Thursday, April 29, 2010

Helmet Cam - Circuit Francis J Clarke

The last of the 2010 Bethel Spring Series. A real nail-biter for me - in third place, behind two guys tied for first, and I absolutely had to beat the guy in the lead Bryan AND score at least a point (i.e. finish top 7) to win the Series.

97 starters meant a huge field, but 8 of them were teammates. This meant I had huge support. I had some friendly allies in the field, a few vocal ones ("let me know if you need help"), a few silent ones (they helped without saying a word to me, and I didn't expect the help). I never asked for help from any of them - one (Homebrew) seemed to hang around near me, waiting for the word, but I never uttered it. So HB, thanks for the offer. Just knowing it was was a help in itself.

A lot of people in the race didn't know what happened on the backstretch. Neither did a lot of my friends watching at the finish. That makes it all the more interesting to see what did happen. Compare it to the finish line view. The finish line clip is more detailed as far as the result (for example, wait for Cliff to cross the line), but that vantage point, that of the spectators (and friends and family) unfortunately does not capture the "behind the scenes" action. This is part of the original reason for the helmet cam.

The very long race report is just below, here. And that backdrop makes the actual helmet cam clip all that much more special.


The finish from the finish line, courtesy Mrs SOC.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Helmet Cam - Criterium de Bethel

This is the 5th of 6 races in the 2010 Bethel Spring Series. The race report is here.

And here's the video.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Training - Las Vegas - Red Rock 13 Mi Loop

After my most awesome Friday ride out to Red Rock, to the Strip, and back to the hotel, I told the Missus that I wanted to do a longer ride. Saturday was out - we'd spend the whole day doing a Death Valley Tour. We arranged our social calender (seriously) to give me a full afternoon of riding on Sunday, 4 to 5 hours.

And after fulfilling our social obligations Sunday midday, I returned to the hotel room, prepped, and went out on the bike.

Because the highs were supposed to be close to 90 degrees, I couldn't justify wearing the long sleeve Leader's Kit (designed for a March/April spring series in New England, not the 80-odd degree Nevada weather). Instead I ventured out in my regular Expo kit, albeit just shorts and a jersey.

As soon as I set out, I started to worry. My legs loaded up right away; I couldn't breathe really well; and nothing seemed to "flow".

In other words, my legs felt flat.

I pushed myself going up Charleston Blvd, knowing that the road felt deceivingly hard, being a false flat as well as a headwind.

I passed by Pro Cyclery, the shop that totally bailed me out during Interbike. I looked at the heavy steel gates and remembered the insane pain when the door closed on my shoulder. Or, rather, remembered that I felt insane pain; the pain itself I can't recall. Good thing, I think.

I got up to the Red Rock casino place - the flags remind me of the Akira Kurosawa movies, Ran especially, with the samurai soldiers running around with their lord's flags. They fluttered furiously in the cross-headwind. In my world they didn't represent danger from arrows or spears. Instead, they offered a hint at why my progress had been so slow on the bike.

Pushing through, I continued into the Red Rock area. The hills I made such quick work of yesterday felt longer, tougher, and harder today.

Mentally I'd been paring my planned four hour ride down to three hours, skipping the 13 mile loop within Red Rock altogether. But with my pace now, my three hour loop from yesterday would be an almost four hour ride. I started thinking not just of cutting out the loop but of cutting out the second half of the loop.

In other words I was thinking about turning around.

I figured I'd turn around at the loop, but when I finally got there, I thought that, well, since I'm almost out of fluids, I'd get some water at the Red Rock info center just a short bit up the 13 mile loop. I'd just turn around and sneak back out after loading up on water.

Decision made, I turned in. I hesitated at a sign with a fee schedule. I tried to read it but a car stopped right next to it, obscuring the sign. Finally the car moved - no bike fees listed. I felt unsure, since the bike lane merged into the pay lane.

Luckily a rider rolled up just then.

"Do we have to pay?" I asked.
"Not yet."
"Not yet?"

My heat-adled brain did some calculations. It was April something. April something is before May. Therefore no fee.

I rolled through the gate behind him. I figured he knew what he was doing.

"You doing the loop?" he asked.
"Yeah, I was thinking of it."
"You doing it fast or slow?"
"Slow," I replied, thinking of my grim morale just a minute ago.
"That's a great answer!" he cracked a grin.

We started riding next to each other, the road letting us double up safely. We felt out each other's riding history and I realized I was in way over my head. I did have one saving grace, but let me present the facts.

Going against me:
- Former Cat 1.
- Raced back when I raced, as a Junior.
- Former and aspiring RAAM competitor (you have to qualify each year).
- Lives locally, knows this loop inside and out.

My translation of the facts:
- Probably a 350+ watt FTP rider (versus my 250w).
- Knows how to ride a bike.
- Won't screw up any corners or descents on the loop.

My saving grace?

He was setting out on his TENTH LAP of the 15 mile loop (13 mile loop plus 2 miles to get back to the start).

In other words, he was starting with about 120 more miles on his legs than me.

I figured the 120 mile handicap put me slightly below his level, with any extreme efforts heavily weighed in my favor.

We set off on a steady climb. I was already at the edge, the heat cooking my already baked legs. Scott mentioned something about the climb to the top, and when he clarified, I realized he was describing most of the climb of Palomar Mountain - five miles of 7 or 8 percent.

I immediately eased a bit, said to Scott that this may be a bit much. He eased too, and asked cheerfully if I wanted to go easier. He'd adjust to my pace. I knew that I could go as hard as I wanted and he'd be fine, so I tried to hover at the redline - my redline.

As we went higher and higher my morale crumbled more and more. I couldn't shift any lower because I was already grinding out my 39x25. I started losing Scott's wheel, making some big efforts to get back on. Suddenly he mentioned that where "that car" was the road leveled out.

"Great," I thought, looking across the narrow valley to the car in question, "I have to climb another mile!"

It was more like 400 yards, and life seemed so much better when we started accelerating, even putting it into the big ring. We started going through some switchbacks, all in a pattern - a left curve, with the rock wall on the outside, followed by a right curve, blind, with the rock wall on the inside.

The rights were fun, the lefts seemed slow.

Scott rode the curves conservatively, safe enough for even a heat-affected visitor of questionable fitness to make it without problems.

We started down some slightly more straight roads, and Scott pointed out The Wall off in the distance. It's a steep, two bend climb, just 150 meters or so. A steep Bethel hill, really, preceded by a fast descent. Scott told me that I could attack it as hard as I wanted but that the hill would zap my legs no matter how I did it.

Scott led out, I coasted up to him, and as we approached the hill, I yelled out that I wanted to sprint the hill.

"Go for it!" he yelled.

I went for it.

I went blasting up the hill, big ring, leveraging my freshness against his fitness. I hammered around the two curves, and up to the visible crest.

I say "visible" because, of course, the road kept rising afterward. I shifted to the small ring, big cog, and waited for the inevitable fly-by.

Scott took it easy on me and eased as he caught me. He checked to make sure I was on, mentioned that it was all smooth sailing downhill from here, and then started pulling like mad.

We caught and passed a car or two, and then kind of stalled as we held position about 200 meters behind a set of cars. Scott seemed a bit tired, I rolled forward, and he seemed to ease. I looked back, saw Scott rolling easy, and I decided that I wanted to get in a good jump.

I jumped.

I sprinted up to the cars, eased when I caught them. Scott came rolling up a few seconds later.

"I didn't have the legs," he happily admitted.
"I'm sorry," I apologized, "I just had to go."
"Hey, don't worry," he replied, "I totally understand."

We spent the next minute or so describing how slower moving cars seem to attract cyclists.

"They're magnets," he stated. "Aluminum magnets!"

We finished up the loop in good order. I was tired from my two hours; he from his twelve. He graciously offered me some water - I was running on empty - and sent me on my way.

I felt much better somehow, even though I felt really queasy. I couldn't drink any of the precious water in my bottles, but otherwise everything felt great. My legs turned over pretty quickly - I kept seeing 107 rpms when I looked down, and I was in my 53x12. No, I hadn't turned into an time trial monster, I just happened to be on a mainly rolling downhill section of road with a helpful cross-tailwind.

Scott drove by in his van. I waved, but I couldn't see if he waved back. I hunkered back down into the drops and kept motoring.

On Charleston Blvd, on the way back, I managed to catch a bus, one that was way far off. I kept finding myself pushing hard, 30 mph or more, legs whirling, wondering when I'd blow up.

At some point I had to ease, the cumulative fatigue getting to me. Three hours yesterday, two plus today. High in the high 80s. Powerful sun beating down. Pavement acting like the bottom of an oven, reflecting heat back up to me.

I rolled into the hotel, not quite so bright as yesterday, a lot more grey and black in the kit. Off the bike, sitting on a chair, I felt tired, I could feel the salt on my skin, and I knew that I'd underestimated the heat of the day.

I had to wait a couple hours before I could eat or drink anything.

But it was worth it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Training - Las Vegas - Red Rock Canyon

So, post-tax season, as we have for many years, the missus and I traveled to Las Vegas. Her boss flies out the whole office for some well deserved R&R, with spouses welcome. Naturally I do my duty and tag along. Normally we hit a show, go shopping, have a few meals with colleagues/friends, and sight see a bit.

This year, at the missus's prompting, I brought along the bike.

We stay in the Downtown area, the "old" Las Vegas, not the Strip, but the hotels are still semi-modern. Not a Palazzo by any means, but they at least use key cards.

Ours says, "Insert. Be delighted."

Insert. Be delighted. In dim light that's all I see.

Details, as they say, count.

In between some events - to Death Valley, courtesy Pink Jeep Tours, and some "food" outings - I managed to ride out to Red Rock Canyon a couple times.

Initially I did a long recon ride (link skips Las Vegas Blvd but I just rode up the Strip), just a ride up Charleston Blvd to 159, the road that loops up to and back from Red Rock, onto 160, the road back to Vegas, and then roll down Las Vegas Blvd back to home base.

On that first ride I donned my Leader's Kit for the first time on a ride, the first time since I pulled it on for the podium shots a week ago. The bright yellow (long sleeve) jersey and matching booties looked frighteningly bright, even in the dim casino lights, but once on the road their color came in handy.

See, I learned quickly that the wide bike lanes I'd scouted out last fall didn't exist on Charleston, at least not until the very western end. I had to aggressively claim a lane after a rear view mirror missed me by maybe a foot. It wasn't hard to claim the lane, because it was all slight uphill, with a ferocious headwind. I'd stand, rock the bike, do a bit of the Abdu wiggle, and suddenly cars weren't coming near me.

I have to give the Leader's Kit partial credit - there's no way anyone could miss me on that road.

Thankfully the actual Red Rock loop has a nice wide shoulder. I struggled mightily on some of the rises, rolling an over-large gear. I reveled in the feeling though, finally able to really bury myself in effort without worrying about counterattacks, breakaways, or an upcoming sprint. I've mentioned before the feeling of being able to call on my legs over and over and over again.

On that loop I did just that.

Over and over I dug deep, asked my legs to turn over just another time. I asked them not to cramp, not to fail, to keep me going just another few hundred yards.

The road finally leveled and then started to make a long, lazy descent. I hunkered down in the drops, stretching out a bit, filling the Tsunami frame perfectly. The wind turned friendly, the road dropped gradually but steadily, and I realized I was going pretty fast.

I love being on the drops, stretched out a touch, a position I've never had before the Tsunami. I revel in that position now, enjoying what I missed for 20-odd years of riding, racing.

I crested a short rise, flying along, and heard a car approach slowly from behind. Slowly approaching cars usually end up being friendly, but sometimes they're not. I steeled myself for some unknown thing.

The car pulled up besides me, a silver four door car. I could see the front wheel spinning out of the corner of my eye.

I turned and looked.

Two faces, partially obscured by cameras, the full grins plain to see, greeted me. Others, sitting on the far side of the car, were watching, grinning. The girl in the front seat finished with the picture and waved a quick hi, a bright grin accompanying the friendly gesture. The driver, a guy, grinned and waved. The couple in the back also waved.


Morale fully topped off, I continued on. The tailwind really picked up for a bit, and I found myself cruising at a good 30-34 mph, in the 53x12.

I started wishing I had an 11T.

I also started thinking about what it would be like to be chasing for the Expo Boys, paying back all their efforts at Bethel. I decided that if I had to do such chasing in these fast conditions, I'd have not just an 11T but the 55T sitting in the basement closet.

Imagine, a 55x11? Flying along? What a blast!

The wind eased; I could hear wind once again buffeting my ears. The road leveled off, and I saw a sign in the distance.

I felt good. It was warm, almost hot, maybe 85 degrees. I was two hours into my ride.

And I wanted to bury myself in an all out sprint. That sign could only be one thing right now: a sprint sign.

I waited for a few cars to go by, not wanting to sprint on their bumper. Once they were out of reach I launched.



Go again.


Um... no gears left. So I sprint even faster, trying to kick the pedals over the top even quicker.

I saw 42.7 mph, but when I got back to the hotel room, Mister SRM told me 43.1.


I eased a bit, recovered, but quickly caught my breath. I got back into the drops, started going again. And time trialed my way back to the Strip. Then, with my legs screaming from the incessant work I'd forced them to do, I rolled onto Las Vegas Blvd.

And started 40-odd minutes of stoplight intervals. Into a roaring headwind. Uphill.

I know, I sound like your Grandpa, except it wasn't snowing. Believe you me, it was hard.

I just about collapsed a few times, but I couldn't, not wearing the bright kit, not in front of spectators.

Then, a saving grace.

The Missus, walking along the sidewalk, along with two of her friends/colleagues. They'd just gotten off the bus I was trying to catch, and stood there waiting to get into the pawn shop on TV. I stopped, turned around, and rolled back to them.

I chatted with them, caught my breath. And when the traffic cleared again, I set off for the final mile back to the hotel.

I got off the bike, my skin hot from the bright sun. I could taste the salt on my lips, feel my shorts on my thighs, salty against my skin. Three hours on the bike, three hours pedaling around Vegas.

What a spectacular day.

When I got to the room, I inserted the key card.

I was already delighted.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Racing - Circuit de Francis J Clarke, 2010

(Warning: Extremely Long Post. Extremely.)


Where do I start?

Maybe at work on Friday, on April 16th, when I heard "Boys of Summer" on the radio, a song that makes me feel wistful, a longing for something unknown. It's a song that makes me think of those hot days in August and driving to yet another race back in my halcyon days, the 55+ race-day years. It makes me long for that post-race mental haze, the bright windshield making me squint, the endless stretches of highway between races.

It reminds me of the deep rooted fatigue present by then, the feeling of sinking low into the driver's seat as my body melds into the seat, trying to recover from a yet another hard summer day of racing. At the same time, though, whenever I was on my bike, my legs always responded, countless times after I'd given up on them, with a force that surprised me time and again.

Yet on Friday it was only mid-April, a day after Tax Day.

Even so, I felt bathed in that summer fatigue, heard the song, and it transported me back to those racing days. My living room shelf back at home didn't help with that feeling. I'd already collected a stack of race numbers this year, the backs filled with handwritten notes of conditions, clothing used, placings, and race "events" (like if I attacked) on the back. The shelf looked like a May shelf, maybe a June shelf, not an April one.

I found myself pacing around at work, telling my boss that I felt nervous. I've claimed not to feel nervous before races, but more and more often, I find myself getting jittery as an important race approaches. I realized that maybe at the start I don't feel nervous, but in the days prior...

I was pacing because the last Bethel Spring Series race was coming up. I had 18 points to my friendly rival IRSMedic Bryan's 19, and there were 10 points up for grabs for the win. With the next rider at 8 points, the chances of us losing our podium spots were next to nil. Evan Thomas, the Bethel Cycle racer in second, had upgraded, and although he had 19 points, he'd be unable to score points in the last race.

It'd come down to a two man race.

Well, kind of. Because, as you know, cycling is all about teamwork. And we both had strong teams. We each counted on about eight teammates, an impressive number.

So it was an 18 man race.

In 2010-2011 I race for Expo Wheelmen. They're a new team, focused on teamwork, friendship, and community. They showed up, en masse, to help with Sweep Day; another week they trucked down in this huge land yacht, hung out all day (even the Cat 2 - from before 8 AM till after 3 PM), and raced and rode and hung out as a team.

Sunday they showed up again, en masse, sacrificing their own goals for mine.

Our disadvantage is that the team is relatively inexperienced compared to IRSMedic. They're learning in leaps and bounds but that's no substitute for the decades (century?) of experience IRSMedic brings to the table. This means that in tight situations the Expo Boys have a hard time reacting - it's simply a matter of experience. It's hard to learn in, say, a month or twelve, how to fight against battle-hardened veterans with literally decades of racing experience each in the throes of a field sprint.

Lance, for example, was one of the cornerstone teammates of my Cat 3-4 efforts. He was just a 5 when the Series started. He upgraded to 4 and immediately started racing the 3-4 in my support. After races I'd get tons of comments on his tenacious strength, always driving the pace, always willing to take a turn at the front. After the first such race he admitted, a bit sheepishly, that it was a bit of a jump, 5s to 3s. He decided that he'd best serve my needs by using up his immense strength during the race, letting me deal with the more complicated tactical stuff in some other way.

I, of course, lack the strength to drive so hard during the race. My forte is the bunch finish, especially on the course at Bethel. My teammates, like Lance, would try and leverage that.

SOC was another teammate who put in efforts, above and beyond just racing, to help me with my Series aspirations. He, too, is relatively new to the sport, in his second full season as a Cat 3. In the first week's race he spent the last two and a half laps at the front, me glued to his wheel, trying to deliver me to the line. He finally exploded with about half a lap to go, but I was able to translate his efforts into a field sprint win for fourth place. When he had to ride harder than expected in later weeks, he realized that using up his legs before the finish may not be a bad thing for me.

It wasn't just his racing he sacrificed. He got sick, his house took in water in that set of massive rainstorms, his work took unexpected turns, yet he showed up week after week, cajoling his legs into making one more effort, one more pull, to close just one more gap.

All for me, for my overall for Bethel.

Our plan became clear to every racer involved, not that it could have been any other way. The Expo Boys would smash and grind at the front, relentlessly pulling and chasing, setting it up for a field sprint.

Then, with a lap or three to go, when they had used up everything they had, I was to step in and surf the front until the sprint.

This would use the team's strength, its massive raw physical power, without exposing its weakness, the team's growing but still-developing tactical savvy. Most importantly this approach would shelter me from working too much, letting me save all my matches for the finish.

The reality is that this worked some of the time.

But sometimes I found myself coming up short, even after all the team's efforts. My legs fell away at the worst times. In the Criterium de Bethel I made a huge effort just before a prime lap, suffering the consequences when the counter attack for the prime stayed away for the rest of the race.

So, coming into the race, I found myself pacing around at work on Friday, admitting I was nervous, and getting a bit anxious about race day.


Set up on Saturday was a bit more relaxed than normal. I got there earlier, had yet another week of experience figuring out what I needed, and made some final touches to registration - I gave all the overall leaders the first number of the race. They'd all start with number x01.

Frank, of Navone Studios, showed me the decal-modded Leader's Helmets, nicely done with the year and the category. As soon as he was done with them he and his boys were about to go training behind the moto. He offered to take me out too but I respectfully declined. I'd already done a short ride, and I felt so good I forced myself to get off the bike. I didn't want to leave the race legs there on the trainer or behind the moto.

With that Frank and his boys kitted up and went out onto the course. I'd hear the moto zipping by every couple minutes as I got absorbed into the work ahead - registration set up, make a few changes to the spreadsheets, check emails and respond.


Lots of emails for the last day of the Series. I opened an email from one John Funk. He's a class act, a Masters racer with the enthusiasm of a Junior, the discipline of a Masters, and the speed of... a 28 year old. He's a New England favorite - everyone likes and respects him as much as they fear his legs.

He'd written to tell me that his mom had just died.

Understandably, he wasn't sure if he was going to race, and even if he did, he wasn't sure if he'd do two races.

I thought about the intense emotions I felt when my mom had died back in 2003. She had been suffering at the end and it was a relief to see her finally at peace. But that did nothing to relieve the emotions I felt. I'd find myself in tears at random times during the day, just a phrase or a bit of music or a particular glance triggering some memory.

About a month before her passing I'd promised her that I'd win the Cat 3 CT Criterium gold medal as well as the Bethel Spring Series. After a short time off I set about achieving those goals, driven at a level I've never felt before.

I thought of John and how hard it must have been at that moment, to be drowning in such strong emotions it would be impossible to hide even a percentage of it.

I emailed him to let him know that whatever he did would be fine. I did say that I felt that his mom would be proud if he came and raced.

Because, you know, that's the way moms are.

I heard the moto go buzzing by, lap after lap, Frank and the Navone boys drilling it. I could feel their efforts, pushing to get through that spot on the hill. And I thought about racing over that same spot.

I thought of how much emotion I carried with me on that last day of the 2005 Series, trying to win it, trying to fulfill a promise I made my mom at the end.

The tears came easily in that quiet, open space, sitting at the registration table. I remembered what it was like to hit the top of the hill at the bell in 2005, wondering if I was too far to the front, driving hard just one more time, pushing the legs to make just one more effort.

I marveled at my motivation later, and my brother put it in a good way.

"I think there was more than just one person riding the bike that day."

I finished before the moto came back in, so on the way out I said bye to the moto pilot, and left for home.

Race Day

Race day dawned normally, up at 5, at the venue at 6, no big emergencies. I'd spent a bit of time doing race promotion stuff during the day, but with one extra person around, I had some time.

So I re-wrapped my bars.

I mean, wouldn't you? Given everything that you could do on race day, what could be more relaxing? The rote-to-me motions are predictable and fluent, honed by hundreds of bar wrapping jobs in the shop. Five or ten minutes later I had nicely wrapped bars, using Bontrager "cork" tape, a play on the familiar Cinelli cork. Soft, pliable, lengthy (I ended up with about a foot-plus of extra on each side), with nice bar plugs... it capped off the Tsunami nicely.

I also spent some time pinning my numbers, pumping up tires, and trying to eat enough to avoid bonking. I can't eat much at one time anymore so I have to eat often. Frank helped, trying to serve me more food, but stuffed, I couldn't eat any more. I switched to a sugary food (muffin) about two hours before the race, away from the slower burning, longer lasting egg dish I had earlier.


At some point my dad showed up, my brother, his wife, their three sons. My other brother, from Maine, showed up too, with his wife and their daughter. The Missus made it too, with her mom and step-dad. For my Maine Brother it was the first time he'd seen me race since I was 15 (and he was 8 or 9). For his wife, the Missus's mom and stepdad, it'd be the first time they'd seen me race.

I hoped that they'd see a good one.

John Funk

Funk made it too. I didn't want to bug him, to say too much, because I knew that it'd take just a little chip in the dam and the emotions would flow. He raced hard, driven, and in a spectacular finish, he won the overall by winning the field sprint. He's known as a climber, not a sprinter, but he managed to upstage some very fast finishers to take the sprint.

I had had faith that he'd win, but to win by just one point, that was tight. The racer in second could have won the overall had he won the race. He and the second placed guy talked a bit about how maybe they could have worked together a bit better so the second placed guy could have won the overall.

I told them about Funk's loss. They both looked down, thought about it, and both said at the same time, something like, "I think the way it worked out is just fine."

Second place probably never felt so good.

Race Prep

With the temperature bouncing up and down a 10 degree range, I initially overdressed, but then, shedding one long sleeve layer and adding one short sleeve and a wind vest, ended up "just right".

I managed to find a few minutes to talk to teammates about strategy. Really it came down to keeping the field together. I expected IRSMedic, with a powerhouse team, to try and get a break down the road. If seven went away, IRSMedic would do everything to help the break, let them take all the points up for grabs, and clinch the overall for Bryan.

Expo would naturally have to prevent that from happening.

For the final lap or two I had a pipe dream of having a leadout, but based on prior week end-of-race experiences, I figured I'd have to work off of the IRSMedic leadout. But with even a field sprint a question, I didn't want to bank on any plans for the finale so this non-plan was fine with me. It's better in these cases to aim low. Being disappointed with 2 to go because my seven man leadout train didn't materialize isn't a good way to enter a race finale.


The officials did a call up, something that I forget they do every year (now that I'm typing it, I'll remember it). They called up the overall contenders, myself included. They called up the sponsoring teams, Expo included. Someone mumbled something about Expo crushing with numbers, but it was all good. Most everyone understood there were two races today - one for the overall, one for the race.

For the race itself we as promoters had once again delved into the "more-than-100-racers" numbers, skimming some numbers off the top of an unused packet of race numbers. This meant a huge field, and my normal promoter-instinct is there ought to be 10 primes. That's a bit much for a 30 lap race, so I decided on 5 two-place primes, and I relayed that to the official. I forgot about the merchandise I'd given the officials so he called out that we'd have 7 primes.

A collective groan (or was it a good "Ooohhh"?) went up from the field.

We started off and immediately a couple riders attacked, an Expo rider Paul tagging along. I happened to be near the front so I responded too, as well as a potent sprinter type. I didn't think I went that hard - after all, I promised the Boys not to blow myself up doing stupid stuff. But the numbers don't lie - my fastest bit of the race and my peak power happened inside the first 60 seconds of the race.

Bad Aki.

A lap or so later we were back in the fold. Cliff, Lance, and Paul were there, looking after me, and then Cliff and Paul were off for a prime. My extremely conservative actions in the short-lived break ("suck wheel") meant I had a little gas in the tank; I wasn't running quite on empty.

This opening salvo start set the tone for the first third of the race, with attack after attack after attack. A huge threat was the guy that soloed to a win in the Cat 4s; he'd done the same the prior week in the 5s, and he regularly did pro-level marathon mountain bike races. He definitely knew how to motor.

He got clear with a few allies and for a while it looked very dangerous. If the break started to go and Bryan bridged... that would have been it.

But then, a couple laps into this danger section of the race, I glanced up as we hit the hill.

Three Expo guys, at or near the front, drilling it.


I tucked back into the shelter of the field. The Boys were working it, working it hard. I'd be safe.

Then, maybe halfway in, I started seeing a few of the Expo boys drifting around me. Paul came up to me, a big grin on his face.

"How you feeling, dude?"

I shook my head no.

He looked at me and grinned.

"I'll be going up and down the field, but I'll be around."

I thought of the second chopper in Blackhawk Down, where two Navy SEALs get inserted onto the ground to protect a wounded pilot. One of the two snipers preps a gun for the immobile pilot, places it in his hands.

"You're locked and loaded. Gordie and I will be out front." (Or something like that)

The sniper runs back out front, one of two guys defending their small perimeter. In that scene the implication is clear: "Let us take care of you. Just watch our backs."

Their scenario ended grimly, but in my much more peaceful situation, I had numbers and strength helping me. Paul's comment, his confident grin, eased my mind. He and the Boys would be out front, I'd be sheltered in the field, watching the back. They'd handle the chaotic front - I just had to survive in the more placid field.

Stephen Gray of IRSMedic, a brilliant racer and an overall winner of the Series in his own right, started moving up aggressively within the field. I saw Lance, on a "drift back", and hollered to mark him, but Lance didn't respond. I took it upon myself to try and get up there, but Gray's immense strength allowed him to move up and then start launching attack after attack. He was one of the few IRSMedic riders that could drive a break to the finish, and I needed him controlled right now.

When I saw Stephen launch a vicious attack, I had to move too.

Cliff, on his distinctive green bike, was up there, but I was afraid the break would go. Stephen in there, another IRSMedic, Cliff... if a few more guys bridged, Bryan would have to join us, and if Bryan was up here, the break would stay away.

I needed a single point to move to second. I had to beat Bryan to win the Series. It would be mano a mano at the finish.

I launched a huge effort up the hill, went flying by the disintegrating front, and latched onto a guy in black. He managed to bridge but I was absolutely cooked. I couldn't do anything but hold onto the wheel in front.

Stephen realized who it was that had bridged, so did the other IRSMedic guy. As a guy in yellow pulled, Stephen launched a huge move up the hill.

I couldn't respond.

Cliff rolled up next to me, and, in a clear and deliberate tone, like a soldier, asked me a question about Stephen.

"Do. You. Need. Him. Back."

I thought about the words for a second.

"Yes," I managed.

Cliff rocketed up the road.

A guy in yellow sat in front of me, hammering. It wasn't Bryan but this guy was working so I sat on the wheel. Cliff and Stephen were off the front. I had to salvage what I could, and if not, I had to return to the protective fold of the field.

I couldn't pull, but I figured that if I could hang in the break, and a couple more guys made it up, even if I didn't sprint I could get seventh.

And seventh, with its vital point, would give me at least second in the Series.

It took me a while to figure out that the guy in yellow was my former teammate Mike A. He was literally the only teammate I trained with when I was on that team. Good guys, the team, but when I got in one ride with a teammate in two years... well, geography sometimes wreak havoc with riding schedules, plans, and teams.

Anyway, Mike was out there breaking his legs to see if he couldn't force a decision in the race.

Ultimately his two laps, flat out, couldn't turn the tide. I turned around and realized the whole field was on our wheels. I even had the disgrace of having a racer yell at me for not pulling. Not that I could, but that's besides the point - if I couldn't pull, I shouldn't have been there. I eased and sank back into anonymity.

Of course the Boys came through. Before I could panic the field roared up to the short lived break, Expo boys pulling and cajoling through example.

IRSMedic threw down the gauntlet. I happened to be near Bryan, having clawed my way up to his wheel when the pace mysteriously picked up. I could hear him barking commands, sending one rider after another off the front, attack after attack. I thought of Zeus throwing lightning bolt after lightning bolt, each one wreaking havoc on the field.

The Boys started to whither under the barrage, with rider after rider drifting back. You could see the wounded look in their posture. The battle had turned and their earlier efforts were starting to hamper them.

Bryan started barking out more names, and yet more IRSMedic racers flung themselves off the front.

I couldn't imagine a real battle, where soldiers made life and death decisions instantly, constantly, under extreme duress. I was falling apart in a simple bike race.

My mind started to haze over. I lost track of laps, forgot to even think about tracking laps. I found myself unable to hold quite a straight line, veering here and there when wind caught me a bit. I had to think about each section of the course.

"Okay, get around that first turn. Gap. Go through, hit the manhole cover to go through it. Sit on a wheel."

"Turn Two. Watch the wind from the right."

"Backstretch. Fill any holes. Watch right curb. Don't go over yellow line."

"Approaching hill. Watch the wind from the right. Stay left, but not too far left."

"Hill. Stay left. Don't crunch the inside. Shift if necessary. Stand if legs feel flat."

I plodded along in my own little pain cave, oblivious to the race around me.

Suddenly Cliff, on his new green Trek, rolled up next to me.

"Four to go!"

I could hear an alarm going off deep inside my psyche, but I couldn't fathom what was so "alarming".

4 to go. 4 to go. 4 to go. This seemed important. I turned and looked at the cards as we rode by.


"Four to go? Oh.. (expletive)!"

I started moving up on the inside, Cliff paralleling my moves on the left part of the field. I clawed my way up a bit, then, as holes started opening, started a miraculous flow through the middle of the field. It seemed almost magical, the way the fluid field parted ways.

Suddenly I was close to the front, Bryan in sight, the front of the field right there.

The Boys were driving hard, just like I asked them to, before the race.

"Keep it strung out - if it's strung out I can move around. If it's not I can't. Okay?"

I remember intent, nodding faces looking back at me.

And now, when it counted, the race strung out.

A lot.

Too much.

The elastic snapped, and about five riders separated themselves from the field. Lance was up there, driving, but two IRSMedic guys had jammed their way up there.

It started looking a bit dangerous.

2 to go. I climbed the hill next to Bryan, close, neither of us acknowledging one another, both of us painfully aware of the fact. I was under incredible strain, and I couldn't let him know that.

Not much changed on that lap, but I found myself a bit jammed on the inside on the backstretch. I found two Pawling Cycle guys just as the hill started and followed them up the side.

And as we came up to the bell, I put in a little dig to move myself around the head of the comet, to move myself into the front 10 of the field. I didn't see any Expo Boys in front of me so I steeled myself for a frantic lap of field surfing.

Then, lo and behold, Cliff came roaring up the inside. He yelled to me and I moved onto his wheel. The two Pawling guys happened to start going just then, and Cliff got on their wheel. He looked like he wanted to go, edging out to the left just a bit. I knew it was too early so I hollered.

"Not yet!"

He looked back and his whole body readied for a pounce. No! It would be too early. A sprinter fears nothing more than to be dumped in the wind 100 meters before he's ready.

I screamed as loud as I could.


Cliff's body uncoiled immediately and he looked around and down. I yelled one more time to make it clear.


I watched him turn this insane gear, on the Pawling guys' wheels. We were sitting third and fourth in the field. I knew there were at least four guys ahead (there were actually six), but I thought that we'd catch at least a couple of them.

I should be able to score the point I needed, and maybe beat Bryan.

I kept going, Cliff obviously thinking we were going too slow. When you're leading out but not yet unleashed, it always seems too slow. Time itself seems slow, like the whole world is dunked in molasses. You feel like the whole field is about to swarm you and you just want to go and hammer and slaughter the field.

But if you're the marked sprinter, time waits. Time doesn't just slow, it pauses. Nothing moves until you hit the button, and then everything jumps into motion. That's because the whole field waits for the sprinter. It's to their advantage to put the sprinter in the wind as long as possible, and if the leadout guy goes early and blows up, the sprinter gets dumped into the wind.

So I held Cliff back.

Then I started getting nervous. I kept looking down to see if any wheels were rolling up next to me, but I didn't see any.

I turned my head left and saw the field forming this huge barn door, hinged about a rider behind me, swinging wide. I could see where it would shut.

Right on top of us.

"GO!" I screamed.

Cliff went.

Out of the saddle, a quick shift into his biggest gear, and he started churning the gears, ramping it up. We were going, going, going.

We flew past the real estate sign on the right. When SOC and I were practicing leadouts, we decided that he should launch there. But Cliff had been pulling long before that, and he was sitting only third wheel, an exposed position, for a while before that.

I needed Cliff to get me to the bottom of the hill. I simply could not go into the wind before that. I realized I was asking so much of him.


He let out a primal scream, agonizing. If I heard it at night, I'd dial 911. But right then, at that moment, even 911 wouldn't help me. It was a hundred meters early and he was in trouble. I needed more from him, and I watched and waited as he kept up his pace. Then his legs did some wobbly stuff, he looked around, down, and I knew it was over.

"Go, go, GO!" I screamed.

I needed another 20 meters, and he had to deliver.

He found two or three more pedal strokes, and I looked up to see Lance and another guy detached back from the break, exploded, almost standing still. The rest of the break were already halfway up the hill and doing the death crawl to the line.

I launched.


It took me a downstroke to get going, but when I got going, I was moving. My front wheel came up off the ground on every pedal stroke for a three, four pedal strokes. Each time my front wheel jammed back into the road like a slalom skier's skis, at an angle, pointing the bike towards the finish.

Bam, bam, bam, my front tire kept bouncing back into the ground, let me stay my course.

The pedals seemed to give as soon as I gave them pressure. Instead of a slogging 70 rpm sprint, I couldn't keep my cadence under a hundred.

I flew past Lance and the other, and I honed in on the three in front.

As I approached them, with one more from the break just in front of them, I glanced right.


He must have been on my wheel. He was sprinting full on, perfect form, intense posture. He looked like Renshaw launching on the Champs, taller than a Cav but fast as all heck.

He had to go to the three riders' right.

I went left.

The break riders had made a superlative effort to stay away in the hottest laps of the race, and their effort showed in their ragged pedaling. I shot by on the inside, threw my bike hard at the line, slamming my helmet on the stem, and then looked right.

Bryan wasn't there.

I looked up. He wasn't there either, just his teammate who'd won the race.

I finally dared to look back just a bit.

I realized that I'd just won the Series.

A disbelieving cool down lap with all sorts of friend and teammates. Once back at the line I stopped to see my family. My dad was there, who, I should point out, was watching when I won in 2005. The Missus, a huge grin on her face. My brother, his wife - who was also around in 2005, my nephews, two of which hadn't been born in 2005.

I remember hearing Abdul, a long time friend and training partner, one that I traveled with to Michigan, Florida, and everywhere in-between it seems. He called out too.

Someone called me over across the street - they were taking pictures of the team. Mike K, my good friend, rolled by. I wanted to say something but there were three people talking to me at once. Later he told me he couldn't find me but that it was a great race to watch.

Lifted from SOC's blog.
L-R Lance, Paul, Drew, Dennis, SOC/Chris, me, A Friend, Steve, Cliff, and Mike.

I thought maybe this year I'd finally finish a P123 race, but I felt queasy standing there. I hadn't taken my Claritin, hadn't had much Gatorade, barely drank any fluids during the race. Suddenly the registration table, indoors, with a chair, seemed oh so appealing. I decided not to do the second race - my goal of finishing a P123 race would have to wait until another year.

I rolled back towards Navone Studios. Bryan was sitting by the finishline camera set up, looking a bit forlorn. He cracked an ironic grin when he saw me so I walked over. We got talking, as we seem to do when we meet up.

I, of course, hold him in the highest regard. If it wasn't me, I'd have been happy to have had him win. Maybe our respective teams were rooting all out for their respective leaders, but for me, if he'd been the one distancing me at the line, I'd have thought, "There goes a deserving champ."

He wanted to make sure that we hadn't lost anything in translation from prior conversations, and of course we hadn't. Yes, he was disappointed in not having the jersey, maybe for his son Miles who had made the trip to watch dad race. But he made it clear that he enjoyed the battle, that he was happy that if it wasn't him, it was me.

We also talked about Evan, the guy that had been beating us both, soundly, before he upgraded to Cat 2. It'd have been a totally different battle if he'd been there - we both felt Evan was far stronger than we were. But when the race kind of dropped into our laps, we could fight a slightly more even battle.

We did the podiums and such for all the races I skipped. John Funk got his podium, two happy racers flanking him. He then set off to join his dad and the rest of his family, having fulfilled his goal of winning the Series.

Stephen Gray admitted that he rarely wears his prior Leader's Jerseys. They're a bit bright, to be honest, and a bit obnoxious. That was the whole point, but now that I had one, I realized what he was saying. Maybe in Vegas, where no one knows me, I can ride around in it. But for now I felt reluctant to wear it except when I was on the podium.

Oh, which gives me the excuse...

Bryan, me, and an Evans stand in (the Junior overall Winner Brian Suto - I figured he would enjoy another podium presentation). All happy folks. Navone Studios supplied the pictures and painted our unpainted podiums. The paint on the front was still wet as David found out.
(Pic lifted again from SOC.)

We all cleaned up, the folks that helped make this Series such a memorable one. Frank, with his studio and photography and coffee and food. Dave, Melissa, Jonathan, and Arianna. Erin and Delaney. Our officials Mike and Meg. Herman, who stood in for Jonathan when the latter was partaking in his own tournament.

Finally, my car packed to the gills, I got under way to my dad's place.

So there it was. Another Series done. I was leaving on my own. I felt like I was driving away from summer camp, when you leave behind a magical world, one that's not quite reality. I left behind with memories and experiences with a bunch of friends with whom I shared joy and sorrow and triumph and disappointment. I met some of them literally before they were born; others I've known for 20 years or more. Still others I met for the first time just a few months ago.

There's always good and bad things, even in the magical Series world, but in the end this was a good one. With only a bit of paperwork to do, a few emails to shoot out, the Series is done for the year.

Next year.

Next year, we'll do it all over again.

I'll see you all then.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

2010 Bethel Spring Series - Criterium de Bethel

Ah, yes. Race day. If you could analyze what stressed me during the day, you'd have found the following...


Before race day I'd met with the folks on the other end of the building, the "volleyball people". Nice folks both (CJ and Meg), part of an independent volleyball federation (kind of like how USAC is independent of, say, the local high school sports program). They have a few teams based in their location, and they both travel and host tournaments.

On this Sunday, April 11th, it would be a practice. On the last day of the 2010 Bethel Spring Series, April 18th, it would be a tournament. Parking would be okay on the 11th and not-so-okay on the 18th.

We had to come up with a plan.

Between the three of us we figured a few things. First, we would keep the parking lot clear of cyclists. The volleyball parents seemed most concerned with (and stressed about) hitting "bikers". This is not a bad thing necessarily, but if a stressed pre-tourney parent hits a stressed pre-race cyclist... well, you get the bad image, right?

So no riding in the parking lot, no cyclists parking in the parking lot, and that would help clear that.

Second, we lost the cut-through driveway bit. It took about 0.75 miles off of a 0.8 mile loop. We agreed that we'd allow cars to get to the volleyball parking lot the "regular" way - drive around the loop.

Third, we decided that we'd reserve Second Lane (the name of the narrowest of the roads leading to the 4 way intersection at Turn One) for volleyball folks only. They could drop off and/or park there.

It ended up working pretty well. The practice (versus tournament) meant most parents just dropped off, and those that stayed just drove around the loop.

I have to say that the racers were very, very good about staying off of the parking lot pavement and parking away from Second Lane. Two weeks ago I felt like the Series was slipping out of my hands; this week I felt like it was back in place.

So thank you to the volleyball folks as well as all of the racers who helped avert a potential disaster to the Series.

Of course, we're not off the hook yet - next week's tournament will be sure to test everyone's friendliness.


The night before I'd been sweeping and leaf-blowing pebbles off of the top section of the course, the bit where spectators hang out. I didn't want to do it day-of-race so I spent a bit of time on it when no one was around.

Unfortunately I didn't get as much done as I wanted. This meant that once at the course (6 AM) I immediately started clearing what pebbles I hadn't cleared the night before. This meant I spent the first part of the day clearing the course of all the little pebbles that either rain and/or landscapers managed to pour onto the course. It's a simple procedure really. First you "cut" the curbs with a broom and a little blower (the broom to break loose the sand, the blower to move it at least a foot from the curb. Then you do a whole bunch of loops with the big wheeled leafblower.

Tip: When blowing sand away from a curb, you can wheelie a leafblower to clear the curb (else the metal undercarriage scrapes loudly). If necessary you can even single-wheel-wheelie it.

Dave and I cleared off the course, our leaf-blowers feeding each other (kind of like drafting with leaf-blowers, if you will), the pebbles were gone, and we could go racing.

Note to self: Next year, make a rig that does this with just one person pushing. And unlike the last five years or so, actually make said rig. It would have two to three wheeled leaf blower housings, a curb-cutting powered sweeper, and brooms to loosen any "sticky" sand/pebbles. If it was eight feet wide, cut a 12 foot path, it would take one or two laps to clear the whole course.

Bonus: if you could pull it with a mountain bike or some other pedal-powered device it would be even better.

I need an engineer, and since I failed out of Engineering in college...

Anyone? Beuller? Anyone?


So, with volleyball and the course out of the way, I did my normal "day of race" stuff. I ate when I could, drank Gatorade, helped someone with a mechanical, drank Gatorade, tried to post results in a timely fashion, drank Gatorade, did some Second Lane marshaling, drank Gatorade...

You'll sense a theme here.

Yep. Either promoters are thirsty or I really wanted some Gatorade. Well, for me, it was the latter. Two days prior I'd cramped my left calf super hard in my sleep. I was still sore day of race, my legs were twingy all the time, and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to get through the race without cramping. After the cramps I spent the next day trying to replenish whatever it was I didn't have. I took some vitamins, tried to mix up my diet a bit, drank water, had some orange juice, and even did a nice easy ride on the trainer.

And I drank a lot of Gatorade.


At some point Bryan, the overall leader by a point, showed up at registration.

Of all the guys that could win the 3-4 overall, I have the utmost respect for him and his racing. I've known him since he was some high school kid, have never had a bad experience with him in a race, and never knew him to be anything but a friendly competitor. In my old age I've learned that finding good guys in racing is important, and Bryan is one of those good guys.

Unfortunately he's also my main competition. Or me his. Whatever, we're battling each other.

I greeted him with a firm handshake, one that hopefully conveyed the respect I hold for him, my admiration of his sense of duty, and the touch of knuckles one gives one's opponent before battling them in the ring.

Our ring would be Francis J Clarke Circle, the battle would be for the Leader's Jersey.

We debated what size jersey he should wear (I figured him a Medium, he chose a Large) and he grabbed his Leader Shoe Covers. The next time I'd see him would be on the bike.

For my part, I had to prepare too.

Before I did, though, I took a minute to say hi to my good friend Mike. I've known him since he was something like 12. He'd worked with me at the shop, helped me throughout the years with my various car things, worked with and for me in races, stood by me at my wedding, and, after a long maybe 12 year hiatus, found himself back on the bike.

And here he was, for his second race post-hiatus, grinning mischievously like normal. He wanted to see if he could help me out, just like old times. I have to admit that I had a big grin on my face too.

I pinned on my number, put together my bike, and got ready 20 minutes (!!!) before the start of the 3-4 race. I decided to get in a couple minutes of warm up, got a feel for the course conditions for the day, and got to chat a bit with my teammates.

Conditions worked out with the wind in the "tailwind sprint" direction, one of a few "standard wind directions" at Bethel. The wind felt a bit gustier than normal, not a steady blast. Part of it, I had to think, came from the extra buildings on the first stretch (compared to, say, 15 years ago, when it was pretty desolate). With more solid mass focused in the buildings and open area in the parking areas, the wind would funnel through just a bit more powerfully than through a more homogeneous environment like, say, a set of trees.

Otherwise, though, a tailwind sprint is something I rather like - fast sprints are always more fun than slow ones, no matter what the speed is beforehand.

Of course, this was 2010, not 1995, and the peloton's strength has collectively grown. With a huge early season race Battenkill just the day before, there were a lot of disappointed racers looking for some redemption.

And boy did they find it.

For example, in the Masters race, a disappointed Battenkiller attacked at the gun and stayed away for the whole race.



And in the 3-4 race, a Battenkilled Hob launched to go after a prime, won it, and helped drag a bunch of riders clear of the field.

I'd just made a big effort, literally exploding as the bell rang for that exact prime. I'd done a huge bridge move, going past three bridging riders to get to the solo one off the front. I spent much of the lap in the wind, worked with one guy for half of it, and now, totally cooked, had to rest a bit.

Huge mistake.

As I recovered, as my heartrate started to dip, suddenly sixteen racers were dangling just off the front of the field.

Now in the second group, I had to let my legs recover before making an ultimate effort to bridge across. Done properly, it'd be a repetition of my first move - big and obvious and effective.

Realistically such a move would draw out Bryan, and the race would be status quo (until the finish). If we were both up there, the break would probably sit up or blow itself apart. I felt I could follow Bryan if necessary, but I also thought he'd prefer to have a good half dozen teammates around him. This meant if I could bridge, the race would ultimately come back together.

But instead of a big move, we chased at a slower, more sustainable tempo. I always criticize the lower category racers (Cat 3-5) for chasing at below lightspeed (Cat 2s and higher tend to chase properly), but here we were, chasing at a high tempo pace. It was high enough to force me to dig into my reserves, much higher than a recovering pace, and, ultimately, it was doing me no real good. I couldn't recover to bridge and I couldn't pull hard enough to make a difference.

At some point a small group detached, and with the break still within reachable distance, it looked dangerous. It became even more so when Bryan made a huge move on the backstretch to bridge up to it. The field seemed to hesitate, but then someone went to the front. He pulled hard to close much of the gap. Later, I'd learn who it was.


Old habits die hard.

Even with a few willing allies (John from Cafeteros missed the move so they put four or five guys at the front, and a couple individuals pitched in as well), the gap went from an almost manageable 18 seconds to 35.

And that was the race.

I started hoping we'd get lapped. If we got lapped we'd get pulled, and if we got pulled there'd be no question about earning points. There was a minuscule chance that Bryan could bridge up to the break somehow, and with a cadre of totally committed teammates, they could both bridge the gap as well as set up the sprint for him.

So we had to get lapped.

I told SOC, motoring at the front for me, to go easy. He pulled a little less hard, like maybe 98.4% instead of 99.9%. I told him to go easier. He dialed it back to 96.1%. He was going hard enough that I had some difficulty holding his wheel. He didn't realize I was waving the white flag, and in his eternal optimism and sense of duty, he still wanted to bring back the lead group.

Of course, for me, that was out of the question. My legs were starting to crack under the pressure. All my efforts, the pulling, the attacks, were starting to show, starting to crumble the facade. I couldn't follow wheels on the hill anymore, especially after pulling on the backstretch, and I had no snap left in my legs.

If the field had launched hard, I'd have been shelled.

When I told SOC to actually sit up I think he finally got the message. He looked back, eased, and let the group envelop him.

The lead group was well over a minute ahead, close to lapping us. The laps counted down but, getting a bit delirious with fatigue, I lost track of the actual count. I figured we had ten to go, give or take. I was almost out of my one bottle of Gatorade (all of which, I should say, must have worked since I didn't cramp), I was tired, and I was starting to make minor errors in trajectory and judgment.


Then Bryan rolled up to me, resplendent in his Leader's Jersey and Shoe Covers.

"Want to attack? Just you and me? Have some fun?"

I looked at him, waiting a breath for the world to stop spinning. I probably looked mad because I was tired, and when I'm tired, people have said I look mad. But his grin didn't go away so I couldn't have looked mad. Either that or he knew that when I was tired I looked mad, even if I wasn't mad.

I thought of Hinault and Zootemelk on the Champs Elysee, first and second overall, in a break, sprinting for the prestigious stage win (Hinault won). Or at least that was my recollection at the time. We would mirror that, first and second overall, but in the chase. We'd pay homage to those kinds of efforts, those displays of sportsmanship.

"Okay," I managed to croak.

He took the responsibility of leading us to the front. I realized he was thinking of going "right now", and I didn't have it.

"Wait till the next lap. Wait till the next lap!" I hollered, begging.

He eased a bit, just improved position, and then, as we rolled into the backstretch, we flowed up the side.

He looked totally at ease, attacking while half looking back. He looked back a few too many times. Something wasn't right.

"Your teammate's chasing us."

I glanced back. SOC, loyal to the end, wanted to make sure I'd be okay with Bryan, and had found something from his legs. He was glued to my rear wheel. The field naturally stayed glued to his.

"Sit up! Sit up!" I yelled.

SOC looked at me dumbfounded. I could see the thoughts flying through his head now. "But then you'd be isolated with Bryan, and if he attacks you and drops you, then he could bridge to the lead group, and if he scored points, he'd increase his lead on you! Danger Danger!"

"Sit up! It's okay!"

SOC, looking like a scolded dog, his face reflecting confusion, sat up.

I felt bad.

But Bryan put the hammer down again and I went. Bryan kept looking back, and this time we'd gotten a gap. We caught and passed John (the Cafeteros sprinter) and another guy, both of whom had just attacked prior. Bryan eased as we hit the hill, kindly letting me take the pull by the start/finish in front of everyone. I obliged and did a pull up the tailwind sprint hill, the hill that I wouldn't be sprinting up today.

"Don't get lapped!"

I registered that about a second after the official yelled it. We must be closer to getting lapped than I thought, and at about 1:50 laps, that meant the race had to be a good 1:30 ahead of us.

Mentally I relaxed. No one from this field, with all due respect, would bridge a 1:30 gap, even in ten laps.

I pulled off on the gusty front stretch. Bryan came through. My front wheel, tall and aero, caught a viscous gust of wind. The wheel snapped a foot to the side, almost taking me down. I recovered, kept going, and got on Bryan's wheel.

I must have been more tired than I thought.

I started getting that numb feeling down my shoulders and back, the feeling I get when my aerobic system is taxed beyond its means. It's okay if I have 15 guys to drift back through, I can recover in that time, the numbness retreating back up my back. But alone, with no one on my wheel, I had about, well, zero seconds recovery time. I was cooked, well done, road kill.

"I'm cooked," I hollered to Bryan.

He eased, pulled off, coasting. I could barely stay even with his back wheel. He turned and said something to me but I have no idea what it was.

A rider came back up, John close behind. They roared through, Bryan jumped on, and I sat up.

The field came by too, with a worried Mike telling me we had to get going, the race was coming up.

We hit the hill and that was it. My legs were done. The others rolled by me, the efforts etched in their legs. You could feel the defeat in the air.

I pulled to the side, where the missus waited, along with Mrs SOC and even Mrs Hob. Sat. Rested. Yet another friend Jimmy got me some Gatorade; I drank it.

The lead group sprinted for the win. The second group sprinted for honor. Bryan didn't contest it, not really, and rolled in outside the top few riders. SOC, after his finish, got me some water from his truck, helpful to the end.

In a way things were okay. Nothing had happened. The points remained the same. The same rider sat in second place, a rider no longer eligible to race with us - he'd upgraded to Cat 2 already, on the fast track to greater things. Bryan remained in the lead, a point ahead of me and the Cat 2.

Next week I'd have to earn a point, just one, just to get second from a ghost rider. To win the Series I'd have to earn a point more than Bryan, one to tie him (and beat him), more to just beat him.

But, right then, at that moment, I'd had my "jour sans", my day without. I tell racers that you can win the overall Series at Bethel even if you don't score points on one week. Two weeks and it's questionable. One week, it's okay.

So, for me, it is still possible.

I gathered my thoughts and lined up for the P123 race. I didn't know how I'd do, having left everything on the road in the 3-4 race. The P123s race a bit more digitally, power either all the way on or all the way off. We'd be going so slow my wattage dropped into the 40s and 50s, but then we'd be going so fast I couldn't think about looking down at the computer.

I distinctly remember wanting to say to the guy next to me, "Whenever we go this fast I wonder who's pulling, because someone's got to be pulling!"

Except I couldn't do more than glance around, with no breath left to say anything. No matter, either, because everyone looked kind of focused on riding fast.

I launched in the P123s like I did in the 3-4s, launching simply because I could. I didn't make it far, but my move represented a bit of defiance rather than any long term goals like winning the race in a big solo move (ha!). It let me extend my legs just one more time, make just one more effort, roll just one more time. Although the move came to naught I felt good about it.

It said to me that I still had something left in the tank.

Or, as they said in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"...

"I'm not dead yet!"

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Bethel Spring Series - Leaders' Shoe Covers

As all of you know, I'm a big fan of the whole Leader's Jersey concept. I got into cycling when it was illegal to have colored socks (white or no socks) or anything-but-Model-T-black shorts. Plain and boring, right?

Then came along one Mario Cipollini. His illegal clothing rampages through the Tour convinced the folks that rule the roost that, say, a green pair of shorts wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

With that the floodgates opened. Instead of just colorful side panels, the whole short became a colorful pattern. To wit - my favorite all time team, controversy over their physiological treatments aside, Mapei.

Talk about a colorful kit.

Of course, in the height of our fan-dom, we went out and bought kits for ourselves, training in them, and, yes, sometimes I'd even race in the shorts.

Now, a decade later, plain black shorts seem almost old-fashioned. And heaven forbid you have a normal pair of shoes!

All this colorful stuff led to, predictably, an over-abundance of yellow for the Tour leader. Polka dot everything for the Tour's leading climber. And a large leprechaun-like look for one Thor Hushovd, resplendent in an astonishing display of courage and grit in the 2009 Tour.

So, a top level race like the Bethel Spring Series (ahem) deserves more than just a jersey, right?


And so, I present...

Shoe covers.

Okay, so they don't look too impressive empty.

Hey, look, I gotta start somewhere. We have jerseys. Shoe covers seemed like a normal progression.

The shoe covers feature Navone Studios, which has totally changed the look and feel of the Bethel Spring Series. Not only did they make indoor registration possible (a huge plus in the cold March/April season), they also put out literally thousands of pictures of the races on

I thought I'd ordered enough shoe covers for the last three weeks of the race, but I got enough, barely, for the last two weeks. So some of the "higher" categories will get shoe covers on April 11th, and every leader should be wearing covers on the 18th. If you wear them, you keep them.

However, if you lose the lead on the last week of racing, you may not want to keep them. Wearers are welcome to hand them over to the overall winner.

There's one more thing for this year - Leader's Helmets on the last day. That'll be in an upcoming post.

One day, maybe, we'll have gloves, shorts, and maybe brake lever hoods. Heh. But for now, shoe covers, jersey, and a helmet.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Helmet Cam - 2010 Bethel CDP Gold Race

So, if a picture is worth a thousand words, and I have over 9 minutes of 60 pictures per second of video... then I have about 32,400 pictures or 32,400,000 words, give or take a million or two, to describe what happened during the Cat 3-4 race on March 28, 2010.

Complete with ghastly music, as one of the viewers likes to call it. If you don't like the music you can turn it down. The audio actually works, and where the screen mentions "Big guys to look after me" it's actually funny.

There's a surprise gap closing, some moves, lotsa teammates, and a two-step sprint.

Without further ado, here is a selective edit of the helmet cam recordings from that race.

And, get this. Available in HD! Yeah! Check it out before you get halfway into the clip.

Ph34R me and my ContourHD1080p helmet cam!

Enjoy :)

Friday, April 02, 2010

Promoting Races - Follow Up On Bethel CDP Gold Race Comments

I felt it was important to update even casual visitors of the site with some of my thoughts on the race promoting thing so I'm posting a comment really meant for here as a post.

Several things, but before I get into stuff, thanks for all the feedback, good and bad (seriously, I find it all really helpful).

First, because Mrs SDC understands more than anyone else what I go through, I'll address her comment first. I think that anonymous comments have a place. She understands that too. I have to admit she does get very defensive for me when she sees what I put into the race and then have someone, anyone, not like something about it. If there is any constructive criticism from an anon post, then great, I welcome it.

Note: After a bunch of spam posts (scams and such) I decided to moderate the posts. This means I allow every comment that appears to appear. Most (all?) of the comments have been less than NC-17 rated. PG-13 is fine. I believe I did not approve only one comment in all of the blog. It was one where I felt unclear if it was spam or not (it was a friend who said something innocuous which could be a response to any blog post anywhere). So as critical as a comment may appear, I allowed it to appear.

Anyway, since blogs are essentially dictatorships (the contributors are the dictators), my goal is to make my blog a "benevolent dictatorship" befitting my name's origin. Moderating comments allows me to get rid of the spam comments that go like "I really like what you wrote, and I've been following your blog for a while. Check out my blog, it's tinyurl.blah.blah" (and it links to porn or a scam or whatever) while allowing everyone, good or "bad", to comment on what I write.

Second, the pee-er was DQed on the spot. I'm thinking of further things, Series ban (annual or for x years or forever), "police blotter" page on CDR (for all infractions, not just that one), etc. For now it's just a DQ on the day.

Third, one of the problems with an early season race is that there are new rules that many people don't know about. For example, this year helmets have to be approved by certain US organizations (CPSC etc). In 2009 European-approved helmets were allowed, but no longer. There have been some riders showing up at the 2010 races using a helmet that is not approved for 2010 USAC races. Some of these riders are sporting brand new helmets too, which is a pity.

If you didn't know that rule, you should review the rulebook here. If you want to read it in sections, go here and select the sections. When you sign your license you acknowledge you're going to follow said rules.

Being close to NY doesn't help the CT events any since NY officials don't regularly enforce some significant USAC rules which have been in place for years. For example, if you go to a NY/NJ race at any time of the year, you'll see dozens of racers milling around on their bikes without helmets on. That's technically a suspendable offense (until you pay a fine). In NY/NJ, from what I've observed, that's considered acceptable. In New England it is not. In fact, it is such a problem that someone brought it up in a NEBRA meeting earlier in the year. So the combination of new rules plus riders used to not following other rules makes for some learning "the hard way".

Also, and related to the race last Sunday, in NY, at least in NYC where some races don't have public restrooms, peeing in public is kind of a given. In CT it is not.

Ironically, I think the "wear your helmet even when warming up" rule originated after two riders died warming up for races in NJ. I remember reading about two Masters riders dying over maybe two weeks one spring, both crashing while warming up for a race.

Just to clarify my thoughts, NY/NJ is not better or worse, it's just different. My favorite part of the season used to be all the (now-defunct) crits in NJ in May (Scotch Plains, Nutley, Stirling - it's still on, Freehold) and the season ending Oyster Bay Crit.

Fourth, although I may have written about wattage and tactics and made "casual observations", it doesn't mean that's what I think about all day (or all week). See, there's this crucial thing: the blog is not reality.

Shocker, I know.

Let's look at some of the things I wrote about in the post above.

I mention team tactics. It's something that I talk about on a Monday night at a team meeting, but on a Bethel Sunday? No. I leave it up to my teammates to figure out what they'll do; my requirements are minimal. In fact, my teammates came to me towards the end of the race wondering what to do because, frankly, we hadn't discussed it beforehand, except at a team meeting maybe 5 weeks prior (last Monday in February). Although I may mull over tactics "in font", most tactics are stuff I've already learned or have become automatic for me. Or, in the case of teamwork, stuff I think about during the race.

I mention power. I may write about it, but if you are a racer with a powermeter, you'll know that wattage is about as automatic as having a car with a tachometer. Maybe a speedometer. You know about how fast you go, or that you rarely rev the engine above a certain level, but that's not what you obsess about while you drive.

In fact, I'm a terrible example of a racer with a powermeter because, frankly, I use it as a widget ("Cool, lookit this spike!"), not as much as a training or racing tool. I may choose to write about power, and I mull over power stuff now and then, but at Bethel it's about the furthest thing from my mind. My main concern with power for the race - I just hope I didn't forget my powermeter or heartrate strap at home on Saturday.

I try and write truths in the blog. I may make "recollection errors", or recollect things I thought were truths but were in fact not. Fine. The blog is a selective subset of my experiences. Even for racing it's a selective subset for the day. In the post I didn't mention that I went with a break in the 3-4 race, and, for me, that's really significant. But in the post, not so much. Likewise, there are a lot of things I don't mention about promoting the race. Those are not necessarily stuff I feel like writing about, and you'd be bored to death to know that I jogged over to the portapotties, checked TP in all of them, and used one. Or maybe not, I don't know.

Regular readers of the blog will also notice a distinct lack of mid-week posts right now (even promised ones - samurai swords and Tsunami review come to mind right away), and, in the recent past just before the Series, a week long period of "prepared posts", including one that wasn't even complete. There have also been weird posts - like why did I post my review of the Paris Nice DVD now?

These interruptions in the "regular program" are due to the amount of time I'm spending doing stuff for the race and the physical exhaustion accompanying it. I actually had a series of prepared posts for during the race but virtually none of them were posted because I haven't had time to finish them.

However, after all that, I think that the folks that say that I need to step up my game are right.

So, with that in mind, and with the whole traffic thing a huge problem for the next two races, there will be a few things slightly different for racers. This will be replicated on the site at some point in the near future.
- No riding in the parking lot in front of or around the registration building.
- No hanging out in the driveway of said parking lot, with or without bikes.
- Finish line will be moved a bit more to make more room in the driveway.
- I finally figured out, after many abortive attempts, on how to format a spreadsheet to fit USAC's results requirements. Those will be going in in the next week or so. The first two week's of results are in.
- I still have to work on marshals.
- We cannot speed up cars on the course, unfortunately.

Oh, and something I just learned about (I didn't know this happened until after the weekend).

We had a few "clever" people claim they were volleyball people, pull into the lot, and then get ready to race. If anyone does that the folks in the car will be disqualified from the race and the whole

Otherwise we'll do things as normal. We try to have start times, decent prizes, finish line camera, portapotties, a swept course, grate covers, pre-reg and day-of-race reg, a polite and helpful set of helpers, and a fun set of races.

Hopefully we can make it so.