Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Training - Pushing Through

Sweat dripped onto the stem.


I could taste the salt in it just by looking at it.

The sweat drop joined its brethren, the dots mixed up into a random puddle.

Well, not a puddle. Before any liquid could build up, it'd trickle down the side.

The drops fell rapidly, maybe just one here and there, then a couple in a row.

I moved my head to the side to try and keep the corrosive sweat off the precious stem. The aluminum, anodized, would be okay, but the bolts, the cable housing underneath, the sweat would work its acidic way through them.

I looked up, adjusting my trajectory just a bit.

The TV wasn't here, and my headphone cable wasn't wrapped around my neck (to keep it from getting snagged on the stem). I wasn't on the trainer.

No, I was outside. Going slow enough for sweat to drip onto the stem.

The group had long passed me by, leaving me in my own little world of struggle. I could maintain this pace for a while, even though every pedal stroke felt like the last one available. 230, 240 watts, lifting one leg, pushing down on the other.

A pause as my legs worked through the dead spots at the top and bottom of the pedal stroke.

Then another surge, each leg doing the opposite of what it just did.

I'd been playing a big bluff, working hard to stay on everyone's wheels, working hard to close the gaps at the top of each little hill, soft pedaling on the flats, coasting on the short descents. I'd managed to make it through a bunch of hills like this, but on a never-ending climb, I couldn't respond to a minor surge.

300 watts. Okay, I can do it. Just for 30 seconds, then I could ease.

The guys had stood, one guy really pushing.

450 watts?

My legs protested, the muscles unable to press down with enough force.

And the gap opened up.

I'd arrived at the ride a bit drained. The night before, after the race, I'd had just a salad. A bad toothache discouraged me from eating pretty much anything else, and it kept me from eating too much in the morning. A little bit of pasta, some coffee, and then, for lunch, a couple bowls of cereal.

Three or four hours later, after working hard in the yard outside, I was running on empty. I brought along some bars and gels in the car, meaning to eat them as we started the ride. But, distracted, I forgot them, and when I went reaching for a precious bar, all I found was my phone. My wallet. And my car key.

I struggled in my bottom gear on the first climb, turning over a 39x25 like I'd been climbing for hours already. The group waited for stragglers (like me) at the top, and I thought of turning around and going back to the car.

The next climb repeated the procedure, and, again, I thought about turning around and going home.

I thought of Greg Lemond, in the 1982 Worlds, his first major goal of his fledgling career. He felt good before the race, so good he flew his parents to Europe to watch him race. Then, to his horror, he felt horrible as the race started. He struggled on, pushing the whole time, hoping for his legs to come back.

Then, as the race started winding down, it was like someone threw a switch in his legs. He felt good. He started riding like he was going to win the race. And although he ultimately came in second, he'd proved his potential as a pro racer.

Now, I'm no Greg Lemond, but I can take his story and apply it to my own experience. He had bad legs. I had bad legs. His legs got better. My legs...

Well, I hadn't turned around. I wasn't the last guy from the group on the road. And I hoped that my body would suddenly remember how to convert fat into energy, and I'd get my second wind.

Ideally this would happen before I bonked.

Then, a savior. Tom rolled up to me, one of the guys on the ride. When I explained to him I was running on empty, he offered me his Fig Newtons. I took two of his four squares, worked on eating them (it was all I could do to hold them in my teeth for the first 30 seconds), washed them down with some water, and waited.

And waited.

Nothing happened. I didn't feel better. In fact, my stomach felt a bit crampy. My legs were still tired, still weak, and I still struggled at 200 or so watts.

We regrouped again. I wiped some of the sweat off my head, knowing it'd return as soon as I made an effort. I tried to use my gloves to wipe my face, but the soaking gloves didn't help. My sleeves felt heavy with sweat too.

Somewhere in this little bit of riding unpleasantness I realized something.

I must be well hydrated.

Because I'd been sweating for a good hour, not just sweating, pouring sweat in buckets.

We started going. At some point we faced a short wall, a perfect big ring power climb. I decided to bluff and lead up the climb. If I blew, I'd be able to drag myself over the top, hopefully still in contact with the group.

I stood on the pedals.

My legs responded.

Easily. Fluidly.

They still felt sore, yes, but they suddenly had some power. I shifted up, taking advantage of the return of my legs, and flew up that power climb.

I used the descent to bridge up to a particularly aggressive rider, then prepared for the next hill.

He slowed so I slowed, wondering if maybe we were turning at this upcoming road.

No, he went past it. He just wanted to gear down for the hill.

Screw that.

I went again, scampering up the climb.

My legs worked.

Again and again.

Eventually, on a monster of a hill (8 minutes if slow, 6 if fast), I bluffed and exploded. I tried to chase back on but my legs finally betrayed me, twinging under effort. I managed to bridge to the four riders ahead of me, some desperate pedaling letting me get across the final gap.

We rolled back to the cars.

My legs had come around. I felt reasonably okay. Not frisky, but manageable.

If this were a Tour stage, I'd have hoped for a transition stage. If it were the mountains, I'd have gotten shelled early on.

So, like a leader suffering through a transition stage in the Tour, I sat on the wheels and rolled through the final fast section without ever attacking, not even lifting the pace.

I thought about the hopelessness I'd felt on the first few climbs, the temptation simply to let the guys know that I'm cooked and I'm rolling back to the car.

But I pushed through, struggled, and kept going.

And, ultimately, it ended up a good ride. Tomorrow the dentist.

And then? Who knows.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Racing - July 27, 2010 @TuesTheRent

I have to admit that I came to this race with more expectations than normal. My efforts last week at the Rent and in Naugatuck let me believe that I'd finally found some form. I'd demanded a lot from my legs in those two races, and they responded almost all the time. In fact, I actually assumed my legs would work, and so I never really "demanded", I just "did".

To my horror my legs faltered at Naugatuck 100 meters less than I thought possible. Things turned out reasonably well, but I simply couldn't believe my legs stopped working when they did.

At the Rent, my befuddled mind led me to believe we were approaching the bell when, in fact, we weren't. That was a good test because I pressed on regardless. I managed to do a half lap more than I thought possible, but, as Mister SRM explained to me later, I slowed dramatically in that half lap. Although I pushed hard mentally, my legs faltered.

Or, as the saying goes, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."

Which is one of my favorite quotes only because someone used it back in the Cold War to test the US - USSR hotline. Basically they'd send each other tricky quotes to see how they came back. Some of the translations lost their idiomatic meanings.

The US side sent out "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."

The reply?

"The vodka is good but the meat is rotten."

Anyway, that cracks me up, and so I like that quote.

So... back to the Rent. The problem with form is that you start putting expectations on yourself. I showed up thinking of my high effort rides in the last two races. I'd done a very difficult ride around the Tokeneke course but somehow, until just now, I forgot about the aftermath (passing out on the floor). I felt like I had a chance at doing something in the race.

I got almost no warm-up, and I felt a bit sluggish. I felt thirsty too, and, as the Missus pointed out later, it's hard for me to keep hydrated at work. After guzzling a quart of "light" Gatorade (80 cal per quart, instead of 0 cal for the PowerAde - I wanted a few calories), I lined up with two bottles of ice water in my cages.

A short pause and we were off.

We had two Leg Breakers in the field, plus an assortment of Assistant Leg Breakers. LB1 was Tim, a strong but admittedly less-fit-than-he-was Cat 1. His strengths lay in his steady power, but in a sprint he gets hurt. He prefers breaks, pounding his breakmates' legs to a pulp, then attacking for the win.

LB2 was Ron, a CCNS racer, also a Cat 1, with a wicked sprint on top of the standard leg breaking strengths of being able to break away. He's just as content to annihilate the group in the sprint, but he'll do some truly astonishing moves where he breaks clear and goes Mach 2 for a lap or two to get up to a break or something.

The ALBs were mainly the host team's Cat 2s, the CVC boys. Benidorm had two strong guys there (a 2 and a 3).

And then there were the Cat 3 pack fodder. I rarely line up thinking, "Oh, man, this is gonna suck", but I lined up thinking, "Oh, man, this is gonna suck."

If you added up the Categories of the 8 or so guys on the front row, you'd have hit about 12 as a sum.

Me and the two guys next to me, we added up to 9.

In other words, there were, proportionately speaking, a lot of Cat 1s and 2s in the race.

We started and, somewhat predictably, Tim immediately took off. He had a few bike lengths at the first turn, a few more at the second, and then... it started looking a bit dangerous.

A Junior named Ben, who rides just like the Greg Huey of old, took off after Tim, as did one of the CVC guys. They bridged, everyone watched each other, and the break went away for good.

Ron did some long pulls at the front, but when he realized that most of the field simply couldn't contribute to the chase, he took off on his own. He brought along a trail of CVC riders, maybe three of them, to form the chase group. He also had one CCNS teammate for help.

It's unclear if the CVC riders worked with him (they had a guy up front) but towards the end of the race they looked pretty toasted. Work or not, they rode hard.

When the break lapped us, Tim immediately set a strong but steady pace at the front. He wanted to stay clear of the dangerous chase, and by raising the pack's pace, he'd do just that.

I realized that the danger man Ron was missing (I thought he made it to the break initially), and knowing that the chase had to contain him as well as all the missing CVC guys, I tried to pull too. Tim, Ben, and Henk (the CVC break rider) all took good long pulls.

I found that I struggled in the wind, my wheel catching some gusts, and my vision a bit blurry from effort. I tried to dump water on my face and such, but the shock of the cold water would actually make me lose vision for a moment, so I returned to spraying my neck, shoulders, arms, and legs.

I realized I could power, seated, out of turns pretty effectively, but the steady effort needed to maintain position on the straights killed me. My consciousness narrowed until I was only aware of the four or five riders in front of me, the one or two behind, and, every now and then, the start/finish crowd or, if I looked across the course, the chase group.

As the clock ticked down to the end of the race, my legs started getting a bit crampy. I pedaled in my "cramp" style, heel down, low rpms, but the twinges got worse. Any sudden effort and they'd seize up. I haven't cramped in a race since I was a Junior at Ninigret, but when I cramped my world just ended, and I swerved wildly right, off the course, somehow missing all the racers there and the tires lining the course.

I didn't want to push my luck here.

So, with maybe a lap left in my legs, I moved up, using my still-strong acceleration out of the turns. Tim had just taken a pull, a CVC I think rotated through, and now Tim needed to pull again.

I went by him, looked back to make sure he hadn't sat up, and when I confirmed he was on my wheel, I did my lap.

I pulled hard and steady, big gears to keep my cadence low, heels lower than normal to help keep my calves from cramping, no pulling up hard so that my hamstrings wouldn't seize. I could push down though, since my quads normally don't get crampy until I actually cramp.

I didn't know how long I'd make it, but after a decent lap of effort, I pulled off.

Aerobically I felt like I could jump back into the line almost immediately, after maybe five-six guys rolled by me. But when I went to turn the pedals, my legs reminded me it wasn't the aerobics that were limiting me, it was the cramps.

So I sat up.

I thought of the near-instant recovery I felt after the lap pull. If I made it into a break of, say, six, I could actually work a bit. I could take 10-20 seconds pulls, keep enough in the tank to counter expected attacks, and recover while the other five riders take a pull.

Hm. Have to file that one away for now.

I watched the last five laps of the race. SOC, feeling a little worse than he did last week, grimly hung on in there until the end. He managed to stay with the group in the sprint but didn't have quite the kick he had before.

This wasn't like last week, but we each had our triumphs. Next week!

(Picture of number on jersey coming up, with massive number of pins... here it is)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Helmet Cam - June 27, 2010 Keith Berger Memorial Crit Cat 3s

Text is back here. The video is below.

It has teamwork, an attack, bridge, break, catch, and a confusing final lap. Ultimately we didn't do what we wanted to accomplish, but it was fun trying.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Racing - July 20, 2010 @TuesTheRent

With the end of July approaching, the end of the Tour, I feel a curious mix of Elation, Blahs, and Disappointment.

I feel Elation because I finally start feeling good just about now. I can recover from efforts reasonably quickly. I can crank out a hundred mile ride, R&R for a day, and feel like I hadn't been on a bike for the past week when I go for a ride the following day. I can make enormous efforts, blow up, wait for 15 or 20 seconds to pass, and feel, maybe not comfortable, but at least like I have something more to give.

I feel the Blahs because although I may feel like I can make effort after effort after effort on a ride, my body pays the price. I'm constantly hungry, constantly tired, and, it seems, dragging my feet more and more. I can tell this at work, at home, and even on vacation. My already significant inertia gets all that more massive.

And finally, I feel Disappointment. Disappointment that the Tour will be over soon. That my favorite races, for the most part, have already been held. I feel disappointed that my form, my fitness, can't be used much more.

Ultimately, though, I have to admit that this is the part of the season where I feel most at ease. I feel relatively comfortable that I can enter a given crit and have some reasonable expectation of doing okay. I can explore boundaries in other events, maybe a road race or two, maybe tackling a tougher group ride, even attack on a hill or two.

With all that in mind, one can understand why, after a hard Sunday race, I didn't even touch my bike on Monday. Yeah, it was nice out in the evening, yeah, I could have ridden, yeah, my gear was there next to the bike...

But, no, the Blahs won. I felt like I really wanted to take the night off. So I did.

And Tuesday the feeling continued. I felt sluggish at work, working hard simply to motivate myself. The heat of the day didn't help, nor did whatever physical work I had to do. I was hungry all day, like usual, and ended up ordering a large cheese pizza from a local favorite. I ate 9/16 of it, a lot, and drank a decent amount of Pepsi (which is what the pizza place sells).

Properly satiated, tired, I left early for the race. I got home, knowing I had to pack the bike, collect my gear, and see how my legs would respond. I was afraid I'd feel totally flat, no speed, unable to respond to the moves.

Imagine my surprise when I got home. The Missus was there, waiting, the garage door open, her new hot rod slash raceday car ready to go.

"Your bike's in the car. I didn't know which wheels you wanted so I put all of them in. Your gear bag is in the back. Your shoes are there. Your helmet isn't in the car. I have three bottles of ice water."


Well now.

I ran in, got my helmet (with the cam on it, making sure the memory card was cleared), searched briefly for my HR strap, gave up, changed into some cooler clothes, and hopped in the car. The Missus peeled out, dumping the clutch at 4k rpm, burning rubber down the street, a cloud of blue-black haze obscuring the cats waving bye.

Okay, that last part didn't happen, but I thought the image was good.

She took an alternate route to the race, following the philosophy that if you don't even hit a certain highway, you can't possibly get stuck in traffic on said highway.

We got to the Rent in good time - curiously enough, we didn't get stuck on a certain highway like we normally do. I changed on the way, using 18 (!?) pins on my number. The more pins I use the better I seem to race, and I only had 18 pins, else I'd have used more.

18 pins.
I could add two more rows of 6 pins, to make an even 30.

I was on the bike pretty quickly after we got there, registered, and went to warm up.

I could barely turn my legs over.

I forced myself to stand up, out of the saddle, and make an "effort". I told SOC about it afterwards, and imagined that I'd done an 800 watt surge, hitting maybe 30 mph.

When I looked at my SRM data, I realized just what kind of a joke the effort really was - it was simply pitiful. I managed to almost break 400 watts, accelerated to a massive speed of 21 mph, and, after 20-odd seconds of effort, sat down, exhausted.

This didn't bode well for the race in a few minutes.

SOC and I briefly met before the race. He wanted to work on his sprinting. See, I told him I wanted to work on my sprint while we were out there on the Cape, try and find some of my lost speed. We only did one set of sprints, maybe six of them total, and, afterwards, I analyzed his sprint. I gave him some tips while we were doing them, but afterward, using the helmet cam footage, I dug into him ruthlessly.

Tonight he wanted to practice his new-found knowledge.

For me, well, my perceived 30 mph surge meant I thought I'd be okay, but my first goal was not to get dropped. After that I'd see how things went.

Now, normally, the Missus and I exchange a good luck kiss before a race. Since we hadn't, when we lined up I pursed my lips and made kissing motions. I started over to her but the race was about to begin - she didn't move.

I decided to roll over to her and as soon as I did, the race started. Committed, we got in our good luck kiss, and I set off, 20 meters behind the field.

A 900 watt (for real, according to Mister SRM) jump later and I integrated into the back of the typically compact field.

The kiss must have done it. After a lap or two I started feeling antsy. Moving up easily, I started feeling better about my legs. My fatigue melted away, and I started feeling that familiar sense of fitness, the deep reserves, the surprising resilience of the legs. Elation replaced Blah.

Although the chief legbreaker, Aidan, was missing from the group, there were a couple others in there. As the race unfolded, I realized that the ratio of legbreakers to pack fodder (like me) had skewed towards the pack fodder side. This meant, if things didn't explode, the field would probably stay together. Or if it didn't, it'd be a huge split, like 10 guys go away, 20 guys chase endlessly.

I decided that I'd be in the front split no matter what. Too often I'd find myself following wheels, sitting behind a few guys chasing half-heartedly, while rider after ride bridged to the front group. Then, suddenly, I'd realize that the front group had 15 riders while my group had 4.

And that'd be the end of my race.

I made it a point to bridge gaps, to work, to pull, to do whatever necessary to keep things together. I'd cajole my legs into one more effort, then, when someone launched a counter attack, beg my tired legs to make just one more effort, to respond to the counter.

They always responded.

I kept getting deeper and deeper into the race. Whenever I found myself with even a little bit of reserve, if someone went, I went too. (Sweat) equity-wise, I was totally committed to the race. I'd done too much work to let a gap go now.

I'd read a future gap in front of me, sometimes half a lap before it happened, and steel myself for the effort. Then, when the inevitable gap finally opened, I'd jump across it, no hesitation, no thoughts of giving up the responsibility to another rider.

I started getting a bit fuzzy mentally. My glasses were a bit cloudy with sweat and water, and I couldn't see all that clearly. My mood turned a bit sour, and my perception of things became such that I took everything literally.

Let me illustrate. On the sprint curve, the course has a left side curb that juts out just a bit. With the wind coming from the right at that point, riders hugged the left side. We'd come close to hitting that curb regularly.

One lap, I felt someone moving up on my inside. I knew he was there and left just enough room for him to clear the curb. But I never turned my head, never acknowledged his presence. It must have made him uncomfortable because, as a precaution, he tapped my hip.

Now, for me, removing a hand is less desirable than a little verbal signal. If I'm in a larger group, I'll call out grates or potholes as opposed to pointing them out. If I point something out and then lose control because I only have one hand on the bars, that's no good.

So when that guy tapped my hip, my response was automatic, although it was delayed a second while my brain processed the words.

"You can just yell, you don't have to touch me."

On the next curb I felt another tap.

This time I looked. A friendly face grinned at me. It wasn't a critical face, nor a hostile one. He went by me and took a long pull, leading the field across part of a gap to the break. He hadn't meant to do anything "negative", but my seriousness hadn't let me realize that.

I had to chill out a bit.

At another point someone bobbled in the final turn. SOC had been following a friendly wheel, but said wheel swerved as a reaction to the bobble, taking him well off the racing line. SOC eased to give him some shelter, but in the process left a big gap.

Who was next in line?

Your truly.

Mentally grumbling, I worked for about 100 meters to close the gap, an effort I really didn't want to make at that point in the race. Later I told SOC that the friendly wheel was perfectly capable of getting back on the wheels, but that leaving a gap made me close it, and it took another effort out of my legs. At the beginning of a race, fine, he could give someone some help. But towards the end of a race, he should worry first about gaps, second about helping someone who was out in the wind.

Nonetheless, as we got into the last 5 laps, I felt pretty good. Solid, like I'd been working, but I could still do more work. As I'd hoped, although guys made a lot of moves, the race had stayed together. Pruned a bit, the field bore down on an expected field sprint.

My legs were twinging though and I felt it better to lead out SOC rather than go for the win on my own. I didn't want to risk committing to going for the win and then cramping in the sprint.

When I figured it was coming up on the bell, I saw SOC move like he wanted to do some work. A couple guys dangled off the front, and they'd be a perfect stepping stone to a big solo effort.

"Let me pull," I hollered.

SOC visibly eased, and I rolled through to the front. Settling into a decent effort, I rolled towards the finish line, expecting the bell.

But no bell. I started doubting myself and checked the lapcard as a last resort.

2 to go.


Well, only one thing to do. Keep going.

I pulled steady, my legs weakening dramatically as they threatened to cramp. My just-under-29 mph steady pull got slower and slower, until I dropped below 25 as we approached the bell. Surprisingly no one came around, and, after letting SOC know I was dead, I pulled off.

I decided to check out the sprint first hand, so I made a quick u-turn, rolled back to the finish area, took off the helmet, and aimed the cam at the field.

As they came out of the last turn, I could see a familiar kit at the front.

SOC was leading it out.

"He's leading it out," I reported.

It was kind of windy. Wind from the left initially, so he'd be giving shelter to whoever was on his wheel. He followed the fencing on the inside, and eventually the wind would be from his right. At that point he'd have the advantage.

But he strayed from the fence, leaving an enormous gap to the inside. Had someone jumped there, they'd have gotten shelter, the shorter line, and probably the race.

The field, though, was strung out, and only one guy could contest the sprint. He'd already committed to the outside. In the wind, unable to get shelter, he nonetheless gained ground on SOC.

SOC needed a boost.

"Yell at him," I told our Missuses, trying not to yell because the helmet cam was about 2 inches from my mouth.

They yelled.

He finished off the long sprint. His challenger faltered.

The Missuses to the right. SOC in the middle.

And SOC won the A race.

I was too tired to even yell right. My mouth screwed up the words. Instead of "Woohoo!", it came out more like "You... Woohoo!"

But that's okay.

What was that about Blahs and Disappointment?

Chalk this one up to Elation.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Racing - Donovan-Ruhlman Naugatuck Crit (Cat 3-4s) Report

So, the end of a vacation, a mini-training camp if you will, a day off, and then a race.

How's that work?

Pretty well, actually.

Over the course of the last week, the Missus and I spent time in the Cape, away from work, and in the company of Mr and Mrs SOC. Although we managed to get in the standard relaxing vacation type stuff, SOC and I trained diligently. We managed to do a long steady day (a near century, followed in quick succession by food, a brief rest, and then a ride with the "girls"), some hard, almost nauseating sprints, and one hard tempo ride. Throw in some easier miles too and you have one complete week of riding.

We got back Saturday before the Ruhlman race (as I think of it - I didn't know the senior Donovan, just his son), and although I'd planned to spin my legs a bit, the long drive, hot weather, cool house, and friendly cats persuaded me to stay off the bike.

Sunday morning I did a quick spin on the bike, we packed the car, and off we went. I prepared four cold bottles, put in an almost full 2 liter bottle of Coke, and one sugared and one un-sugared electrolyte drink. I had the idea that I'd dump one ice water on me prior to the race; I'd carry two on the bike, one in my pocket. The Coke I wanted for before the race. I thought I'd drink the electrolyte drinks afterwards.

To my dismay I realized that I actually felt thirsty on the drive over. I started drinking the sugared electrolyte drink, but it didn't help much. A little worried, I registered (I felt the need to give the highest possible amount of money to the promoters today), got my number, and headed back to the really hot car.

I mean, yeah, I really like the Missus's car, but it was hot like hot hot, like it was temperature hot.

I was sweating bullets pinning my number. Part of it has to do with my ridiculous little pre-race ritual I've set up for myself. It's a combination of Spinal Tap's 11, Joe Parkin's Kermese Rituals, and the fact that I have over 21,000 pins in the basement for Bethel. At some point I just grabbed a bunch of pins floating around and used a bunch to pin on a number.

Now, it's become a ritual.

When I rode horribly with "just" 10 pins at the Keith Berger Crit, I realized that, yes, I had to use more pins.

A whole lotta pins.

I'd actually moved the car before I got ready so we were parked behind a long time friend Mike K. He and I go way back - I first met him when he was literally a kid (as opposed to a teenager). After a long time off the bike he's back, and we traded some old war stories while I got ready.

That helped calm my nerves. When I realized that I'd been there in 1992, worried about George Hincapie (who had flown home early after a poor TTT in the Barcelona Olympics), I realized that, hey, I've been doing this a while. I should be fine.

SOC showed up. We'd done those sprints during our training camp, and he killed me in them. I told him in no unclear terms at the end of that ride that I'd work for him here at Naugatuck. Since he's more used to helping me out (like he did at Bethel) or others (like we both did at a Plainville), he seemed a bit nervous about the prospect of working for himself. I wasn't sure how to calm him down but, unfortunately, the heat and my lack of hydration distracted me from trying to talk to him.

We rolled around the course, me getting a feel for the wind, and talked a little about how I felt it would be played out.

The main straight had a slight tailwind, although at race speeds we'd see some "headwind". The first turn felt good, dry, clean, with lots of traction.

The short downhill straight from the first turn seemed like it always did - really wide, really fast, and just a tad nervous for the much narrower, very fast, somewhat dusty, and very bumpy Turn Two.

There's always been a sweet spot line through Turn Two, but for some reason it seemed that guys turned in too early and either hit the most inside bump or went outside of it. Because of that, I never made it through the turn without at least one decent bump. I thought to myself that I had to go deep inside to clear the bumps, but realized that I'd have to turn in early if I was leading, otherwise I'd leave the inside open and tempt those "late movers" to try and shoot the gap.

It'd be a rough Turn Two I felt, and not just because of the pavement.

The back stretch, as usually, seemed harder than not. A bunch of newer bumps made the road rough going, and the first little rise sapped the power from my legs as it normally did. I thought of the Perma-Patch pavement stuff I had in the red car, the stuff I used at Bethel to patch some holes. I wish I had it here, yesterday - I'd have filled in some of the holes. I have to remember this for next year, if I have any left.

The second rise, an actual little hill like New Britain, emptied my legs on our warm-up laps. I couldn't stay on SOC's wheel without going deep into the red.

Frankly, this worried me.

If I was to help position him for the last lap, I'd need to go up that hill in reasonable shape, else I'd be nowhere on the last lap.

The Final Turn, Turn Three, is a nice hairpin in the dry. At the top of the short hill, it's not a high speed turn, so it's fun. I've had plenty of contact around that turn with no consequences. It's tight, you need to follow the wheel in front, and you can't go too wide or you end up virtually on the curb. One of my first Naugatucks I ended up hitting the outside curb with my wheel while heeled way over - the curb kept me in the road, I stayed upright, and ever since then I've liked that turn.

The thing I don't like about Naugatuck is the long finishing straight. I've yet to sprint down that straight without exploding spectacularly a long way from the line.

When we did sprints a few days earlier, I could jump reasonably well. I'd gotten used to the 170 cranks (coming off the 175s), felt good after some good training and recovery. Problem, for me, was that SOC stayed right with me on my jumps (which, I have to admit, surprised me since my only strength is my jump), and after a long, drawn out acceleration, he'd go roaring around me. After one of those sprints he looked at me and admitted that it "took some doing" to get around me.

If he led out, he simply rode away from me.

Therefore, he'd be better suited to this straight, on this day, than me. Hence I decided it would be best to work for him.

After a lap around the course, I told him what I'd need to do to get him to the last turn in a good spot. I'd have to go on the main straight, at the bell. I'd go through Turn One relatively fast, trying to string out the field. The others should mark me, follow, and not try and come around, since I'd be leading them out. The second turn would be fast, single or double file, and then the hard part would hit me.

I'd have to really crank it down the back stretch, up and over that little rise, then pouring on the gas up the hill to the final turn. With the wind hitting us from the right, I'd have to stay left. If I could make it to the final turn, I'd let SOC sneak by on the inside, otherwise I'd have to wait for a surge to go by before letting him jump on.

SOC mentioned that some other guys were talking of a break. I thought this unlikely, but if others were thinking a break, it'd mean that they'd try and get away. I filed this away for future reference.

I started going crazy with thirst on our second warm up lap. After I told him my quick analysis of the course, I stopped to drink some Coke. It'd be cold, have sugar, caffeine, and liquid. I ended up polishing off over a liter of it, standing there, unable to put down the bottle. I must have needed it so I let myself drink until I was done.

I already had the two bottles on the bike, so I grabbed the big dump bottle and the smaller one for my pocket. One final half lap warm up, a touch more Coke, and I rode to the line. I felt pretty good, the Coke lowering my core temperature a bit, the two ice bottles in my pocket cooling me off some.

At the line I started trickling the dump bottle's contents over my head (careful not to get the ContourHD cam wet), arms, legs, torso. The coldness shocked me at first, but then I wanted it, sitting there in the hot sun.

The Missus came over and gave me my traditional good luck kiss. I told her that I really wanted to carry the dump bottle too. She looked at me - that would mean I'd have four bottles that I may want to ditch before the end of the race.

"Toss the bottles here when you're done, I'll get them," she told me, motioning to the grass.

I nodded as I let another cold stream of water hit me. I took a sip or two, to chill out my tongue, and just before the start, I realized the bottle was empty. I looked over and tossed the bottle. She looked surprised - she expected the bottle in a few laps, not before the race started.

We were off. I spent the first lap getting a feel for the field in general, then moved up when I realized that there were guys gapping off the front already. I wanted to sit at the front, cover moves, and let SOC take it easy. I especially wanted to cover breaks, discouraging them.

For probably the first 15 laps I did just that, covering moves, sitting at the front, even going off the front a bit. I followed wheels mainly, took some reasonable pulls, and capped off my initial bit of work with a small move off the front.

Properly exploded, I eased back a bit. I'd been nursing my bottles (all three had plain ice water, for mainly dumping) and had barely finished one by 15 laps in. I got a bit more aggressive with the bottles - I'd finish the other two in the next 10 laps.

Tip: when carrying a third bottle, leave it in your jersey until you empty one caged bottle. Then toss the empty caged bottle and put the jersey pocket bottle into the cage. Like a buffoon I'd been trying to use the jersey pocket bottle first, and it made for some awkward "stuffing the bottle back into the jersey" moments.

After a few laps of recovery I moved up again. No breaks had made it, I'd chased a few, and I felt the stage was set for exactly the finish I envisioned - a field sprint, opened up by yours truly.

I stayed near the front for the last few laps. At some point we approached Turn One as everyone slowed. I had been sitting near the front, and we all naturally flared out, going from single/double file out to a curb-to-curb formation. I realized there were about four or five riders to each side of me thinking of fighting for position, and I took the responsibility to surge, string it out, and lead through the first turn.

Wow. I never do that.

The other guys must have wondered if I felt really good, because I never do this stuff. I normally back off a little to save my legs, but I didn't want to make too many efforts before leading out SOC, and I wanted to maintain my position at the sharpest bit of the pack.

Unfortunately, with folks fighting back there for position, SOC never got up to me. As we approached the bell, I sat at the front and kept looking back, trying to spot him so I could give him at least an encouraging glance.

Luckily, leading out doesn't necessarily mean "with the sprinter on the wheel", especially if the leadout man felt uncertain about making it to a good drop off point. I'm no Renshaw, and I wouldn't be able to hold position until 200 meters to go. I'd explode earlier, 250 meters at best, 350 meters if I got too nervous. If that's the case, it'd be better for SOC to be a few wheels back.

With my fatigue-blurred vision, I couldn't spot SOC, but I gambled he was there. As we came up to the bell, guys started making moves.

And I started going.

I pulled pretty hard into and around Turn One. I wasn't going crazy - I wouldn't be able to, and I'd only go crazy if SOC was just behind me. So with the throttle eased back a bit, we approached Turn Two.

I had to pull the field back up to a Navone rider unfortunately, who'd tried to bridge to a solo rider. I had to string out the field, and that meant I had to go fast enough, and that meant bringing back any moves going slower.

On the back stretch, just as we hit the bottom of the hill, I realized that I was cooked. I never made an insane effort, and I felt glad that SOC hadn't made it to my wheel. If he had, I'd have ended up dumping him in the wind too early, and I'd have ruined his finish.

I saw a bit of sidewalk even with the road, and after checking my 7 o'clock, I quickly moved left onto it. Properly out of the way, I sat up, hoping SOC could work some magic with what little I gave him.

I looked up just in time to see a bunch of riders toppling over, including some guys that were very close to the front.

Anxiously I scanned the jerseys for SOC, but he wasn't there - he'd made it through. Everyone looked and sounded fine - one guy was trying to yank his bike clear of a very expensive carbon wheel without thinking of the consequences to said wheel. The wheel owner, though, quickly and firmly reminded the guy that, hey, this wheel costs a lot of money, and you don't need to break it to get your 50th place.

Well, 52nd place. Because I rolled around them and got awarded 51st for my troubles, rolling in well after the field.

The Missus, seeing SOC but not me, sent Mike K out for a recon lap to make sure I wasn't on the ground. Not knowing this, when I spotted her, I pointed towards the coolers - I need to sit and dissipate some of this heat energy I'd generated. When she walked up, Mike had already found me, and she reported that she felt SOC got about 14th. This seemed similar to my Harlem, where I got 14th after navigating through a crash. She'd counted my place perfectly then too.

SOC found me there, looking none too happy. He'd been expecting a lot from himself, and disappointingly hadn't broken inside the top 6 or so. But he felt he was up there. He'd come out of the turn pretty far back, having navigated around the beginning of the crash. He sprinted all the way to the line, a long, long way, and managed to pass a lot of guys.

I thought about the sprint, how I always falter halfway there. I asked him if the effort felt like that "Took some doing" sprint, and he grinned and nodded. That's why I wanted him to sprint - because he had a better sprint for this long finishing stretch. He could jump just as hard as I could but I couldn't go for more than 200 meters. He could. Ultimately the results confirmed a 13th place.

Now, that may not sound like a lot to most of you out there, but for me, at Naugatuck? I don't think I've ever placed that well personally. So for me, it was a success.

The four of us left for some food, our respective Missuses both starving (as were we). Disappointingly there are few races left on the calender, but I'm looking forward to those we have left. I felt good in the race, rode near the front for most of it, worked like mad, and felt good about how the day turned out.

Now for the next race. Booyah!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Racing - The Stage 11 Leadout

*Disclaimer: I'm neither an official, nor a ProTour racer.*

I watched Stage 11 "live" on Versus (I was watching it in the evening but didn't know how it turned out except that Renshaw had been tossed out for headbutting). With a tailwind finish after a mainly downhill stage, and lots and lots of teams lining it up for final run into town, it seemed like a great sprint in the making.

GC teams hit the front, anxious to keep their contenders in front of the initial melee for wheels. Then the sprinters' teams came forward, each trying to out race the other to the line. At one point Lampre, Columbia-HTC, and Garmin all had riders lined up at the front.

Then, in the closing moments of the sprint, things went a bit egg-shaped.

(Note: this is all from memory, so feel free to correct me if I get something wrong.)

Bernard Eisel, the second-last leadout man for Columbia-HTC, pulled off. A momentary pause and then Mark Renshaw, the final leadout man, started going. He seemed a bit out of it, frankly, almost stunned - he looked around like "Oh, right, let's get on with it".

He quickly got on it though, and got on the gas.

Meanwhile, Garmin-Transition's Julian Dean, his team's final leadout man, was putting in a superlative effort to move his sprinter Tyler Farrar up. He came roaring up the right side, and, to me, started coming across onto Renshaw like Dean was trying to introduce Renshaw to the fencing. Like, right now.

Now, on camera, even from the sky, it looked pretty innocuous. A foot or two of movement doesn't seem like a bit deal, but it can be if you're the one on the fencing side. Depending on where the other riders are, a foot of lateral movement can be deadly. But if you're clear of the other riders, a foot or two of movement is okay.

So, if I'm actually clear of the riders who were next to me a moment ago, it's okay to move over that foot or two. In fact, in the Keith Berger Crit in East Hartford, I moved over about 10 feet on the main straight, launching myself after a counter-attack. I was just clear of the riders between me and the attack, and no one said a word (or touched a brake) when I made my move.

But if I'd moved over just a second or two earlier, I'd have taken out the front part of the field.

In a more ProTour moment, Petacchi moves violently sideways when launching his sprint in Stage 1. From the front it looked really dangerous, but from above, not really. Lateral movement by itself isn't bad - it's when there's someone next to you that it's not good.

Movement is relative, and racers will move given some free space.

The problem is that Dean was moving over and he'd barely pulled even with Renshaw. If Renshaw didn't do a thing, Dean would have contacted Renshaw's right arm/shoulder pretty hard. When sprinting hard, that kind of contact compromises bike control. The goal for any rider in that situation would be to avoid said contact.

Renshaw, at this point, had four major options.

1. Take right hand and put it against Dean's side.
2. Brake or otherwise slow down.
3. Move left.
4. Headbutt Dean.

Let's look at these options in a bit more detail.

Right Hand

You see this all the time in Cat 3 crits - someone puts a hand on an intruding hip and claims some space for his front wheel sphere.

If Renshaw took a hand off the bar, that's immediate grounds for disqualification. It's simply illegal to remove a hand from the bars to contact another rider, even for "self defense" purposes. A long time ago, when Hincapie contested field sprints, he put his hand up to keep a guy from taking out his front wheel. Although Hincapie placed inside the top 10 in the sprint (I think he was 7th in a Tour stage, or maybe it was his win in a Tour du Pont stage), he was immediately relegated to last place in the pack. A shocked Hincapie exclaimed that he was just trying to stay upright, but the officials would have nothing to do with it.

In addition, with one hand off the bars, the racer gives up some control. We can debate how much this would affect a ProTour racer like Renshaw. He's never simply fallen over (who can forget Dean falling over by himself, unmolested, leading out Hushovd). And as a good sprinter in his own right, he probably has some decent balance. Other sprinters definitely have some incredible skills in a sprint, like Tom Steels, who managed to throw a bottle at another rider in the middle of a 40 mph melee. Yes, he moved off his line some during the wind up and ensuing follow through, but no, no one crashed. And as far as I know, he hit his target.

Regardless, the hand off the bar is almost never an option.

Therefore the hand up is not an option.

Brake or Slow Down

Well, with less than 400 meters to go, a leadout man should not have to slow down because another rider is veering at him like a guided missile.

As a pro paid to help his team win races, this is the last option, if it comes up at all. He has to feel in imminent danger of crashing before he'll even start thinking about brakes.

So no braking, no slowing down, at least not until he expends every other option.

Move Left

Although Renshaw could have moved left to avoid Dean, Dean's line would have taken Renshaw to the fence.

With that in mind, it's hard to justify moving left - it's like a matador dropping his cape. Moving left is the last, desperate move Renshaw would make to stay upright. It may be like Baden Cooke's move to avoid Bettini in a particularly ugly sprint in the Giro. Cooke went down at full speed, and although Bettini was relegated (but not ejected, even after he dumped champagne on the podium for his pink jersey ceremony), Cooke couldn't be awarded the win. It's a lose-lose situation if you try and avoid the rider cutting you off.

With the typical result of moving left, Renshaw simply couldn't select that choice unless he was on the verge of falling.


The first time I saw a headbutt, I thought, "Holy smolies, that guy's gonna be so disqualified!". It's a spectacular move, highly illegal in all sorts of sports (boxing comes to mind, and football - the American kind - as well).

On bikes, though, headbutts aren't quite the violent maneuver it looks like. With oodles of foam protecting each rider's head, and a relatively unstable launch base for impact type moves, road racing headbutts resemble a tap on the shoulder rather than a rock to the head.

(I could see how, in the old bare-headed days, headbutts could be illegal.)

Headbutts also avoid the dreaded "hand off the bars". Riders use headbutts to indicate that another rider got a bit too close. They have to be too close - headbutts have very limited range, much more so than an arm or even an elbow. I don't know about you, but you'd have to be awfully close to me for me to be able to headbutt you.

I have to admit that I've never thrown a headbutt, although I've cozied up to aggressive racers by digging into them with my shoulder. Personally I find knocking my head around a bit dizzying. It seems that some ProTour sprinters can throw headbutts with no balancing issues.


Obviously Renshaw chose the last option. He headbutted Dean, firmly, three times. It seems excessive now, and I think that after the first, maybe the second, that was enough.

At this point, we've dealt with the initial situation. Dean moved in on Renshaw and Renshaw retaliated. BOTH riders should be relegated for this event: Renshaw for his extra headbutt, Dean for his line deviation.

However, it doesn't stop there.

Second Event

Although I haven't read too many articles analyzing the sprint, few distinguish between the Renshaw/Dean event and the Renshaw/Farrar event. They are two separate things and should be treated as such.

As the Renshaw/Dean event played out, Cavendish decided to get the heck out of Dodge. He launched early and hard, striking out for the line. In fact, he went so early that Renshaw looked plenty frisky - he started doing a little sprint of his own, not so hard, but still an out of saddle effort.

Then, although he denies it, he must have seen Farrar. He may not have known it was Farrar, but he couldn't have missed the front wheel. I mean, yeah, he's focused on Cavendish going away, but he can't be totally oblivious to his surroundings.

His goal now would be to make himself as wide as possible, to make it a little more difficult for others to pass him.

Unfortunately, he makes a poor choice. He very well could have accelerated slowly, somewhat erratically, looking fatigued and wobbly. But he accelerates smoothly, appearing under 100% control, and...

Veers left.

Tyler Farrar, Garmin's designated sprinter, happens to be moving up Renshaw's left side. Farrar has to move all the way to the barriers to avoid Renshaw, but Renshaw keeps coming. Farrar then puts his hand out (he chose differently from Renshaw) and gives Renshaw a nudge. Renshaw immediately moves to the right a bit, and Farrar goes through the gap, albeit it a bit slower and way too late.

Now we have a second event.

Renshaw was definitely at fault here. He moved over smoothly and consistently, until Farrar nudged him. Renshaw looked like he had full control of his bike.

Farrar technically should have been DQ'ed for taking his hand off the bars and contacting another rider. I could see how a judge may use some judgment (pun intended) and allow that contact to occur free of penalty. Hincapie may have been DQ'ed for doing the same thing, but to me the spirit of the law is that you can't go around hitting people. Defensive moves should be okay.

In my scenario Dean has committed one foul, that of moving across Renshaw's line. This is a dangerous move to make at that point in the sprint. He should have been disqualified, perhaps relegated to last in that bunch.

Renshaw has committed two fouls. One is an excessive headbutt or two. The other is moving into Farrar's line. Of the two, the move into Farrar is by far the more dangerous move. Of course it is - I just pointed out in the previous paragraph that that kind of move is dangerous.

For the first foul, he should be warned or fined, or, if the rules state it, relegated. For the second he should have been relegated to last in the bunch.

Farrar commits one foul in self defense. Although the rules would indicate that he should be penalized, I think he never violated the spirit of the law. He should not be penalized, and his third place should stand.

Obviously it's been a while since the stage finished and the officials levied their penalties. Dean got away scot free after committing an egregious foul. Such a move should not be tolerated because although Dean may not be the ultimate leadout man anymore (Thor said he was, back in the days when Dean fell over by himself), Renshaw is acknowledged to be one. If Renshaw started pulling those lateral moves regularly, it'd make for really dangerous riding.

Renshaw, for his part, also moved over, but after his contact with Dean. He should not be allowed to get away with that.

Farrar is an unfortunate victim of his leadout man's judgment. If Dean had only held his line, or even moved over to the right to keep Cavendish clear of any draft, Farrar could have gone head to head with Cav. It seems unlikely that Farrar would have won, but he'd have given second place a much better fight.

Ironically Farrar dropped out the next day. And Cavendish, I'm sure motivated beyond comprehension due to the loss of Renshaw, slayed all in the field sprint behind Vino.

Karma is a b*tch as they say. And although I don't hold anything against any particular racer in my amateurish analysis of the Stage 11 sprint, the Stage 12 field sprint seemed... appropriate.

The last stage ought to be good.

But for now we'll have to deal with some climbing. Or rather, we'll have to deal with the Tour racers deal with some climbing. Me, I won't be dealing with climbing, just a grass roots Cat 3-4 crit in Naugatuck.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Helmet Cam - June 12, 2010 New Britain Crit

I've finally managed to get to editing the Nutmeg State Games clip. I had to review the clip while on-site at the race, and I was extremely disappointed with how dirty the lens got in the second or third lap (it was raining and there was dirt/mud on the course). I backed up the clip (in now four places) and forgot about it.

While off from work this week, I decided to go through some of my clips and try and get them into some kind of presentable form. I looked at the Nutmeg clip first since I was curious exactly what I did on the last lap. To my surprise, the clip was surprisingly clear, considering the cam was unusable for two days following the event.

In case you didn't know, I felt very uncomfortable (i.e. scared) in the first two of the three bends on the course. I forgot that I felt really good and wanted to sit near the front, because the safest place to be on a wet course is either at the front or at the back.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) I almost rode off the course on all three bends, tires sliding everywhere, even getting that familiar gut-clenching, "I'm about to crash" feel, and I decided that I shouldn't be near the front.

In order to stay safe (both me and everyone around me), I sat at the back of the field for the whole race. This meant that I had to wait until after the second bend to move up, on the very last lap.

And that's what I did.

I describe the race in font here. And in images below.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Training - Cape Cod, The Long Ride

We'd talked about doing a long ride today, but I never thought we'd actually go through with it, not to the extend that we did. I tend to suffer from heavy legs when thinking about an early start to a long ride. But with SOC's impetus, my normal "ride lethargy" seemed to dissipate just a bit. After a 5:30 wake up call (my cell phone beeping), we set off on a planned 80 or so mile ride.

Since SOC does the navigating - the iPhone defaults him to "navigator" - I really had no idea where we'd be going. Okay, fine, we'd be heading compass east then north, up the forearm of the Cape, but other than that... I had no idea what would happen. We wanted to take the Rail Trail since the regular roads have virtually no shoulder. The Cape is like kind of like Europe (except the Cape developed without any thought for bikes) - pressed for space, with short sight lines, and extremely narrow roads.

Based on the dimensions of our local 1600 car per day road (based on a CT DOT report on traffic in my home town done earlier this year), I figure that most roads around here are 20-22 feet wide. It's more normal to have 28 foot roads, or something like that. Anyway, with shoulder only a few inches wide, we tried to stay on the Rail Trail network.

(In comparison the 14,000 car per day road near our house has shoulders that measure three to four feet in width, and it's similar to Route 6 out here in the Cape.)

The ride out was fast and uneventful. With a pretty good tailwind, a shaded Rail Trail (from the low sun), and virtually no traffic, we made good time for the first 30 or so miles. SOC did most of the pacing, holding a much more even pace than I ever would. I usually blow myself up going over hills, struggle to recover, and repeat ad nauseum. SOC never went too hard on the hills but he'd maintain his relentless metronomic pace on the flats.

Before I realized it, we'd gotten out to a lighthouse that he's blogged about, our (his) planned ultimate turn around point.

I think we'd covered about 40 miles, so this meant we'd be looking at an 80 mile ride. After a pause to take in the views (and rest the legs), we pow-wowed a bit. Both of us felt pretty good, our legs felt fine, so we decided to strike out towards Provincetown. It'd add at least 12 miles overall, bringing us precariously close to the century mark.

Now that we were out of the shaded Rail Trail, we started draining our bottles quickly. I thought of the older version of Pro Cycling Manager game where the riders have a blue bar that, to me, represents their hydration level. You recharge it by drinking a bottle.

Our blue bars were down to the bottom, and in Pro Cycling Manager, if you neglect the rider too long, he starts blinking in a desperate attempt to grab your attention.

I felt like I was getting to that point.

(On a side note, I realized that unless I was on vacation, I simply did not have time to play the game, so my 2007 season in that game froze in the early part of the season, shortly after I wrote the post on the game - I haven't played it since shortly after my post on the game.)

Anyway, with my rider icon screaming for help, we stopped at a small convenience store to replenish our stock of water and electrolytes. I skipped food because I had started the ride with two Balance bars and two Powerbars ("Energy"), and I figured those would get me through the ride.

I had to apologize to the girl manning the counter for my soggy money, but apparently it didn't phase her. I used the front steps to fill my bottles, and when I went back inside to get rid of the empties, noticed the sign "Do not sit on steps".


The folks inside were all friendly though, so I figured they were letting me slide for now. Properly restocked, we set off towards P-Town.

With the sun up high, unshaded roads, and the temperatures rising rapidly, I struggled to maintain pace. Most of the time we'd average around 19-20 mph on the flats, but now it seemed to take a bunch of effort.

P-Town was not super busy - it was still pretty early in the morning for a vacation town (I could tell because delivery trucks still rolled down the one way drag). We checked out some sights (a Lamborghini was my favorite), called the girls at home, and got on our way back pretty quickly. We'd used up a lot of time heading out here and wanted to make it back at some reasonable time in the afternoon.

Lamborghini, passing us outside of P-Town. We first saw it in town.

Although I'd taken a few pulls on the way up, after leading the way out of P-Town my legs basically turned off. I had to rely on SOC to pull us most of the way back home, battling a strong, consistent headwind out on the roads.

Our 12 mile jaunt to and from P-Town used up everything we'd bought at that convenience store, so we dropped by there again, I'm sure to the amusement of the folks working there. This time I made sure I didn't sit on the front steps, I knew where to get rid of the empties, and we left with smiles and farewells.

Okay, no farewells, just smiles.

My legs started really faltering, and SOC had to ask to make sure the pace agreed with what reserves I had left. We set out on Route 6, a big road with a big shoulder. Next to the Rail Trail this was the best road we rode on, simply because we had space between us and the cars.

I even managed a pull or two, but I'd gotten to that delicate balancing point where I had to replenish myself frequently or face the dreaded bonk. I started feeling weak and knew I was on the edge - so when I spotted a Mobil station, my morale rose. Mobil stations, with a little store area, meant cold Gatorade, and I signaled to turn in. We staggered into the tiny station and got blasted by not one but two air conditioners.

I felt tempted to hang out in there like SOC, but I knew that the longer I stayed there the worse it'd feel when we got going. Again I had to apologize for the soggy money, but the girl behind the counter cheerfully admitted that she'd seen much worse, from the fishermen. Their money wasn't just soggy, it was soggy with ocean water.

I went outside to down the Gatorade I'd bought (I still had water). Apparently we must have made an impression on the clerk there because she came out to watch us get back on our bikes and wish us a good ride. Either that or someone outside needed her help. But whatever, her grin and little wave was a nice send off for the final part of our trip.

Ironically her last words for us were, "Watch out for those crazy drivers!" I guess it isn't just us.

We got back on the Rail Trail, but the cool shade I'd been looking forward to had been replaced with blazing hot sun. The sun left the wrong side of the trail in shade so we had to ride much of the way in the brilliant sunshine. Great if it's winter. Not so great if it's hot, humid, and you're trying to get home.

I really deferred to SOC here, with all my systems starting to go into emergency reserve mode. I'd find my attention wandering so much that I'd end up 10 meters off of his wheel. I'd have to catch up (or he'd notice and sit up), and a few minutes later the same thing would happen.

Our final stop came at a little store (it took me about 5 seconds to comprehend that SOC was asking if I wanted to stop for a bit), where I downed my last bottle of cold Gatorade. The cold drinks felt really good on this very hot day. I seem to relearn this on each of my long, hot rides, and I tried to make a mental note that on hot days I should drink cold drinks.

Makes sense, right?

I found some time to do a Pro Fit on an future racer too. His dad asked if we had wrenches - he wanted to raise his son's seat. I raised it "an inch" (it was more like two), and then asked if his son was around. He trotted off into the store, and I saw him returning with a pretty tall kid.

"He's gonna need his seat higher than this," I mumbled to SOC, and I quickly raised the seat a bit.

See, kids tend to agree that whatever seat height you set is "good", and they'll decline to have it adjusted more. I'd underestimated the height by about half an inch, maybe an inch, but he looked fine with the height. The kid also looked really hot and tired so I didn't want to push it - his dad probably didn't help when he uttered the words "Baby steps - one step at a time". But I felt I'd done my civic duty and we packed up and went on our way.

The rest of the ride went by pretty quickly. We stayed on the Rail Trail, and even our "easy" pace was quick relative to the other users. We took it easy, waiting behind families and such, but nonetheless we kept busy passing others.

I thought of ourselves as the "Naughty Cars" in Cars (as my sister-in-law called Wingo, Boost, DJ, and Snot Rod) as we rolled down the path (warning - the Pixar site talks to you). We were constantly passing other riders, returning to the right side of the path, then passing another group of riders.

I thought about one of the last last Rents I did, when some of the guys came out from the local shop. The owner hadn't seen a race, and he was astounded by the speed of the A race.

I have to admit that I was too, kind of, since I came off the back.

But that day he realized that although I have some speed when I ride with the group from the shop, in the world of racing I'm, as they say, "not all that".

Likewise, on the Rail Trail, although we were rolling by the others while sometimes literally coasting, we weren't all that.

"We're like really big fish in a goldfish bowl", I told SOC, after one of our numerous passes.

We finally made it back home, about 95 miles under our tires, where our respective Missuses (sp?) had prepared a great lunch. SOC and I ate our fill and sat down to relax "a bit" before our second ride.

Although we'd planned on doing a ride with all four of us together right after our long ride, the girls decided (correctly) that we'd be a bit tired. I would have argued the point at first, but when the Missus shook me awake a few hours later (I fell asleep on a couch), I realized that I really needed that break.

We kitted back up, prepped the bikes, and set off for a nice closer ride. The heat had dissipated, with a sprinkle of raindrops cooling us off at the start. We set off for a short out and back ride, the four of us in a little TTT. Unfortunately the traffic increased proportionately to the drop in temperature, so we spent the whole ride getting passed by cars.

Luckily it all worked out. Towards the end I suddenly hit the wall, bonking, so weak I could barely hold 100 watts. The Missus had just scampered off, the spirit of the moment grabbing her. SOC looked at me and, in his Phil voice, asked, "Well, are you coming or not, and the answer is..."

I didn't move.


I think SOC realized that I was deep in the hurt bucket when I didn't even turn my head.

Mrs SOC made a counter move, SOC went with her, and after they bridged, I saw the Missus drift back. She had a big grin on her face - she'd not only made the ride but she had the energy to let the spirit of the attack take her. She'd sat up when SOC told her that I was hurting.

She and I rolled back home, distanced by Team SOC.

I staggered into the house and started eating. I had a piece of peach pie. And another piece. And a hamburger. And a hotdog. A quart of Powerade. Chicken. Veggies.

A glass of wine.

And a small bowl of ice cream, plunked down in front of me by SOC.

We watched the Tour.

And things were good.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Training - Cape Cod - Bunnies, Bruises, and Brushes

Today signaled the first day on the Cape. As noted yesterday, I really wanted to work on my sprint. I haven't done much sprinting in training, and I want to correct that. I haven't been able to replicate the sprint workouts I used to do on Summer Street, and those were a substitute for the now-gone Tuesday Night Sprints at SUNY Purchase.

SOC and I took off on a 2+ hour ride, something reasonable, a normal day after the crit yesterday. SOC had been taking it easy so he had some fresh legs; I felt okay too, since I hadn't made any major efforts Sunday.

So, with a very modest ride planned, I skipped bringing even gloves. We rolled out with no real expectations, a JRA kind of ride.

At some point I looked back and spotted a rider rolling up to us. I let SOC know that someone was chasing us. We didn't say anything else, but we both waited for the catch.

The rider rolled by us and SOC mischievishly shifted up and grabbed the wheel. I followed suit, grabbing SOC's wheel, and we set off.

Our rabbit hadn't read about the "California Passing Rule", the one where you don't pass unless you know you can hold the pace for a while, like 20 or 30 minutes. He slowed a bit, then turned off.

SOC, his competitive juices flowing, kept the higher pace.

The first unexpected thing happened when a little bunny hopped across the road in the middle of one of the small towns dotting the Cape. Although there are bunnies in Connecticut, I haven't seen any recently so it was nice to see one.

Bunny on the sidewalk. I see them all over - they're to the area like squirrels are at home. Hopping squirrels.

Then we got passed by a truck with a forklift on the back, a big, lumpy thing that makes for a great draft. I made a split second decision to go, didn't have a breath to warn SOC, and jumped after the truck.

I shifted, jumped again, and then, as I wound up my sprint, suddenly I was skating on my right foot, my left knee smashing into the stem. After a bit of a wobbly, I reclipped into the pedal, noticing the chain had dropped off the chainring. I tried to pick up the chain by shifting into the small but the cranks wouldn't turn. I knew that may indicate something more serious so I started looking for a turn off.

On the next road I turned right, stopped, and checked the chain. It'd gotten wedged between the small cog (a 12T) and the frame. I had to take the wheel off to unwedge it. I double checked the limit screw and found it felt a bit loose. I'll have to put some Loctite or something on it. In the meantime I adjusted everything properly.

I'd bruised my thigh pretty well, with temporary red welts showing exactly where I'd hit the stem and bars. My knee started to stiffen up a bit, and suddenly my motivation to ride hard started to ebb.

Before I could get back into the whole "hammer on the ride" mode, we had another close call. A gray pickup decided to pass us on a curve and stayed quite close to us.

In fact, he got really, really close to SOC.

As close as it gets.

I can't believe he passed that closely, but SOC shrugged it off, literally. It's a good thing too, because if he didn't shrug, the truck would have hit him. As the truck started to pass him, he instinctively dropped his shoulder, stuck his knee out, and swung swung right.

When we reached our turn around point, SOC asked if I wanted to ride back on the Rail Trails or on the road. I thought he was crazy to ask, after our ride out (on allegedly quiet roads). I chose the Rail Trails option.

Although a lot more peaceful, we had to deal with a lot of intersections. Curiously enough, as "non-road-users", we got a lot more respect. At points where the Rail Trails crossed the road, cars would literally screech to a stop to let us cross. What they didn't know is that we're supposed to wait.

So at each road crossing we'd stop, the cars would stop, and the drivers would wave us across. We'd wave our thanks and continue on our way.

I suppose it's a good thing that the drivers feel the need to yield to the Rail Trails crossings. Ignorance about various traffic laws works both ways. I'd prefer that drivers give room to cyclists (and, for the most part, they do), but I think it's nice that the Rail Trails users seem to have benefited from this lack of knowledge. The users there tend to be more recreational, less able to fend for themselves on the open road, and therefore it seems fitting that cars give way to them.

When the Missus saw me, after the ride, she asked what that welt was on my chest. Apparently I hit it when I kneed my stem. So it was a bit more of an impact than I realized.

Hopefully tomorrow's ride is a bit more uneventful.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Racing - 2010 New Britain Crit, Cat 3s

Way back when, like earlier this year, I pre-registered for the New Britain Crit. Someone commented that they saw that I pre-reg'ed for the crit, and when I went to BikeReg, I saw there was exactly one Category 3 racer on the confirmed rider list.


So, yeah, it's kind of showing my hand early. I'm no Contador, no Cavendish, and definitely not a Cancellara. I'm not in the habit of pointing to the stands past the outfielders to the spot where I'll hit the ball.

But, on some random night, while on BikeReg, I registered for the race. And before I realized what I was doing, I hit "confirm" or whatever makes it irreversible.

And it became obvious that this was an A race on my calender.

Of course, once I registered, I had to do the race. I hoped for a dry day, one without too much heat, hopefully without too much humidity. The Nutmeg Games worked for me in the rain, but that was a desperate race for me, but I'd rather have an honest dry race, not a scary wet one.

The other thing was that we'd be going to the Cape from the race, so we had to ready and pack for a week of cycling and other pursuits of happiness. We'd be bringing a tandem, the Missus's bike, my bike (of course), three pairs of HED wheels, and all the regular stuff you take for a week of vacation. This also meant some fiddling with the roof rack, which we'd installed the day before with a few imperfections (skewers on wrong side, rear hatch wouldn't open with tandem rack in place).

Properly stressed out, I realized I had to swap the bike trays anyway, so I got the skewers aligned properly. I hadn't thought of the tandem rack until we went to put the tandem on it - that we'd do at the race.

We got everything packed up a bit late and headed off to the race. The Missus drove a bit tentatively at first, the tandem swaying a bit. But once we realized it did that on the Honda, and it was good up to Vermont at normal interstate speeds, we resumed our normal driving habits.

(And our car, loaded with three bikes on a roof rack, went from about 41 mpg to about 32 or so).

By the time we got to the race I was skirting with hunger and dehydration, but I felt that I'd be okay if we started at the scheduled time of 11:30 AM. Unfortunately the races were running late. We'd skipped a big cooler of bottles and such, and I started regretting that decision. I had no food, no water beyond the three bottles for the bike, and I was getting hungry and thirsty.

The Missus procured two bottles of water for me, which I promptly used to replenish my supplies.

Honestly I was getting a bit bonky, getting a bit dizzy and light headed. I needed some sugar fast, and asked the Missus if they were selling Cokes nearby.

Dave H, our illustrious leader, came to my aid with a couple GUs (I declined the bar he offered because I sometimes get stomach cramps on that particular bar).

With a relatively small field - 54 racers - I decided to keep an eye out for any promising breaks. A two man move went clear at the gun, and they hung out there for a while. I told myself that if the gap started to increase that I'd try and bridge, but the break never broke the elastic. Dangling in front of the field, the break tantalized everyone nicely, and the field never eased. After a good 5 to 7 laps the break came back.

No other moves worked too well. Looking around I could see a lot of sprinters, a lot of fast finishers. I felt pretty confident that they wouldn't let a break get away, and the sprinters kind of neutralize themselves. See, if you have 12 sprinters looking at each other, and one of them takes off, at least one other will follow. When two sprinters take off, more will follow, and presto! You have the field back together.

The whole race I felt kind of spaced out, like I wasn't totally there. I'm not sure if it was the lack of sugar, lack of caffeine, or what, but I never felt "with it". I wasn't sure how to shake myself into it. Ultimately I couldn't do anything - I went into the finale with the same feeling of disconnectedness.

At 5 to go I sat at the back, like I had for most of the race. I didn't want to start making efforts and then cramp, and I figured the field wouldn't break apart in the last few laps.

At 2 to go I started thinking of moving up, and did some work to get near the front. But I never got the rush that I normally get, and I started wondering how I'd do. I hoped that I'd do well, but I had no idea what would happen.

At 1 to go I was pretty close to the front. Like Phil and Paul sometimes shout out in excitement, there was "no organization in the peloton". The front of the field shuffled around, all these guys up there that wanted to win for themselves.

The moves started shooting off the front. I wanted to make a move up the hill, then down that stretch before the last turn, catch my breath as we swept into the final straight, then launch for the sprint.

Problem was that I didn't commit on the hill. I did a half hearted effort to move up a bit, then got blocked initially on the short straight to the final turn. I could have gone harder once I got through the traffic, but, once again, I didn't dig deep at all.

I swept into the final turn knowing I was on the wrong side of the field - I'd be shielding everyone from the wind, while I took it all on my front quarter.

I watched as the racers in front of me started launching their sprints. I watched their commitment, their absolute drive.

And I just watched them. Watched them ride away from me.

Yeah, I jumped.

Yeah, I got up to speed.

But did I ever sprint, like really sprint?



I don't know.

After the race we had some lunch with the Missus's parents. Her mom asked me if my lungs or my legs gave out first. I thought about it and said it was my lungs (at least in a crit - it's different on a 100 mile ride). I realized later that it's always the lungs - it's why cyclists work on their aerobic systems, not their muscular ones (one?).

I filed that one away for further reference.

We set off for the Cape, a long 3+ hour drive (with yours truly navigating). Sitting in the passenger seat I started flexing my legs, probing for any soreness. I wanted to see if my answer made sense. The Missus gave me one of those "what are you doing?" looks, and I told her I was seeing if my legs were tired.

"Are they?"

So, yes, my lungs give out before my legs.

After some unplanned scenic detours (again, courtesy yours truly), we got to the Cape, a "lot late".

I want to do some training, and now I had something I wanted to work on - the sprint. I'll have a few days to make the efforts, and then, after a day or so of recovery, a test.

See you there.

My New Britain Crit pin job. The Missus had to fix it for me to get it to this state.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Equipment - How to "Do" Aero Wheels

Okay, yeah, you really want some of those sexy carbon aero wheels. The pros use them all the time, they go really fast, and they make a really cool "whoosh-whoosh" noise when you sprint on them.

So you just buy them, right?


The following is a mini dissertation on how to approach buying those sexy carbon aero wheels. It's my ideal way of getting the best aero return for the buck while maintaining "bike handling fluency". Since aero wheels handle a bit differently than non-aero wheels, it benefits everyone if you get on the bike and feel totally at home when you have an aero front wheel.

This whole thing helps you from looking ridiculous in your first race on your "race wheels". At one of the early Bethel Spring Series races, perhaps even the first one ever, a guy unveiled his precious new aero wheels for their trial by fire - his first ride on them would be in a mass start race. He floundered at the back in the (typical Bethel) extremely gusty conditions, unable to handle the wind hitting his front wheel. He finally crashed himself out, breaking some bone/s in his body. He threatened to sue (he was a lawyer) because, well, I'm not sure why.

Eventually someone talked him out of suing everyone involved. Can you imagine the testimony?

"Well, your Honor, I, um, just fell over."
"You 'just' fell over?"
"Well, the wheels caused me to fall over."
"So you filed a suit against the race promoter?"
"Well, he let me race the wheels."
"You said earlier though that he uses the same wheels too. Did he fall over in his race?"
"No, but he trains on them!"
"And you don't?"


See, that's what this post is about - you need to train on equipment that you'll use in the race. Racers spend some good amount of time making sure they have the right position on the bike, the right shoe alignment on the pedals, stuff like that. They also need to make sure they feel comfortable with their bike as it would be set up on race day. If it means using an aero front wheel, then it means the racer should feel comfortable on an aero front wheel.

Now, let's take a little detour and talk about tubulars and clinchers. If there were no functional differences between the two, my recommendation would be to get an aero clincher wheelset and be done with it. But there are a couple differences, enough to convince me to spend a bunch of money to buy tubulars.

I prefer to use tubular tires in races - they're lighter overall (as a system, not necessarily the tire itself), they don't pinch flat, and tend to be very durable for a given weight. Tubular tires don't need much rim material for support, so the wheels can weigh a lot less. It's typical to see over a pound difference between matching tubular and clincher wheelset weights.

On the other hand, I prefer clinchers when I train. They're cheaper if I flat ($7 for a tube versus $80 for a standard race quality tubular tire). Clinchers are easier to change. With furious pumping, it's possible to change a tube in under 2 minutes while on the side of the road (biting mosquitoes contribute to motivation). Even a leisurely flat fix will take only 4 or 5 minutes (no mosquitoes). And once the tube is replaced, a clincher tire returns to 100% performance - you can brake or corner on it as hard as you normally do.

Changing a properly glued tubular is time consuming at best. It takes me a good 5 to 10 minutes to remove a tire if I want to reuse it - a flat one might take a few minutes to remove. And although it takes about 10 seconds to install a spare tire, it'll roll off pretty easily. When you get rolling on that spare tubular, you have to take it easy, else you'll find the tire rolling off at some inopportune moment. I consider a "post on-the-road-replaced tubular" to be about 10-20% functional use. I wouldn't want to corner or brake hard on that tire for a while, not until I got home and glued it on properly.

Therefore it's better to train on clinchers, race on tubulars.

Now that we got that out of the way...

One of the most significant things you can do to a bike to negatively affect its handling is to slip in an aero front wheel. That sexy, beautiful, tall, (usually) carbon fiber (shrouded, sometimes) wheel is fantastic in the wind tunnel but can really wreak havoc with your straight line stability in gusty wind situations.

If you think a tall profile rim catches a lot of air, a disk wheel is insane. I had a 24" front disk wheel on a TT bike and a gust of wind took me across a full lane of road. I was on cowhorns (this was before time trial bars as we know them) so I had a relatively strong grip on the bars. It didn't help. If there'd been a truck there... I literally creeped home on the bike, arms rigid with tension, hoping the wind wouldn't spontaneously teleport me sideways 8 or 10 feet into a bus or a lamp post.

In fact, at the Hawaii Ironman, they had to forbid competitors from using disk wheels up front. Riders were getting blown off the road, blown off their bikes, due to the wind catching their front disk wheels.

See, aero wheels act as a rudder. And rudders don't belong up front in a normal bike with normal geometry. Standard bike geometry works when the front wheel wants to point straight forward. But when wind hits a wheel with a lot of surface area, the wind turns the wheel. Suddenly the geometry works against you - instead of stabilizing the bike, it (along with the aero wheel and some wind) destabilizes it.

Aero front wheels require more steering input from the rider. Steering with your hips doesn't work too well - you have to turn your bars a bit too. If you don't get used to this concept in training, you'll enter a race with sub-par bike handling skills. In extreme situations, this can literally throw you over the handlebars, like the example rider above. And in less extreme situations you end up simply a squirelly rider. Neither is good.

Of course we all want to avoid that, but how?

Funny you should ask. Here's how.

Step 1

Buy both a clincher and tubular front wheel with similar (aero) profiles. For example, I have two Specialized TriSpoke front wheels (now sold as a HED3) - a tubular and a clincher. I got the clincher first, since I could train on it. Later I bought a pair of tubular TriSpokes. I never bought a clincher rear TriSpoke. Later I repeated the idea of buying matching front wheels, one for training, one for racing. I did this with Spinergy Rev-Xs, Reynolds DV46s, and now the HEDs (Stinger 6 and Jet 6). I'd use the clincher for training, the tubular for racing.

Note: the newest HED spoked wheels (Stinger/Jet series) have an additional variable, and I note it at the end of the post. However, they (as well as the TriSpokes, Rev-Xs, and Reynolds) handled similarly in wind front and rear. I imagine the Williams, Eastons, Neuvations, and other profile matching carbon clincher/tubular front wheels will handle similarly as well.

Advantages of buying two front wheels, one tubular, one clincher:

1. Similar profile front rims handle similarly in wind; you can use the clincher in training, the tubular in races. You'll be intimately familiar with the wind-handling aspects of your race wheel.

2. Front wheels are universal (no cassettes, no weird spacing). Okay, except for disc brakes and rim width. But in general, if you buy two front aero road wheels, you can use them on virtually any road bike, with any drivetrain set up. You can even use a road front wheel on a track bike (note use of TriSpoke in pictures), if you use appropriate skewers or convert to a bolt-on axle. With rears you can't - Shimano/SRAM vs Campy, 8s vs 9s vs 10s vs 11s, frame width, fixed gear versus not, etc.

3. Number 2 above means that front wheels are cheaper because manufacturers don't have to stock umpteen combinations of hubs and such, and the spokes are all the same length (except weird wheels like the G3s or the FSAs).

4. Front wheels are stronger, usually last longer, etc, due to the even spoke tension and lower loads it sees.

5. Aero front wheels affect handling the most, so if you're going to get used to one wheel in training, get used to the front one.

6. Front wheels affect aerodynamics the most (2/3 of aero effect of wheelsets comes from front wheel), so it makes sense to get two front aero wheels if you can only afford to buy two wheels. This way you get the best bang for the buck in races.

Step 2

Buy matching rear tubular wheel for races so now you have 3 wheels - a clincher front and a tubular set.

1. Lighter rotating weight in the rear (tubular rear).

2. Looks cool (matching wheels). You gotta look cool, right?

3. Stabilizes rear of bike (rear aero wheels do that).

4. Tubular rear wheel typically more durable - no pinch flats, stronger rim for a given weight, or, conversely, lighter for a given strength. Except for super-wide rims (Stinger 6, the new Zipps), it's also much easier to ride on a flat tubular than a flat clincher.

Try doing that on a clincher...

5. Doesn't affect handling much beyond that stabilization - you don't have to train with an aero rear wheel if you don't want to.

Step 3

If budget allows, buy matching rear clincher for training and spares for racing. Now you should have 4 aero wheels - a set of aero clinchers and a set of aero tubulars.

1. Two pairs of wheels that handle similarly in all aspects (twitchy up front, stable in the rear).

2. You can work on speed a bit more in training (i.e. using aero wheels to your advantage in going faster on, say, group rides). Remember, training on clinchers is easier than training on tubulars - on the wallet and also quicker to fix a flat.

3. Typically clincher aero wheels are heavier so they require more work to get up to speed - you can work on your jump/acceleration, which is about the only thing the wheels will significantly affect. Unless one pound is a significant portion of your combined bike/body weight, it won't affect steady speed climbing that much.

Step 4 (optional)

Finally, you should keep a box section front wheel for really windy days. Most riders start with a box section clincher so just keep that wheel for training. When you feel like it, get a box section tubular front wheel (or one that's relatively "un-aero") for those really gusty race days. I don't have one at this point, but on those really gusty days I'll prepared to use my box section clinchers front and rear. I'll sacrifice aero for stability in gusty days as well as any kind of major road race with 50+ mph descents (not that I've entered any, but if I did, I wouldn't use an aero front wheel).

So that's that.

Now, to get to that exception I mentioned earlier in the post.

HED clinchers and tubulars have wide rims for different reasons.

The clinchers are wide to get the wheel/tire to be more durable and more comfortable. The wider rim allows you to run lower pressures, resulting in better comfort, while still avoiding pinch flats. I run about 10-20 psi less than normal on my HED clinchers compared to normal box section clinchers (95/105 psi, vs 115/120 psi). I find the lower pressures corner a bit differently, so that's something I have to account for when I swap wheels. However, the aero handling aspect (catching gusts, cornering as far as wind goes) stays pretty constant between the HED aero clincher Jet 6 and the aero tubular Stinger 6.

Keep in mind an important factor: HED tubular rims are wider ONLY FOR AERODYNAMICS, not for anything else. You need to use the same air pressure as on normal width tubular rims.

On my HED tubulars (Stinger 6s), I run 120-140 psi, depending on my mood. At 105/110 I thought my tires were sliding everywhere on smooth pavement; at normal pressures I'm fine. That's my preference in tubular tire pressures in general; yours may be different.

Questions? Comments?