Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Helmet Cam - 2010 Harlem Crit, Cat 3s

Yeah, I finished it. Yeah, it's not that spectacular, not until you get inside the last 200 meters.

That's when the huge crash happened, at least in the 3s.

For the first time I decided to focus on a crash. It's not because I'm gruesome like that, but, man, when you watch it, you keep finding new spectacular things. You have power sliding, endos, bike skating (i.e. you ride onto a bike and skate said bike), a feet-down landing, barriers shoved aside like paper plates, jack-in-the-box riders springing up off the ground, and all sorts of cool things.

So, without further ado, here's Harlem, 2010, a race brought to you by and filmed by yours truly.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Equipment - Selecting A Tubular Tire

Over the past decade or two I've used a lot of tubular tires. I've tried a bunch, prefer a few, and, like many other things on the bike, settled with what I consider to be a good combination of cost, performance, and durability.

Although I used to feel like gambling the race on equipment choices, like using super thin, super light 17 mm tubulars in a crit, in my "old age" I've come to appreciate equipment that works long enough to get me to the finish.

Cue in the maxim:

"To finish first, you must first finish."

It's one thing to drop out because the race was too fast or you attacked really hard and blew up or something where you stop because you're exhausted.

It's another to drop out of a race (or even stop on a group ride) because you dropped a chain because you removed your front derailleur to save weight (or just dropped it), flatted an already-iffy tire, or broke a 90 gram saddle.

So, for now, let's forget about finishing first. Just finishing in the pack can be a triumph, and it would really suck to make the effort to train, get a license, drive to a race, start said race, and then drop out because of a mechanical.

Racers like using tubulars for a bunch of performance-related reasons. They don't pinch flat except in extreme conditions (I've never pinch flatted one), they feel super consistent in turns, they tend to be lighter for a given durability, and the rims weigh less (since the tire holds in the pressure, not the rim).

The latter is really the key. You can lose a good pound off of a pair of clincher wheels by using a tubular equivalent, meaning rim profile ("aero-ness"). Yes, you can get really light clinchers, but they're not that aero. And even aero tubulars end up very lightweight. Case in point - my 60 mm tall tubular rimmed wheelset weighs less than 1400 grams.

Of course the tire makes a difference too.

This brings us to tubular tires, and specifically, which tires you should use. Although this all relates to racing, it does so in the "to finish first you must first finish" maxim. These tubular tire guidelines make for, first and foremost, a reliable set up.

Yes, it's fast. Yes, it's light. But it's durable, probably as durable as tubulars get for a given width. You could easily use the recommendations below to pick out your training tubulars, but, for me, I find that it ends up a bit cost prohibitive.

Here's why: A decent tubular tire costs about $80. Run over an errant tack, skid a bit in a turn, and you just had an $80 flat. Most tires last a good 1500-2000 miles, so you'll go through at least a rear tire in a reasonably conservative two months. If you're piling on Pro type miles, maybe a month. Multiply that by three or four for a front tire.

That's a lot of tire dollars.

Clinchers cost less to replace regularly. That's why a lot of racers like clinchers for training.

So... without any further ado, let's look at three tires I grabbed from my pile of tires. I was gluing up a pair of wheels and after examining the two "nice" tires, decided on the Racer X Lite Pro. You'll see why in a bit.

Top: Bontrager Race XXX Lite
Center: Bontrager Race X Lite Pro
Bottom: Clement Futura

Round versus Flat Casing

The first order of business is to see how the tire is made. Since tubulars are round (duh) you want the tire to start life as a round thing. Clinchers are molded in nice round shapes, that's why they look round when you get them. The tread doesn't fold flat because you can't fold a rounded thing flat without wrinkling it somehow.

Therefore, you should see if the tubular folds flat.

If it does, you probably don't want it. I mean, yeah, it may hold air, it may work for you, but if you're going to get tubulars, get good ones. Otherwise stick with good clinchers. It's not worth getting the Ferrari with decrepit old tires. Stick with the Lotus and put some good tires on the thing.

See, flat folding tubulars are made from a tube of cloth ("casing").

Think hot dog.

Hot dogs don't roll up into circles real well (you ever try to bend a hot dog into a loop?). Neither do straight casings. When you inflate a flat folding tubular, it turns into a double hot dog for a while, desperately trying to straighten out. At some point it pops into a circle, but only because it has to, not because it wants to.

Good tubular tires start off on a circular mold thing; the casing is sewn together on a rounded form. This means that the tire wants to be circular and round at rest - the casing has no weird stress raisers due to transitioning from a straight piece of casing to a circular one.

Therefore, the first thing you should look for in a tubular tire is one that looks like a deflated version of its mounted self. It should resemble a tire, not a 2x3 block of wood.

My favorite vulcanized tire - the Clement Futura. The Kevlar belt under the tread made a big difference, but the tire weighed a bit more (close to 300g). In the dark days of bad clinchers, these were my favorite training tires. I can't believe I still have one.

Vulcanized versus Glued Tread

The next thing you need to check is usually related to casing construction. You want to see if the tread has been melted onto the casing or if it's been "glued". With the aforementioned flat casing, the tire is laid out in some flat manner.

That's because the casing is straight like that - it's like ironing the tire - you don't iron it when it's all wrinkled. You iron stuff when it's flat and smooth. Flat-folding casing is happy when it's flat. You know, deflated.

Then the tread gets attached. Because it's cheaper, it's usually molded on, i.e. melted onto the tire.


The tread is happy at this point, and works really well. It's securely fastened, it's nice and consistently thick, and it's secured well to the tire.

Problem is that unless you ride your tubulars with no air in them, that's not how the tread is when you're on the bike.

No, you inflate your tires before you ride, right?

This stretches out that happy, flat casing until it pops, unwillingly, into a circular cylinder.

The tread stretches out too. Little cracks appear. The rubber stretches, somewhat inconsistently. You end up with little fractures in the tread everywhere. They pick up pieces of glass nicely. Eventually, relatively quickly, the cracks become big enough to see.

Put it this way. You ever try and put tape on a balloon? There are two ways to do it - one is putting tape on it when it's inflated. (As a party trick, if you stick a pin through the tape, the balloon won't pop, so if you use clear satin tape, it looks like the balloon got shot with the pin).

The other way to tape a balloon is to attach the tape when the balloon is deflated.

Imagine what happens when you inflate the balloon. The tape tries to retain its shape. The balloon tries to stretch it out. You end up with a deformed balloon.

At a much smaller level, vulcanized flat casing tubulars do the same thing.

So how do you fix that?

You glue the tread onto an inflated circular casing. Typically at room temperature a properly molded tread is attached to the tire like so. The tread is happy, consistent, and unstressed when the tubular is inflated. This is much better than the stressed, stretching, cracking vulcanized flat casing tubular.

The gluing used to be done with meticulous care in Italy, probably by Italian grandmas adept in such fine motor skill things. Now it's done in Thailand for some companies (including Bontrager and Vittoria). Okay, Veloflex still does it by hand in Italy.

Do I think there's a difference between the Italians and Thailand-ians?


The tires work great. I've used Vittoria CXs forever. The Thailand Vittoria EVO CXs, which I happen to have on my race wheels, work as well as the Italian Vittoria CXs. The Bontragers come from the same Thailand facility so that's why I'm trying them now.

Casing Trueness

One of the big claims you'll see on tubulars is the "hand made" part.

To me, except for the artistic, non-mass produced things, "hand made" means "inconsistent". After all, if you made everything perfect by hand, it would look... mass produced.

Now, for whatever reason, gluing treads seems to be a manual job. Making the casing, not so manual.

Hand made casings seem to make for inconsistent shapes, due to the variances in the sewn part of the tire (under the base tape).

The Bontragers used to illustrate this post both boast "hand made" on the label, but one is so much more hand made than the other.

How do I know?

Just look at it.

"Hand made" usually means "Inconsistent". Note the Racer XXX sidewall wrinkles and base-tape "meandering".

The "Hand Made" Racer XXX casing doesn't hang straight. It's "Hand Made".
Note the almost perfectly straight looking Racer X Lite on the floor.

The more "Hand Made" Racer XXX sits above the less "Hand Made" Racer X Lite. Note that the Racer X Lite sits much more... straight than the Racer XXX.

The Racer X Lite seemed so much better that I glued them up first. The Racer XXX will wait for... I dunno what, maybe for some truly traditional box section type rimmed wheels. I want a pair for rainy bad weather races.

Tread Trueness

Another factor in selecting a tubular tire is its tread trueness. This is closely related to the casing shape and trueness. The absolute worst offenders I have ever seen or experienced are the Continental tubulars, the nicer ones. They have lumpy casing and the tread zig zags in a drunken manner. Granted, they are tough tires, but when riding rollers ends up a vibratory experience... yeah, not for me.

(As an aside, I plan on using up my Contis by gluing up some heavy box section rimmmed wheels training on them. Long rides, bad weather. Flahute. Gotta love it. Well, first I have to get my Flahute-ness back. Then I'll ride long rides in bad weather.)

The Bontrager Racer X Lite has a pretty straight tread. It must be similarly made to the Vittoria EVO CX (which, if you recall, is made in the same factory) because both tires sit relatively straight and spin nice and round. I have yet to ride the Racer X Lites but I glued them up the other night. Very easy, a little bobble around the valve (that's pretty common), straighter than not.


I joke with people who ask about tread that Contis have a file tread (i.e. no direction, no lines) because it's harder to tell how much a file tread wiggles. If there were any straight lines the rider would be horrified every time they glanced down at their wiggling front tire.

The Bontrager Racer X Lite has lines (two tread types) and smooth tread. The Racer XXX has the classic Clement Criterium tread, a herringbone type set up.

One doesn't work better than another, at least not for me. I tend to think that no tread works the best, but any tread on a bike tire is so fine that I can't tell the difference.

Tire Pressure

A huge part of a tubular's durability comes from the fact that the tire holds its own pressure in and that glue holds the tire to the rim. There is no wall on the rim holding in literally thousands of pounds of pressure, nor are there any super-tight beads cinching the tire to the rim.

With a properly glued tire, you can run pretty low pressures, especially off road. I haven't ridden too much off road, but I have gone a few hundred yards down a grassy field at close to top speed on my road bike (intentionally, at Rocky Hill, not like Lance in the Tour). I had my tires at normal pressures.

I run pretty high pressures (120/130 psi front/rear) - I like the sharp response and I feel like the tires grab better in the dry. I have to experiment in the wet because I've avoided racing in it for so long that I no longer know how to corner aggressively in the wet. I imagine a wider tire with lower pressure would work fine.


You can easily mount wider tires, reducing the amount of pressure you need to run (to protect the rim).

You'll see some weird widths when checking out tubular tires. You won't see the ubiquitous "23c" tire markings. Instead you'll see 21 mm or 22 mm (typical all-purpose racing tires), 19 mm (time trial or track), and wider tires for durability (Paris Roubaix or general training).

I'm not sure why but tubular tires still get measured in mm. I buy the 21 or 22 mm tires.

Note: Bontrager has taken to the clincher type sizing numbers, so their tubulars are marked 700x23. If they were Vittorias, they'd be 700x21.


There are two types of tubes in this world, other than the "no tube". TUFO is a brand that lines its casing with a tube-like material (seems to be butyl) - it has no tube. I'm not a fan of them - for whatever reason I had quick and multiple failures with that construction type.

Continental and many cheaper tires use butyl tubes. They're the black tubes you use with your clinchers. They're heavier, hold air overnight, and cost a lot less. I don't care either way for them - I use butyl tubes in my clinchers because they're cheaper, but I have a huge stash of lightweight ones (thinner wall tubes), so they're close to latex in weight.

Right, latex.

The nicest tubes are the latex ones. They're super thin (you see latex condoms, not butyl ones), they stretch pretty well (allegedly resisting punctures better), and they're light. They do not hold air overnight and they cost more. Vittoria's CXs usually come with them (I remember a batch that mysteriously held air - apparently Vittoria used butyl tubes for a short time for whatever reason).

Latex tubes force you to check the air pressure every time you ride because the tires are basically flat the next day.


So what tire should you get? Well, if I were buying tires for me, I'd get a set of circular casing tires with tread that is glued on when the casing is round. I want a round casing, one that's not lumpy, one that doesn't make my bike bounce up and down on the rollers or trainer. I also want a tire that's reasonably durable, so if I have to ride over glass in a crit I won't necessarily flat right away. I'd prefer a latex tube just because I know it's lighter, and if the tire is the same weight as a butyl-tubed tubular, I know there's extra material in the tread or casing. Finally I want a reasonably priced tire. For me, that means anything under $100 a tire.

The tires that fit this description?

At full retail, the Bontrager Racer X Lite, at $79.99. A great price for a tire that you should be able to order or buy at any Trek dealer in the US. That makes it probably the widest available tubular. I have yet to check out the traction and such, but I have full confidence that it'll be good (I have other Bontrager tires and they are fine). For a first tubular tire I think this would be a good one.

My favorite remains the Vittoria EVO CX. Street price is similar to the Racer X Lite, lower if you can find them. It has a protective belt under the tread, which the Racer X Lite may or may not have. It rides well, is round, smooth, and durable. I just removed tires I raced on for a year so I could glue on the Racer X Lites - and the tires, other than looking a bit dirty, look fine.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Training - June 22, 2010 The Rent

Having been fiddling with some helmet cam footage, I didn't even think about writing about the fun Tuesday night ride we did in lieu of the cancelled TuesdayTheRent race.

But SOC did a great job, so go read!

(Complete with pictures and literary art!)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Helmet Cam - Mystic Velo Crit, Cat 3s

Finally, a slightly short clip from the Mystic Velo Crit (May 16, 2010).

I learned the hard way that when you delete files on a device with a MiniSD card on a Mac that the files end up in a folder named "Trash". If you delete files on a device with a MiniSD card on a Windows machine, the files are actually deleted.

So when I lined up on a beautiful, sunny day at the Mystic Velo Crit, I didn't know I only had 15 minutes worth of memory on the ContourHD.

However, since I haven't posted a clip of a Ninigret race (I haven't finished one for many years), I decided to use what I had.

There's an entertaining opening incorporated into the lap recon, and there's a 1.5 lap series of attacks and counters.

The actual report is here.

And the helmet cam clip is below.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Racing - Harlem Crit, Cat 3s

Harlem has a "push-me pull-you" kind of effect on me. I sometimes really look forward to racing it, and other times I cringe and shudder and think I'd never race there again.

The last couple times I've gone, though, it's been less fearful, less stressful. It helps that the neighborhood is nicer (at least to me). One friend had a really rough time - he had parked his car, had very little time (due to traffic and such), and was rushing to get ready for his race.

Someone came up to him in a (nice) car and asked him to move his, so they could take his spot. He explained that, no, I'm getting ready to race, I'm not getting ready to leave, and so I can't move the car.

The guy started yelling at him (blah blah blah mofo blah blah blah mofo etc), then, after driving up and down the street a bit, came back and started yelling about how he can't even move his car and stuff like that.

Welcome to Harlem.

With a welcome like that, it's hard to get psyched to race.

Luckily he stayed upright in our event and managed to ride a cool down lap with no broken bike pieces or bleeding wounds.

(And since we split right after the race, I hope my friend got back to his car and found it in fine shape, with intact tires and all that.)

We'd budgeted a LOT of time to get to the races. First off, we were bringing two nieces (a Father's Day present to their dad - take them off his hands for 3 days). At ages 11 and 7, they aren't quite the handful that an infant can be, but moving them around does take some logistical planning.

(I should point out that the Missus's new hot rod wagon seemed mighty cramped once we loaded one bike, no spare wheels, a couple coolers, a couple bags, a couple kids, and a couple adults into it. A pod on a roof rack looks pretty nice now.)

So, with a 2.5 hour drive in front of us, we left... about 5 hours before the scheduled race start. This left us plenty of time to find parking, find registration (hidden around a corner on a side street), and find a spot in the shade for the girls.

I filled up a few bottles with water at home, but as race time approached, I had a hankering for electrolyte stuff. So I drank a bunch and put electrolyte stuff in my two bottles on the bike. Then, for good measure, I put a dump bottle in my jersey pocket.

My warm up consisted of riding back to the car to get stuff (mainly more Powerade or water) or to the portapotties (thankfully stocked with paper). Then, with about 8 laps remaining in the Cat 4 race, I headed over to a reasonable looking place to get onto the course - 200 meters up the road from the finish.

After the Cat 4s finished we streamed out onto the course and started the first attack of the day - the sprint to the start line.

I managed to get myself into about the second row (dunno how) and promised myself a good clip in, not like my terrible Somerville experience. With a bottle of water in my jersey, two bottles on my bike, I felt reasonably prepared for the heat ahead - 90 degrees and humid.

With a few preliminaries out of the way, we set off. I had a good clip in. Phew.

A few guys attacked right away, and in my fear-driven move to the front, I found myself at the front.

Insanely, I dragged the field to the second turn, along the second straight, to the third turn, along the third long straight, into the final turn, and almost all the way to the start/finish. Somewhere on the third straight I decided that, heck, if I'm pulling like this, I'm gonna pull all the way to the start/finish and get my name announced.

"Here comes the field, led by... a orange and black jersey guy from Connecticut. I can't pronounce his name so I won't even try!"

Just before I'd get my, err, name announced over the PA system, a bunch of guys flew by me.

The announcer probably sighed a breath of relief.

"And from Brooklyn, here comes the United team, leading the field!"

So much for getting announced.

The next lap or two saw me sink through the field, until I felt like I was a good 2/3 of the way down the field. At some point I started thinking of moving all the way to the back because 2/3 of the way back is a dangerous spot.

I turned around.


A couple familiar faces.

One hollered out.

"You're at the back Aki! Not a good place to be!"

Um. Hm.

Okay, 2/3 of the way back is really all the way back. I guess our pre-reg number of 66 riders or so ended up being pretty accurate. I thought we'd have 125 racers, but no, everyone seemed to chicken out.

Well, good for me. Smaller field, less crashes, and easier to move up.

I decided to tail gun until we got close to the finish.

At about that moment I realized I was running out of water. I dumped the last bit of water from my jersey bottle, and, after waiting until it was clear, tossed it to the girls.

I started dumping precious electrolyte drinks on my face, chest, legs. It felt good. I dumped a bit more. I got into the Powerade, stickier than the NUUM, but it'd been in the cooler longer so it was a bit cooler.

Note to self: Next hot race, don't bring electrolyte drinks. Bring water. Preferably frozen bottles.

With the laps counting down I started thinking of moving up. At 5 to go I decided to stick a toe in the waters. I moved up the right side a bit - really, in the middle it was just too crazy, so I moved up the side. And on every straight the field left openings up the sides.

So at 5 to go I did some exploratory moves up the right side, especially down the last straight before the finish.

We dove into the final left bend and Bang! The inside of the field went down like dominos. Luckily I was off to the right, exploring a bit, and so managed to stay on with no extra effort.

It'd have been a great time to drill it, to cause separation, but it seemed that everyone up there had selfish motivation. I mean, I know I did, but there were teams up there who could have burned a match or two but they didn't.

The field kept swarming the turns, entering them wide, exiting them a bit wobbly, then repeating the process. No one had the legs to string things out, and the sprinters flooded the front in waves.

With two to go it started getting dicey. I found myself just behind the head of the comet, smack in the middle of the action. I wanted to go, should have gone, but the heat had really gotten to me. My legs felt fine; I just felt like I was in a microwave on High.

I let a whole bunch of "move up the side" chances go by, and tried to make up for it with a move or two on the inside.

I was still kind of far back at the bell. Made a couple moves, to no avail. Saw a huge chance up the right side, yelled for the guys there to go. But they looked and acted totally cooked, and that meant no movement.

I dove into the last turn in horrible position. I had no idea how I'd sprint, but I'd barely tested my legs, so I hoped for a good one.

As I exited the turn I could hear someone bouncing off the barriers to the right. Then suddenly the front of the field basically fell flat on its face. Guys swerved left to avoid the crash on the right, and plowed into and through the left side barriers.

One agile Adler racer crashed and bounced up so quickly it looked like he teleported out of there.

I think Juan, a teammate of gsteinb of BF fame, he did a beautiful rear wheel lift to the left, bounced back down sideways to the right, pivoting in mid-air, and somehow managed to stay upright.

Others weren't quite so fortunate. Doug M barreled into the barricades hard, reshaping the pit area dramatically. Other guys bounced into and I think over the barricades.

I wove through the crash, a few guys near me for company, and realized that, hey, there aren't that many guys in front.

And my legs had something left, so I did a little sprint to the line. Nothing major, but definitely faster than soft pedaling it over.

How did I do?

I don't know. 14th or 15th, my guess. 2 guys clear. About 12 guys made it through the crash. It happened right up front.

(Update: results here)

Scott G, who fell hard at Somerville in the final sprint crash there, made it through and got 6th for the race.

I didn't stick around for the results, so I hope that I got placed. I didn't think I made it into the money, the girls were tired (all of them game troopers in this incredibly hot and humid day), and I was just glad to be in one piece.

I rode to the car and allegedly backed it up the street to the barricades. The girls were there, folding chairs and coolers in hand.

The wind picked up dramatically, clouds rolled in overhead.

As we got the last of the gear in the car, the skies opened up.

The Missus, after a few minutes, said something to me.

"The Women are racing."
"I know. Laura S is here."

We both paused, thinking of the disaster that city streets and rain can create.

Laura, I found out, needed stitches in her elbow after a fall in the crit.

Push-me pull-you.


15 pins. No flapping.

Our wishes for a quick and complete recovery for Laura.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Training - Sprints, I Think

Wednesday I spent the day cooped up in the house. The bike stayed in the car, the gear bag, everything. I felt tired and I needed a bit of recuperation. This meant eating a bit, drinking a lot, and doing stuff around the house.

One thing I did do was check the weather for the weekend. Hot, humid, and... no thundershowers forecast for Sunday.

So I registered for Harlem. It should be a relatively insane crit, but, if Somerville was any gauge, I should be okay. The straights aren't quite so long but the last time I did the race at Harlem I managed to surf the front of the field pretty well.

This time I hope to have visual evidence of it.

On the way to work I've noticed one of those radar trailers, one that broadcasts your speed. I think they're great for a number of reasons. First, people realize, "Oh, hey, I'm going 50 in a 35!" It's interesting to see the tailgaters and speeders suddenly back off or slow down.

And, for me, when I ride, those things are sprint magnets, encouraging me to go hammering past them, trying to get a high speed readout. In fact, on the first ride with SOC on his "radical fit adjustment", I saw one of those and couldn't resist slipping it up a few gears and sprinting past the trailer. A somewhat surprised SOC followed, probably not doing himself any favors on his first ride of a very different fitting bike.

At Stirling, NJ, at the Freedom Tour (a crit), many year ago, they had one of those set up. I sprinted at it on one of the first laps of the race, trying to get a nice, high speed. I got it (it was 39 or 41 mph); in fact, it was a couple mph higher than the final sprint. But in that sprint I was... nowhere. Exploded, blown, I dropped out of contention before the last turn.

But when a radar trailer sits next to the road, with a slight downgrade that ends just before it... well, I called the Missus and told her I wanted to do some sprints past that thing.

I got home, got my bike ready, in stripped form (no bottles, no bag, no lights, no nothing, and race wheels), and rolled off. Tires humming, legs feeling a bit swollen from rest, I felt like I'd have some legs.

The wind seemed to cooperate, at least until it reversed direction ferociously just before I passed the trailer from the other side.

In other words I'd be dealing with a massive headwind when I went by the trailer.

Slightly discouraged, hoping I was wrong, I rolled up the road a bit, turned around, and headed back. I sprinted at the trailer, slamming into that aerodynamic wall just way too soon. No chasing the pedals around, no shifting and discovering I already had the chain down to the 11, none of that. I sprinted, hit the proverbial wall, and went past the trailer.

As if to add insult to my sprint, the trailer remained blank, mute, unknowing. I must have resembled a scared deer, not a guy on a metal bike, so I didn't register at all.

(Later, at slower speeds, I registered, so maybe I was leaning too far forward or something. I dunno.)

Discouraged, I decided to go Sprint Hunting, where I troll up and down busy roads, looking for kind vehicles. The best are big, heavy things, slow accelerating, things like trucks and such.

I used to do with with relative success in the southwestern part of the state, especially on Summer Street in Stamford. But up here, with mainly cows and tobacco fields for company, I find it harder to find "customers".

One promising truck pulled up past me and promptly had to stop for a light. But, unfortunately for me, he turned off at the next driveway - delivering for Starbucks.

Hey, I said we were in cow country. It doesn't mean we're uncivilized.

(I have to admit that I've been in that Starbucks once, and I don't remember anything about it. I did use a Starbucks gift card a friend gave me for my birthday.)

Disappointed, I rode on, trolling 10/202 for potentials.

My legs felt sort of unhappy, maybe a bit tight, definitely lacking a bit of zip. I felt rough pedaling, less comfortable than normal; although I worked through it I never really got rid of that less-than-optimal feeling.

I startled myself when my attention wandered and I almost hit a small, deep pothole.

Finally, with legs getting weary and not getting any better, I headed back home.

I had to climb my Poggio, the last climb before the short drop to the base of our driveway. I rolled into it in the big ring, maybe a 17 in back, and started churning the pedals.

When a car drove by waaay to the right of the lane, I got out of the saddle to make myself wider. Cars suddenly passed me about 3-4 feet away, not a foot.

Problem was that I had to keep going out of the saddle. I started getting fatigued, but the lighter bike felt good, especially the lighter wheels. I love the way the wheels feel when I'm standing, wheels swooshing back and forth - it means speed to me, or at least "going hard".

I hammered my way all the way up to the stop sign.

A brief pause and then an effort to accelerate. The left into the descent. A hard switchback to the right. And a hard right into the very steep driveway. I had to pedal only one pedal stroke - I decided that one day I'll coast up it so fast I won't have to pedal at all.

I walked into the house, a bit disappointed in the ride. I didn't feel great when I started, and I didn't feel better as the ride went on. Mister SRM told the tale - my max sprint was that first one, 1474 watts, 36.5 mph, into that ferocious, morale-sapping headwind. I don't think I broke 1200 in any other effort.

I was still sweating ten minutes later - that meant I was at least somewhat hydrated. And although it wasn't a great ride per se, it wasn't a bad one.

Harlem, then. We'll see how it goes Sunday.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Racing - June 15, 2010 - @TuesdayTheRent

The hard-for-me recent riding schedule has started getting the better of me. I've been finding it harder to wake up refreshed, even when I go to bed exhausted and sleep a full night's sleep. I'm getting easily frustrated with minor things, whether it be a rider "hogging" the front of a paceline, a car running a stop sign, or someone driving 15 mph below the speed limit on a local road. In normal situations I'm okay with that stuff, writing it off to (respectively) ignorance, carelessness, or fear. But now, well, I think "Come on, get with it!"

I've also been forcing myself to eat because oftentimes I don't feel hungry. I realized this the other day, and I also realized this is what happens to me when I'm riding and racing a lot.

The last time this happened? In a previous life, probably in the mid 90s.

Finally my legs have started to fatigue a bit, responding a little slower, with a little less snap. They respond, and keep responding, but lack a bit of freshness. It's the summer doldrums, something I also last experienced fully about 15 years ago.

Talking with other riders, my situations seems sort of common. I heard talk of one rider taking all of July and August off. Another stopped riding almost altogether.

It seems that I'm balancing at the edge of form and fatigue. In one sense I'm feeling great on the bike. I can make efforts, recover before I get shelled, and keep doing it over and over and over. My sprints, although consistently 300 watts lower than my best trainings sprints, have been enough to garner me placings on a regular basis. And even when I'm tired I can rev up the engine and do a hard pull.

But my eyes feel bleary all the time, I rest when I can, and I feel a certain level of inactivity in general.

I suppose one way to summarize all this is that my team shorts are now baggy.

Yep, my lycra, skin tight shorts are now baggy.

It's kind of annoying. The whole reason to wear cycling shorts is to avoid the chafing, the rubbing. But I'm finding that when I get up off the saddle, I can feel my shorts sliding around. Wrinkles. Bagginess. Discomfort.

It really annoyed me on my long ride to Bethel. I felt like I had diapers on, not sleek racing shorts. Every time I stood up I could feel my shorts sagging, the padding dropping, the wrinkled fabric on my thighs.

A long time ago I was riding with a teammate who had worked really hard on getting fit. I noticed that his shorts grippers hung loose on his legs. The Missus and I (she was the future Missus at that point) always joked about his "baggy shorts", like, "I can't believe his shorts were baggy, he was so fit."

Well, now I'm the one with baggy shorts.

Along with bleary eyes, an underlying layer of fatigue, low appetite...

And good legs.

Yeah, don't forget about the legs.

Tuesday morning ended up an exercise in frustration. I forgot stuff. I had a dirty bike with bar tape unraveling on both ends. Even pulling into a parking spot at work ended up wrong - I'd brought my bike in the trunk so I could fix the tape and clean the drivetrain, but I backed into the spot (like I normally do).

The bushes behind the car would prevent me from pulling out my bike.

So I had to turn the car around. Frustrated, and knowing that the lot doesn't get very full, I parked kind of crooked, almost in the next spot over. I didn't care. I yanked out my bike, grabbed my stuff, and went into the store.

Luckily the day improved my mood. I bonded with the cats under the building. The white male sat outside, in the bushes, a spitting image of our Hal. Normally he's either out of sight or he's inside, and to see him in the bright daylight... it was unusual. Better yet, he was waiting for me when I emerged from under the building, peering at me intently. I fumbled with the camera (I take pictures almost daily) and managed to get a shot or three before he decided to move back a bit.

The white cat, outside. This is the closest I've gotten to him outside.

Hal, inside. We figure Hal is White's son.

I ate (forced myself), drank (okay, I was thirsty), and tried to be nice and not frown at everyone. In a nice slow period I cleaned the drivetrain and then taped the bars. Refreshing, to finish that.

I had planned on putting on white bars and a white saddle, because it was after Memorial Day, but I decided to stick with black. The white saddle, although lighter, had fragile rails, and I didn't want to break it in, say, the Harlem Crit. The reason for no white tape? Frankly, I forgot it in my stressed out morning.

I stood around a little before 5 pm, chomping at the bit. I normally leave at 5 for the Rent, 30 minutes early. My boss noticed me pacing and told me to leave early. I grabbed my stuff and left, after letting the Missus know that I had to go home to get my SRM (I forgot that too).

I jetted off in my blue car ("hot little car" as described by a fellow racer), carefully driving within reasonable limits (5-10 over, yes really). I made good time to I-91, and as I got ready for the fun, long sweeping entrance ramp...

I braked.

Traffic was at a complete standstill.

I spent a bit of time calling the Missus, who checked the traffic. The blockage seemed to break up shortly after this entrance ramp so I stayed the course. Although initially frustrating, I fell back into my "This is the way it is" mode; this felt better than getting all stressed out.

I got to the Rent with time to spare, but I really didn't warm up much. I felt an immense weariness in my legs, and I knew that I had to do some big efforts to open up my legs.

Problem was that I really didn't want to make those efforts. So I skipped them, tooling around until the A race lined up. After all, I'll be making those efforts in the race, and mentally it's much less taxing to be have to make the efforts.

Holy Pin Job, Batman!
(14 now. Note the "Rent" label on the number.)

Unusually, I had more than just SOC for company. Dave and TJ also showed up, and Lance hopped in after dropping out of the B race (he entered it to warm up). Dave wanted to get some action going in the A race; I wanted to work on longer-than-sprint efforts; everyone else was along for the ride.

Our plan going into the race - Dave would attack at the gun, I'd warm up while sitting in, and when Dave got caught, I'd counter and make some longer-than-sprint efforts.

Dave attacked as soon as we got rolling, dragging, eventually, three riders with him.

For a while it looked like we'd get stuck on Phase One of our plan - the part where Dave attacks. His break ended up gaining almost half a lap on the field, and for a while I thought it'd actually go the distance.

Too many riders had missed it though, and there were others in the field looking for a good workout. The pace ratcheted up a bit, then again. And again. At some point we lost Lance - his legs were cooked from the CT Stage Race, as were a couple other CTSR veterans.

One, Ben, yelled to go around him, fearing that he'd gap me off the back. He made it to the finish though, so he was fine.

I realized you could see some of those hard miles on his legs - he resembled a ProTour rider in body fat, whereas I resemble... a crit racer.

Anyway, with the big chase of Dave's first break, I dropped back a little each time, until I was hanging on for dear life at the back.

Dave and his group started coming back. I was supposed to counter after he got caught. But I couldn't counter from the back of the field, not here, not against these guys. I made some big efforts to move up, but only succeeded in cooking myself as I tried to hit the front part of the group.

Of course, that's about when we caught Dave and the break. I was well back, too far back, and dying.

Dave actually responded to other attacks in the interim, as did SOC. TJ kept busy marking the chases. I suffered while the team waited for me to launch my counter-move.

Finally, with a three rider break dangling off the front, my legs pulled themselves together. I moved up, watching the field chase in vain.

I launched hard just before the tailwind section, using my jump to get up to a good speed as fast as possible. 30-odd seconds at 31+ mph and I tagged onto the back of the break, useless now, my legs shattered by the effort.

Okay, now for the work. I wanted to contribute to the break now, but I could barely feel my legs, numb with lactic acid. They wouldn't respond, my upper body felt numb.

Right, this is what it's like when I'm suffering.

A minute later, unable to do anything except skip my turn pulling, we got caught.

Dave and SOC promptly launched a few salvos of their own, and I receded into anonymity, sitting in the field.

A little recovered, I wanted to go again. Two guys were pretty far up the road and I knew that it'd take more than 30 seconds of effort to catch them. I wanted to launch a little less aggressively, then sit and settle into a highly uncomfortable effort. I hoped that I'd bridge up to them. I gave myself a lap of effort before I'd blow, and it seemed remotely possible to make it across the big gap before I exploded.

On the main straight, the field getting a bit wide, I went up the left side, doing a sub-maximal jump (Mr SRM tells me 950 watts, versus the 1150 I did in my bridge effort). The bell started ringing - prime lap!

One or two riders thought about responding, but this was me, the guy who is pretty useless off the front.

They let me go.

I stood a bit out of the first turn and then tried to settle down. The two riders in front looked totally out of reach, and if the field chased me, I'd be in serious trouble...

But they weren't. I kept checking, disbelieving, and it seemed they were comfortable following wheels. I stayed low, kept the power on, and...

Faded hard.

I pedaled squares past the start/finish, a lap after I launched myself. I managed to average about 28.6 mph for the lap. I can't imagine going 32 mph in a time trial!

The field caught me, streaming by, counters going right and left. I had been thinking I could just accelerate and get back in, but the ferocity of the counters surprised me.

Luckily the field wasn't quite so gung-ho, and I managed to slot in at some point, safely grabbing a wheel.

As we hit the final five laps (I missed the 5 to go card, but saw the 4 to go), I started thinking of making a move. Maybe launch a lap to go? Maybe sit in and launch on the backstretch?

Somewhere on 2 to go I stood to accelerate and almost collapsed onto the bars - both my quads seized momentarily, throwing me forward. I had to force my legs to keep turning so I wouldn't flip over the bars.

A little disconcerted by the turn of events, I turned to someone, I think it was Dave, maybe it was just a random rider in the field, and yelled out my predicament.

"I can't sprint, I'm cramping!"

Of course, that was when I stood. Sitting was okay so I powered to the front. I rationalized it by thinking that I couldn't just sit up in the middle of the field, not on the last curve, but I could pull off cleanly on the main straight.

Doug M marked me of course, hoping maybe for another big leadout (I led him out to a win once). I waved him (and everyone else) past, wiggled my elbow, did everything I could to tell everyone that they should ride around me.

Aidan launched hard (probably because he was going to do it anyway, not because of my frantic elbow flapping); one rider bridged, but Aidan powered away to win the race. After a few seconds, everyone followed.

I rolled around, slowly, finishing just in front of the riders on their cool down lap.

The Missus, with Mrs SOC, waited by the sidelines. Dave and SOC went for some cool down laps. Me, I didn't want to pedal the bike any more than I had to, and, right then, I didn't have to pedal nothin'. So I didn't.

We hung out for a bit with some of our favorite fellow racers. One of the things that makes the Rent so much fun is the combination of the relaxed racing atmosphere, the more intimate fields (we all kinda sorta know each other, kinda), and therefore the camaraderie before and after each event.

Just before we left the venue, I picked up socks. Better late than never, I suppose. I have yet to use them, but it shouldn't be too long.

Socks. Got 8 pairs.

So now, I think, I need to rest a bit. Take a break. Debate Harlem. A rainy Harlem would be tough, dangerous, and not really my cup of tea. A dry one... well now.

Here's to a dry June 20th.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Training - June 14, 2010 - Weaknesses Percolating

Monday, after a couple days of racing, I rushed home from work to get my bike and gear for the Monday night group ride from Granby Bikes. Although a no-dropper kind of ride, it's evolved into a "go hard in sections, wait, repeat" kind of ride. This works for me because I can bury myself if I want, recover, and do it again.

Except for the most interesting descents (i.e. unknown and tipped to be fun by a ride leader) and when I want to string out the group for safety's sake, I tend to follow wheels. This means allowing gaps to open between different groups, and, when the moment feels right, bridging across from one group to another.

So, although I may make some really hard efforts, I try and do it while staying within the confines of the group.

With two races in the previous two days, I hoped to make some efforts on this ride, make it three good days in a row. Combined with a Rent race Tuesday, and maybe a Bethel on Wednesday, I could have my own five day, four crit mini stage race.

I got to the ride barely on time, and left behind stuff like the helmet cam (still wet inside from the wet Saturday Nutmeg State Games race), my mini-pump (forgot), saddle bag (ditto), every light I own (ditto), even fluids.

The latter I remedied by grabbing a bottled water from the cooler in the car (I haven't unpacked the car since Saturday, so it had all the stuff in it I brought to Nutmeg). It wasn't cold but it was water, and I stuck it in my jersey pocket. That, along with a bit of left over Powerade Zero in the single bottle on the bike and I'd be okay.

Incredibly I was out of team kits, at least the jerseys, so I wore the bright yellow Leader's Jersey (and shoe covers). Long sleeve, just as the sun started beating down, but I've been feeling a bit cold in general (lack of fuel?), and I knew it'd be cooler at the end of the ride.

We started at a reasonable pace on the Rails To Trails path so I used the opportunity to dump all the water into the one bottle. This left me with diluted Powerade Zero, which, I have to admit, tasted pretty bad.

I also had a Hammer gel around that time, not wanting to bonk (and me feeling cold meant my body was running out of fuel).

The route took us into Massachusetts, to Granville, and up a couple climbs. We'd roll back on fast, slightly descending roads. I hoped to use the bumpy terrain at the beginning to do a few bridge efforts, planned on going hard on the climbs, and then, to finish off the ride, do some speedwork on the way back.

I have to admit that although most of the riders don't race, they are pretty freakin' strong. So, yeah, for the first half of the ride, I got in a bridge effort or two. I also did some aero tuck experiments with the tall wheels (Jet 6 - 9) - they seem to descend at sub-sonic speeds okay (under 45 mph). I have a feeling that for really fast descents I'd want to use a non-aero front wheel.

When we hit a long-ish climb in MA, I found myself at the front, leading the core group of faster riders. I realized that my legs weren't all there, and as the climb continued, the riders, in ones and bunches, all rolled by me.

It wasn't like I was going that easy - I was turning over about 210 watts average. Okay, that's what pros do when they bonk, but for me, that's just below threshold. These other guys, these non-racers, they were simply going harder than that.

Harder than I could go.

I did try a Stephen Roche Bridge, when he bridged a solid minute gap in about 1k of a climb in the Tour, but my effort, with no Tour at stake, ended after 50 seconds of 340+ watt pedaling; I managed to catch just one rider.

With no one else in sight, I eased. The guy I passed, Mike, caught and passed me, and he kind of grinned.

"What was that all about?" he asked.
"I was trying to bridge."
"It's a long hill."
"Yeah, I know," I replied glumly.

Mike rode away from me, leaving me to plod along on my own.

I thought of the hints of thought I had about doing road races, of seeing how I stacked up on the hills. I realized that this is about as hard as I can go on this hill, today, in a semi-fatigued state.

It wasn't fast.

Entering a race with a hill in it would simply be an exercise in futility, unless I could do some work for the team before the hills started. I think I'd be more use in the feed zone, frankly.

I managed to drag myself to the top, at the last regroupment point, and found, to my dismay, that most of the group had made it there already.

Mentally I definitely scratched doing road races.

We started back to the shop, the slightly descending road fast and more to my liking. I hung back, getting a feel for the group's desire for speed. Although they were obviously better than me on the hills, I still had some speed left in my legs (helped by the by-far-the-tallest wheels on the ride).

I saw a gap open in front of me, grow, and suddenly it resembled a chasm.

I waited for a bit for the gap to shrink, but it kept opening. I had to bridge - simply "chasing" across wasn't going to be possible, not with my legs twanging, threatening to cramp. I committed and made yet another effort.

I bridged up, kinda sorta barely, and recovered while the riders up front took their turns pulling. On my pulls I pulled off pretty quickly, my legs twinging a bit.

Pacelines get interesting because they reveal each individual rider's strengths (or weaknesses). Some guys were pulling a bit fast; others a bit slow. Downhills were the trickiest - the lead rider has to pull pretty fast. If you hear coasting or braking, you're going too slow.

Towards the end of the route I let myself percolate to the front, and, on the last long stretch of road, I buried myself in a leadout type effort. I blew myself up, twinging pretty badly, everyone passing me on the short rise at the end of the straight, but it felt good to go fast, to put pressure on my legs.

Everyone chatted a bit at the end of the ride; I felt zonked though, and, a bit spaced out, left the lot before I got eaten alive by mosquitoes.

Before I left, though, I asked if the guys would be coming out to the Rent next Tuesday. They replied in the affirmative so that ought to be fun.

Next up: race at the Rent, Day 4 of my mini stage race.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Racing - June 13, 2010 Whaling City Cyclone Crit, New London, CT

This morning, and last night, to be honest, I was not really thinking about racing today. I'd gotten totally soaked at the Nutmeg State Games, my bike was filthy, my car was full of wet clothing, I didn't eat much after the race (a piece of chicken breast and some salad), and I felt exhausted. I hammered out some thoughts for the blog and then, unbeknown to the Missus, snuck off to bed. I wanted to read a bit about Rommel, but after maybe a half page, I put the book down and fell asleep.

About eight hours later, I woke up briefly, asked the Missus what time it was, and fell back asleep.

About eleven hours after I fell asleep, I suddenly woke up, refreshed and hungry. The Missus and I wanted to go out to eat breakfast, but when she checked the forecast, she discovered something.

"Um, it says no rain from noon till 4."
"In New London. And your race is at 1:45."
"1:45. We'd have to leave at, oh, about 11:15 to get there by 12:45."
"What time is it?"

I thought about it. I had no kits left. My bike was a mess. I had no hydration, no Powerade. My stuff was in my car, and it needed to get into the other one, because my car had room for just one person - the driver.

I hadn't eaten a lot the day before, and virtually nothing after the race, so I had very little fuel reserves. In fact, I was surprised I wasn't famished.

But, nonetheless, I decided we should try. We tossed my wet kit in the washer (speed wash), I pulled my bike out of the car, and we set out to eat breakfast.

Problem was that the two places we scouted out were really busy. So we went to the grocery store, bought a bunch of food, and made an early lunch (for me). Eggs, pasta, chicken, some cheese, a couple cups of coffee... and it was 11:45.

We tossed my stuff into her car, I kept running back inside for the next thing I forgot, and finally, at about 12, we were on our way. We'd barely make registration, if we did at all, which would/should close at 1:15.

With the Missus driving as fast as practicable, I changed in the car, even putting on my heart rate chest strap. I had my cycling socks, shoes (still damp, although we put them on the dryer shelf for a bit), everything.

I even wiped the dirt off my helmet.

We made it to the race with about 30 minutes to spare, which was good because registration closed at 30 minutes before the race. I registered, working closely with the registration woman (she filled out the info while I filled out my release - cut the registration time in half). I could even decline pins (I grabbed 14 of them on my last trip into the house). I got my race number and let out a mental sigh of relief.

All the stress of the morning, famished from lack of food, running late, not really having a plan, that all went out the door. We were here, I was registered (and dressed), and after using 13 of my 14 pins, I was even numbered.

Pins, baby, pins!

Now for the fun (and less stressful) part - the race.

Fortunately for me, unfortunately for the promoter, a relatively small field lined up for the start of the 3s. I attribute this to a few things.

First, the race costs some money. Money that's well spent, yes, but money. Pre-reg was $26, a totally reasonable entry fee. Unfortunately every weather report I saw online predicted a day of nasty thundershowers. This worked against the promoter - heck, even I didn't pre-reg.

The day of race stick was $10 more. Although not exorbitant, I'd have to think that a lot of racers who felt unwilling to register online for a thunderstorm type race probably felt like they didn't have a chance of doing well. And paying $26 for a short training ride, that's not very savvy.

Once pre-reg closed, and the weather forecast looked the same, I'm sure those same folks started making other plans.

"Been rained out, might as well use this down time to build up 'racing credit' with the family/spouse/girlfriend/whatever."

I'm sure there were a lot of guys scheduling chores, housework, other "rainy day stuff". After all, these credits really help when, out of the blue, you decide you really want to go race that crit that's in, say, New London.

So, on Sunday morning, when the forecast suddenly changed... well, those very nice racers who understand that racing isn't the center of the world (it isn't, really) suddenly found themselves stuck. They couldn't back out of their commitments so they had to call it a day, even if the pavement was bone dry.

Lucky for me, the Missus really enjoys watching me race. Plus her mom lives down that way. Plus we have really good friends down there. So any ideas of me hanging a yet-to-be-finished-painted screen door went right out the broken screen door, and we set off the New London.

Therefore I figure it was just the pre-reg folks plus a very few others (like me) who lined up for the start.

With my cornering problems in the last few races, I had only one more thing to try - tubulars at full pressure. I had been lowering my tubular tire pressures because of the wider rims, because I'd been doing that with the clinchers and their wider rims. However, I realized at some point that the tubulars don't rely on rim width for their cross sectional shape - they're sewn into shape, and they go to that shape when you pump them up. Any rim width changes really deal with strength and/or aerodynamics, not ride quality.

So I cranked the tubulars' pressure up to normal, like 130/140 psi front/rear.

Tires singing, I set off.

I had one minor disadvantage at the start - I hadn't seen the whole course. I hadn't ridden any of it, except the final straight (19 revs in a 53x14 - always figure out how far out you can go). I had no idea where the turns were, how hard they were, nothing. I just knew the last turn looked a tad sharp.

With six turns in one km, with one a long sweeping 180 (yet to be discovered by moi), relatively narrow roads everywhere, it seemed like it should be a really strung out race. The guy who won last year, Bill Yabroudy, tried to make the race live up to those expectations by attacking like a maniac at the start.

I scampered out of my back-of-the-pack start position, moved up about halfway before the first turn, dove left, then right, then left, and found myself hitting a wall of wind.

Okay, this wasn't going to be a cakewalk.

We flew around the 180 (a left), immediately swung right (an awesome feeling, to be heeled over to the left then to rise up and lay the bike over the right), and hit a slightly uphill straight.

My wheels bounced into all sorts of road hazards, manhole covers, brick crosswalks, potholes, everything.

We careened left for the short descent, narrow, and set up for a very, very tight left turn. When I first looked up, I thought the course went straight because I literally could not see how we could have turned left there.

But as we slowed down, I saw that, yes, there was maybe two lanes at our speed through this last turn.

We blasted through that, Yabroudy still at the front, still hammering, and started back up the gentle rise to the start/finish.

That's when my legs started screaming in pain.

This was hard.

I thought, well, it's got to be because I'm not warmed up. But lap after lap, as I slowly assimilated wind directions, racer tendencies, and cornering lines, I found I faced the same pain going up that stupid rise every lap. My legs would start to fade hard at the top of the hill, lactic acid burning up to my hips.

I had to use the slight downhill stretch after the first turn to maintain speed, then used the second and third turns to get back into the field. After fifth turn I'd come off a bit again, recovering by using the downhill (and last turn) to carve my way back into the field.

For 10 or so laps I suffered, hanging on for dear life, praying no one would leave a gap in front of them.

I was literally off the back of the field twice a lap for a couple laps, the Missus finally breaking through my lactic acid haze by yelling to move up.

So I moved up.

Like four spots.

And stayed there for a bit.

Then, when Yabroudy and company finally eased up a bit, the needle dropped out of my red zone.

I was back in the hunt.

Twenty laps went by, guys attacking one another. I got stuck a few times behind guys who had no idea how to corner, leaving gaps, slowing too much. Making mistakes once or twice is okay, but to repeat them lap after lap after lap, that's not good. I tried to get by those guys, but, unfortunately, to become a Cat 3 while not knowing how to corner requires a lot of strength. These guys were really, really strong, making up for their lack of skills. At this level you can still use brute force to overcome lack of skills or even tactics.

I wasn't as strong, so even though I may have gotten by them one or two times, I had a hard time staying in front of them. They'd make big moves in the wind or on the hill, moves that require enormous reserves, get back into good position, and gradually lose ground as they cornered their way to the back of the field.

However, although they left gaps, they could close them in spots where it took huge efforts to do so - like on the hill or on that slight uphill straight just before the downhill.

Although I initially thought they'd just go off the back, they never did because they were so fit. I guess that they didn't want to go off the back either, so they made the efforts to close the gaps they opened up.

Once I realized these guys weren't a threat to me finishing the race, I spent less energy trying to avoid them. I could sit behind them, let them come back to me, and ease around them as they screwed up yet another corner.

And since those guys tended to live in the middle third of the field, I avoided them by staying in the back third.

Life at the back, although a bit tough, stayed steady enough that I felt it a safe bet to stay there until the tail end of the race. For me that meant the last 2 or 3 laps, and that became my plan. Start moving up, take advantage of any easing up, and see what happens.

From about 8 to go the field really spread out on the hill, and although I could have moved up, I chose to stay at the back, grab some shelter, and build my reserves for the last few laps.

Finally, coming up on two to go, I had to make some moves. I followed a move up the right side, tucked in at about 15th spot, and hung on. I slowly lost some spots, but another move like that on the last lap and I was sitting maybe 10th.

The front of the field went ballistic as Yabroudy launched a spectacular attack at the bell, and I struggled to stay in position as the field went single file.

Then, as we approached the second last turn, the one leading to the downhill, I moved up on the inside a bit.

I knew I needed to be top 3 going into the last turn, and I felt comfortable leading out the field.

But as I powered down the downhill, I hadn't committed myself fully. I hesitated a moment, backed off just a bit, and realized that I wasn't going to make it to the front.

I tucked in about 10th.

Right behind one of the guys (I think) that I'd been trying to avoid the whole race, the guys who looked uncomfortable turning.

He dove into the turn and then into the ground as his front wheel slid out. At slower speeds he'd been okay, but at higher ones... he'd probably fall every single time.

My tubulars felt fine though, stuck like glue to the pavement. I hesitated a moment as I cleared the corner (and the rider below and to the right of me), jumped, shifted up a good 2 or 3 gears since I was under-geared, and jumped again.

As I built up speed I started passing guys, getting a couple of them right at the line. One was a totally spent Yabroudy, who'd exploded spectacularly just short of the line.

I counted the riders in front of me at the line.


I got 5th.

I cooled down, found the Missus. She was happy, I was happy. I wish I'd gone harder on that downhill - I had a lot left at the end of the sprint. But I was happy with my place.

We watched the P12 race. One huge moment was when the Kenda pro attacked hard on the downhill. He barely cleared the front of the field before the last turn, and his back tire did a lurid power slide as he exited the turn. Without hesitation he sprinted away from the line, his attack ultimately failing. There were a lot of attacks, a lot of chasing, and lots and lots of fast cornering.

The course is great for spectators, like great, great, great for spectators. From the first turn you can see the whole finishing straight plus turns 2, 3, 4, and 5. From the last turn (really Turn 7) you can see the whole downhill plus the finish straight. From the start/finish, you can see most of the downhill, the finish straight.

It's also a great course for (crit) racers. A real crit, with lots of diving into turns, lots of cornering line work, and a real battle for the final turn.

All in all a fantastic race. Definitely one for 2011.

The only disappointment of the race? My ContourHD had built up moisture inside the lens in the wet conditions yesterday, fogging it all up. So, although this would have been an awesome helmet cam race, I left the camera in the car. No helmet cam. I'm sorry. I may have to buy a second one, as a back up. And not use them in the rain anymore.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Racing - June 12, 2010 Nutmeg State Games Cat 3

So two days ago I looked at BikeReg for some reason, I think to map out my schedule in the next few weeks. I clicked on the Nutmeg State Games because it proclaimed that it would have state championships.

Which I thought were awarded at the New Britain Crit on July 11th.

I read the fine print after all the various asterisks and learned, to my dismay, that the Cat 3 race at Nutmeg would indeed by the State Championships.

I quickly asked my boss if I could leave early on Saturday - about noon - so I could race the States. With a daughter that has enough Nutmeg State Games t-shirts so she recognized mine as being from a different region, my boss readily agreed.

I hadn't really been planning on racing this weekend at all, because of the rainy forecast. I tend to skip rainy races because, frankly, I hate cornering and braking in the rain. I should train more in those conditions, but I don't. And I pay for it when it comes down on race day.

This State Championship realization meant I had to radically alter my preparation, or lack thereof. I'd raced Tuesday, yes, after a six day break from the bike, but didn't ride the following Wednesday or Thursday. I'd ridden one day in the last eight.

Friday I fueled up. If I ate enough Friday, I'd be okay Saturday, even if I went into the race a little underfed. If I didn't eat a lot of Friday, I'd have to watch my intake carefully, else I'd bonk.

I also needed to ride on Friday to loosen my legs up for a Saturday race, else my legs would feel like they were made from wood.

This is where I made my first mistake.

It was Friday evening, getting late, and I was tired. The Missus actually went to bed. I, being so committed to doing a decent ride, drank some caffeine before my "should-be-around-10 pm" ride.

Frankly, I drank it because I was sleepy. Caffeinated to the gills, I proceeded to:

- set up a cheap new DVD player
- hook it up to a stored TV that I had to set up first
- experiment with apparently broken cheap new DVD player
- hook up a nicer DVD player that I know works
- check that
- page through my race DVDs to watch some sprints and such (I chose the 2007 Tour and the 2003 Paris Nice DVDs)

Suddenly it was past 11 PM, I still had to ride, and I had to get up at 6:30 AM for work. I got to riding quickly.

A little past midnight I finally climbed off the bike. I'd done virtually no work on the bike, doing maybe a 150 watt ride, but I was sharp, alert, and maybe a little jittery.

In other words I wasn't about to fall asleep.

At 2 AM, hungry, I cooked up some pasta and had some chicken and stuff with it.

At THREE AM I finally felt a bit tired. Decided I should maybe lay down. I managed to fall asleep.

I got up at some point, hot, and went out to the couch to cool off. Once cooled, returned to bed.

At 6:30 AM the alarm went off. I went out, made some coffee, and... did nothing. I was sleepy, tired, exhausted, and I had a race at 2:10 PM.

My body started waking up at about 10 AM, starving, and I started eating everything in sight.

Of course, it then shut down, so I tried to grab a little nap in the office at about 11:30. But just as I started getting comfortable, it got busy, and suddenly it was time for me to leave.

Definitely not ideal preparation.

The Missus and I got to the race and it was pouring. I looked out the car a bit glumly. I would normally skip racing in the rain, but I wanted to win the frickin' CT State Championships, and I had to race in the rain to do it.

So racing in the rain it was.

I got soaked just getting the bike out of the car. I decided to go with the HED Bastognes - aluminum rims (I still haven't swapped the black KoolStops so I'd have no brakes on the carbon rimmed Stinger 6s) and lighter than the tank-like Jet 6 and Jet 9. I'd have to jump out of the last turn and I didn't feel like dragging all the extra weight around.

I did add some weight when I pinned my number onto my vest. Following my over-pin last Tuesday, I decided to go hog wild today too, using 13 pins again. You may laugh but let me tell you, I didn't hear or feel or even imagine a flapping number today.

Lotsa pins.
(Don't worry, I brought the pins to the race, didn't take them from someone else)

Properly kitted up (jersey, shorts, vest, head cover, long gloves, wool socks, shoes, helmet with cam) I set off on some miserable warm up laps. After a few minutes of decidedly low effort twiddling, I did a little jump. 900 watts, no effort, and the wheels responded nicely.

I went back to the start/finish to wait for my race.

A small field lined up, only a few brave souls willing to test themselves in the cool, rainy, windy conditions. For once I felt like a small field wasn't a handicap. Usually I view large fields positively - lots of shelter. But a small field would let race without worrying about maintaining position, and, with my new-found legs, I wasn't quite as concerned about getting shelled.

The race started off pretty aggressively, with an odd crash marring the first bit of the race. One guy went off to the right. Another, isolated with just one other rider, went off to the left. Apparently, on the left, a couple riders had a disagreement, and it ended with some unpleasantness off the bike.

I only learned of this later; I was too busy worrying about myself to wonder exactly why guys went down on opposite sides of the road, and why the two isolated guys went so far left. At the moment I figured one of them got stuck somehow - pedal, bar, cable, something - to the other.

I had other things to worry about, so I quickly forgot about the crash.

My big problem was that I couldn't corner to save my life. I know, it's been a theme, but today, in the wet, it actually worried me. I could feel both my front and rear tires breaking free of the pavement, skittish, and even did one of those "freeze, coast, and pray the bike doesn't fall over" moves in the very gradual Turn One.

I tried shifting my weight forward - but then the rear would slide. I shifted back. The front got light. I couldn't figure it out, couldn't even think of what I would do to make it better. Scaring myself left and right, I retreated out of the race's tactical situation.

After a few laps of experimentation I learned that I had to stay to the inside of the yellow line for Turns One and the hill, and that the Final Turn let me cross over the yellow line on the exit.

In order to assure myself of those positions through those turns, I decided to sit at the back.

For the rest of the race.

Now, a casual observer may think, "Oh, he's just sucking wheel". But I had to make huge efforts exiting each of those three trouble spots because I'd inevitably let a gap go. I wasn't saving much energy; I was just trying to stay upright.

I started thinking about the sprint. I mean, I thought about it before, but now I had some concrete information, like the weather, the pavement slickness level, who was around, stuff like that, I thought about it more.

Working backwards from the line (that's how you approach goals - you start at the goal and work backwards), I decided I absolutely had to be in the top three going into the last turn. The last time I raced here in the rain, I was third going into the final turn, and I'd used everything I had to get there. I'd used so much I was too cooked to sprint.

But it was okay because the guys behind me bumped and went down. I was in front of the carnage, and trust me, I'd rather be cooked and upright than fresh and on the deck.

Back to today's problem - to be top 3 in the last turn meant I had to be in the top 3 going into that last turn.

The problem was that the hill was really sketchy. I didn't think I could maintain a forward field position on the hill, and still have legs to get to the final turn and then sprint.

So I decided that I would wait until half a lap to go, after the hill, before I moved up. Until then I would sit towards the back.

This sounds great but there's only a couple hundred feet of pavement between the hill and the last turn. And although the field wasn't big, it wasn't tiny either.

I tried a standing effort at the top of the hill, to see if I really had the legs to make it. I got by a guy or two, realized that I had a good amount of power, and shut it down.

As the laps counted down, I tried to convince myself that I had a sound plan.

At 5 to go it took little effort to stick to the plan. At 3 to go, my argument still carried good weight.

But at 2 to go, looking up at all the guys in front of me, I started losing faith.

I started moving up on the main straight.

After half a lap of slightly uncomfortable riding, I got nowhere.

So I let myself drift back again.

Half a lap, then. No other way.

I steeled myself for the effort. I knew the field would leave a gap and that a committed effort would net me a position close to the front.

I hit the hill on the inside/left, knowing that everyone naturally drifts out to the right at the top. Then, as soon as I could, I stood and dug deep, staying left. I had to stutter this effort as a guy in front of me went, then thought about it, and then eased.

I went around him to the left, committed to my insane plan.

Committed. Insane. Get it?


I rolled up the side of the field, hard, and I heard guys yelling that someone was moving. Yeah. That would be me.

I actually rolled past the front of the field, and focused on the last turn. I didn't like that turn in the wet, and I didn't want to take myself out.

Going a bit slower than possible, I eased into the turn, and then out.

I started going, looking down to see who was on my wheel. I saw one black rim with white decals, but no one else.

I instinctively reverted to my leadout habits at SUNY Purchase, where I'd bait riders into jumping early, wait, and then bury them before the line.

So I did a reasonably convincing fake jump, sat back down, and waited.

Sure enough, the wheel moved over.

As he started his sprint, I waited. After a judicious, oh, half second, I started mine.

Problem was that I couldn't gain on the guy! He just stayed planted in front of me.

Note to self: when reverting to old habits, make sure I've practiced them more recently than, say, 17 or 18 years ago.

As I approached the finish I started giving up. The team CLR guy in front of me had won the race.

I eased, thinking I'd crossed the line. But it seemed early. I squinted to find the line through the mud on my glasses.

There it is! Up... there...


Another guy zoomed up my inside and pipped me at the line.


The guy who pipped me is from New York. So that left the CLR guy. We found him a few minutes later.

"Hey, where do you live?"
"Where do you live?"
"Congratulations, you're the state champ!"

I grinned. He grinned. I shook his hand.

There were some other cool things for the day. I watched David H and TJ (of Expo) race in the P123 race, alongside an invited Dutch U23 team. One of their guys won out of the break, after sitting on for a good half dozen laps. His teammates celebrated in various ways in the field, with the best one being the "king of the world" meets "break dancer" salute (think of Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic, but now do it on a bike, and wiggle your torso left and right like you're a snake... and do this all at about 35-38 mph in the middle of a field sprint).

They're kids, really, and having a blast racing their bikes. It made me grin watching them - free spirited, enjoying the moment.

There was some grumbling about how the Dutch guy sat on (from the spectators, not the racers he beat), but before anyone could frown at him, he walked over to the guy who got second and jammed a bunch of prize money in his pocket. The guy protested but it was clear what the Dutch guy wanted to say:

"You did the work. I had to follow team orders. It wasn't personal. I'm sorry it had to turn out that way. This (money) is to show that I respect you and your effort. I had a blast racing here in the US and I hope that tomorrow you and I can race each other again."

Everyone smiled, not a frown in sight.

After the Connecticut State Champs stood on the podium (David being one of them), the promoters had the Dutch guys up there for some pictures. When they were up there I asked which one did the cool salute. One guy grinned and raised his hand. The others goofed off, like the kids they are, and the coach good naturedly put them in their place.

It was fun watching them have fun. I don't know how else to put it. It reminded me that this is why I race bikes, for the opportunity to have pure, unadulterated fun, like I do when I race. It's hard sometimes, it can be cruel, but when things go well, it's just a hoot.

Grins, giggles, silliness, fun.

Bike racing is fun.

The now-unpinned number, with part of my prize.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Racing - June 8, 2010 @TuesTheRent

For once the weather smiled on us Tuesday Night World Champions, with temperatures in the low 70s, bright, dry skies, and low humidity. It doesn't get much better than this around here, even though (ahem) it may be like this all the time in, say, a place like, um, San Diego.

But I stray.

The Missus and I made the trip to Rentschler Field for some good racing, good friendships, and good times. In the morning we'd packed the car, the race wheels for sure, so I could work on my cornering (which was so poor at Somerville). Specifically I couldn't dive into a corner properly, and I wanted to work on this whole "tightening up my line" thing.

I also had my heavy, deep, aero Jet 6-9s as a back up - if I had a problem with the Stinger 6s, I could work on smooth, steady, fast speed on the flywheel like Jet 9 rear wheel, along with the aero Jet 6 front.

With the missus driving her new hot rod wagon, I got to change in the car, cutting a few minutes off my prep time at the course. I also downed a quart of Powerade (well, technically I finished the last bit when we got to the course). Drinking during the race wouldn't help me very much so I decided that I'd drink my electrolytes before it.

At the Rent we parked next to a sister of our wagon, and then another sister parked next to us. It was a little TDI meet, if you will.

I registered with the kind folks at registration, filling out all the paperwork like a racer ought to, so that if I crashed, they'd have the paperwork in order. It's important to have the signed paperwork and to see a license and to pay the entry fee.

And, no, I won't mention anyone on the blog :)

I'd collected a bunch of pins in the morning, sticking them in my pocket, so, on a lark, I used them all to pin my number.

Pins, baby, pins! 13 for good luck. And no flapping.
(Note subtle Carpe Diem Racing plug)

With the complete reassurance that my number wouldn't flap, I set off on a bit of warm up. For me that means rolling around, my heart rate barely registering a bump, until it's time to race. That night it meant about 3 or 4 loops on the far side, then a loop or two of the course as they cleared up an unfortunate collarbone victim from the B race.

Apparently the wind came from the right on the final, curving left bend, and everyone tried to get left to seek shelter. Problem is if you go too far left there's a low wood fence, and it seems that someone ended up on it.

I managed to catch up with SOC somewhere in here. I mentioned the wind, how it was a tailwind on the back stretch, a cross-headwind (from the right) on the final one. Anyone who wanted to go would go on the tailwind bit, where speed trumps drafting.

Meaning, if someone launched really hard, the field would have a hard time responding in a timely fashion because the speeds would be pretty high.

Then, when said attacker made the hard left, they'd be in the wind, with a lot of inertia carrying them forward. The field's lead riders, on the other hand, would be accelerating to meet the threat, into the wind, with everyone sitting on (and towards the left, the sheltered side).

The attacker could sit on the left side curb, on the fence rail, and would make anyone chasing really earn their gains. And, when the attacker got caught, they'd immediately have a draft as the chasers would have to pass on the windward side.

This kinda stuck in my head.

Properly warned of the wind by the emergency vehicles, we lined up. The promoters told us, just in case we missed the fire truck and ambulance, that the wind made people seek shelter on the left, and to keep our wits about us.

And with that we were off.

Now, although I saw the ambulance and fire truck, although I heard the promoters caution us, I still figured, "Well, it's pretty clear the shelter is to the left, and I'm gonna git me some."

I nearly ran off the road on that left side within a lap or two.

"Ohhh. I see what they mean."

So, now that I truly understood the situation, I made some adjustments. I really had to watch the left curb, especially the actual curb that jutted out a touch just before the line.

With a couple leg breakers there (meaning the riders), the pace promised to be pretty fast. Sure enough, Aidan, Leg Breaker Optimus, went off in search of fame and glory. Or to do a 5 minute interval, something like that.

The field chased hard, led by Central Wheel, whose riders formed a ProTour-like line of riders at the front of the field.

Okay, a ProTour-like line of riders chasing a very fast Cancellara.

Eventually Aidan returned to the fold. Breaks would go, the field would chase, and another one of Aidan's CCNS riders would launch. As I slowly sank into the depths of a lactic acid bath, I kept my eye on Aidan. I knew he'd have the gas to go, and I knew the only way to make it in his group would be to go with him.

Eventually, with everyone on the limit, Aidan went onto the attack. I watched but couldn't go. He and another rider eventually eeked out a quarter lap lead, maybe 200 meters. It seems like it should be a jumpable gap, but with the course, the wind, and the strung out field, no one could make it across.

A good try separated a bunch of riders from the field, and soon the Chase Group started pulling away.

I watched as the Chase Group dangled just 8 or 10 seconds in front of the field, knowing that I had to go right now. I remember the moment clearly, rounding the bend onto the backstretch, watching the Chase Group dive into the last turn.

It was... possible.

But my legs disagreed, and my brain quickly rationalized my legs' decision by saying that the Chase Group may be a bit closer on the next lap.

Alas, they pulled away that next lap. And the lap after. So on and so forth.

The Chase approached the Break, then two strong Chasers bridged to the Break on their own. The four man Break started gaining ground on the weakened Chase, and both of them gained ground on the Pack.

In fact, our Pack (would it surprise you to learn that I was in the Pack?) actually broke up into two groups, and for a worried lap or two I thought that I'd be stuck in the fourth group on the road. Yeah, I was in the second group of that Pack.

But the guys in front of me (I couldn't help) managed to pull things back together and the Pack reassembled, a long way behind the Chase Group, an even longer way behind the Break.

I recovered a bit and decided I'd do one of those huge efforts required to bridge a big gap. I can't motor for 5 minutes at a time - I have to go now, go hard, and get the job done. I don't know what the gap was at the time but it was a good 200+ meters, maybe close to 20 seconds.

I drove hard to the front, then off the front. I flew into the first turn, kept the pressure on, then settled into a fast, uncomfortable pace on the back stretch. I rolled onto the final curving straight, pulled hard, and, when I felt like I was about to go cross-eyed, pulled off.

No one else would pull.

With teammates in the Chase, the first guy or two didn't want to ruin things. And the guys interested in chasing weren't at the front - they were clawing their way back to the pointy end of the stick, after the rude interruption I made.

The hard chase.
Pic lifted with permission courtesy of SOC/Mrs SOC.

I looked up. Instead of a couple hundred meters, we sat an agonizing 40 or 50 meters behind the Chase; it'd been a very fast (for me) 30 mph average speed minute. I wanted someone, anyone, to make the effort to bridge. Even if they went alone, it'd have been worth it, to know that I could launch someone from one group to another.

Instead everyone sat up. Tellingly, our average speed dropped to 21 mph for the next minute. The Chase Group disappeared from our grasp for good.

I was pretty well spent and shrank back into the Pack.

(Maybe next time I'll try a slower, longer effort.)

A little while later, getting a bit dizzy from fatigue, I heard a bell ringing. I wasn't sure if maybe it was the last lap, but I wasn't about to take a chance. I launched on the back stretch, went flying into the final stretch, and turned a huge gear over to the line.

Before I got there I looked back. Started having doubts. No one was chasing. Maybe the bell was for a different group.

I cross the line, full of doubt. Looked back. I thought everyone behind was coasting. Maybe the race was over. Maybe I sprinted on the right lap.

I looked for stationary legs.


They were pedaling. My eyes were failing me, everything a bit blurry, but it was painfully clear to me - the field was building up steam, hammering.

SOC came by, hollered at me to get on.

Huh? Where did he come from? I gasped that I was dead, and waited for the swarm.

The race started streaming by me. I stayed out of the way, trying not to crash anyone. But they weren't flying by, not like I'd expected. They were just creeping by.


Then, suddenly, "like someone hit a switch in my legs"*, I could pedal again. I got on a wheel and I was back in the game. Well, the game in the Pack. Forget about the Chase Group or the Break.

Eventually the Break lapped us, and Aidan (yeah, he was there) eased a bit. He'd made his point, now he just wanted to stay upright.

With a lap to go (for real this time), I had other plans. I was looking for, but couldn't get to, SOC. We'd talked about doing a leadout, but he seemed plenty busy on the other side of the field.

Up front I saw Bryan H (IRSMedic) leading out his teammate Chad. I figured I had a decent shot at getting up there before the last turn so I gave it a good go. I went up the left side, got to the front just in time, and tried to take a smooth line through the turn, to let Bryan jump on.

I turned around and sure enough, he was there. But as the wind pummeled me, I realized I didn't have the legs like before. My legs started really twinging, and with a whole lotta guys breathing down my neck, I didn't want to cause problems. Not wanting to cramp, not wanting to get too mixed up in the sprint, I hollered at Bryan that he was clear, he could go.

He looked a bit peaked though, and our antics actually blocked his guy Chad a bit. A CCNS guy launched. I think he won the race. Chad scampered after him.

Ah, well.

We warmed down, doing the "lap after chat". SOC was there, so, too was Doug M (last I saw him was Somerville, a week before Monday). He'd been sporting some Rev-Xs after that broken spoke in NJ (and the later crash, although I don't know what happened there still).

SOC kept congratulating me on my prime; so did another guy. Maybe I really did win a prime. Hm.

After changing and getting the Missus's hot rod out onto some pavement, I wandered over to the promoters.

"Was there really a prime that one lap?"
"Did I really win a prime?"

Then they all grinned.

"Here, pick whatever you want..."

I peeked in the cooler.


I choose... You!

"Really? Is this okay?"
"Yeah, the guy who won didn't claim his prize, so..."

"You got ID?"

We all laughed. But I held onto the bottle, and showed it off to the Missus, SOC, and Mrs SOC.

Riley examining my prime. It probably belongs to Aidan or Ron, but neither claimed it.

I felt like I had a productive night. Some big efforts. Specifically big efforts followed by more efforts, i.e. I didn't get shelled right away. I won a prime. Okay, it was minor, but I didn't drop out of the race right afterward.

And I could still make some moves on the final lap. Nothing major, again, but enough to know that I had some legs left.

I hadn't taken one sip of my bottle.

I'd worked on my cornering, and now I realize I need to return to the higher inflation pressures from before. The wide clincher rims make lower pressure beneficial, but the wider tubular rims are there just for aerodynamics. The tire remains the same, so the pressures should remain the same too. I feel a lot more comfortable on a higher pressure front tire, so I'll be racing with my tires back up into the 120-140 psi range.


*Quote from Roy Knickman (La Vie Claire) before the 1987 Corestates race at Philly. I can't find the quote but it's in the video. Seriously. Says it with that big grin of his.