lap to go.

I started next to the Jamis guy from my first night of racing. For the life of me I can't remember his name, but he's a good guy, out to have fun racing on the track. He's also way more track savy than me, and he's also more fit.

We were the worst of the riders fitness-wise so we started in front. We'd be the rabbits dangling in front of the wolves. After I pulled twice, he quickly realized that, well, I need to train more. I slowed down so much when I pulled that he told me to just sit on.

Guys rapidly approached from behind - they'd started only about 50-80 meters behind us, and there were a bunch of them working together to catch the two of us.

Mr Jamis pulled like a madman for two laps, bringing us to the bell lap. When I looked across the track I couldn't see the other guys because they were so close behind us, and I didn't dare risk taking the time to look back as well, because, you know, I already made so many rookie mistakes I didn't want to go down and take out everyone with me.

I just knew they were there. And my legs were achy, tight, loaded with lactic acid, and I started feeling future guilty for Mr Jamis's huge and about-to-be-wasted effort.

But when I heard the bell, my legs suddenly felt awesome. Ready to sprint. Just aching to go. Something happened, maybe adrenaline, could it be?, but whatever it was, my legs were good to go.

So we hauled butt onto the backstretch, I took a little breath, and BAM I launched. I mean I freakin' launched hard, trying to take off like the planes from the nearby airport.

And there was no one in front of me. Just me and the finish line.

I tilted my head, looked 20-30 meters in front of me, dug in with the front of the bike, tried to emulate the Human Derny as much as I could when he won the Keirin...

And I flew across the line first. By a decent margin. No bike throws or lunges necessary.


Now the topper. They gave away martinis as prizes. Martinis! So I got a couple for the missus to try.


What's a martini anyway? I've only seen the glasses, but I don't know what they taste like. I guess we'll find out.