Thursday, August 26, 2010

Training - Cannibal Ride, August 25th

I glanced over at the trip computer.

25.6 mpg.
26 mph.

Not bad, considering I'd only done in-town trips for a week or two, most of them the 3 mile round trip to and from work.

But here, now, those were bad numbers. The mileage could easily be in the low 30s, the speed... well, I'll leave the speed one alone.

Mileage goes up most dramatically when you have high, high peaks. Think of it this way - the absolute worst mileage you can get is 0 mpg. Sit in the driveway, let the car idle until the tank's empty, and you just got yourself 0 mpg.

The best mileage, at least for me, is well over 200 mpg (instant reading). I actually don't know what it is, but it isn't infinite - that's for the hypermilers who actually do an engine-off coast. They turn the engine off when they coast.

I prefer to have the engine running, for a variety of reasons, so I'll take an extra long time to find the next gear. Pulling away from stop signs I'll pause a half second between shifts - it's worth 1-2 mpg in the long rung (and trust me, when I had a 60-100 minute commute each way, I learned all sorts of tricks to increase mileage). When on the highway, I'll, um, "pause" between finding gears, sometimes for a while as the car coasts down a hill.

Now, this is purely for example's sake. I don't want everyone coasting down hills everywhere, because you may end up a bit out of control. Theoretically, though, coasting in a car where the engine idles properly, where you can quickly engage gear (and without jerking the car around), it could be done on occasion.

And you'll get, depending on how accurate things are, between, oh, 150 and 1000 mpg.

You can see how coasting a bit could very easily improve your mileage. If you drive at 20-odd mpg all the time, but coast for, say a few minutes at 500 mpg, you may drive your mileage up significantly. They hypermilers are a bit nuts, pushing it to the extreme; one got, in an "official" contest, 189 mpg out of a Honda Insight hybrid. And they regularly get twice the EPA rated mileage.

My car, the one with the computer, was rated at 21/26 by the Feds. When I commuted my long commute, I'd be extremely disappointed if my mileage dropped below 28 mpg. I expected it to be in the 32-33 mpg range. My record (driving to Philly) was in the 36 mpg range - and that's for a tank of gas!

And, for average speed, well, let's just say that I averaged the typical speed limit around here - 50-55 mph. My Philly trip seemed to mirror the common 65 mph speed limit, although it could have climbed into the low 70s. For those of you who have trip computers, draw your own conclusions.

Using my "safer" methods (engine always on, no excessive speed on downhills, corners at normal speeds) and my "fun" methods (a few hard accelerations per tank is okay, although a 0-60+ blast will drop the whole tank's average down 0.1 to 0.2 mpg, depending on the average), I get about 30-50% over the EPA rating.

That's good enough for me. So, therefore, on the trip to the shoreline, I might have coasted a bit.

Or paused when debating whether to keep it in 6th or shift into 5th.

With a 25.6/28 reading on the computer, I had my work cut out for me.

On top of that, I had to make it to a local access TV studio for a short, 30 minute show covering the Pedal For Paws ride. It's a bike ride to benefit a modern, virtually no-cage (except for recovering cats) shelter named Forgotten Felines. Mrs SOC, the force behind the whole thing, and SOC, playing a strong lieutenant, would be there. I would be there really for moral support, although it was possible that I'd be interviewed as well.

(When I thought about it, I didn't know much about the shelter other than what I observed when we visited, and I don't know much about the routes except what I've ridden. So I didn't think I had a lot to offer the program.)

Nevertheless, it'd be good for me to be on time.

It would be a bonus if I could get some decent mileage doing it.

In the end, with a judicious balance of power, "rest", and speed, I got to the SOCs place just as SOC got there. Perfect timing.

And 27.2/41 to boot.

We set off, the SOCs a bit nervous, me a little less so. I'll leave the studio part alone, except to say that it went well. It'll air on public access sometime in the first or second week in September; I'll be sure to put a notice on here somewhere when I learn a more specific date.

All this excitement meant little time for preparation before the evening's ride out of Clarke Cycles, their Wednesday Cannibal ride. I asked SOC, riding shotgun in the blue car for the second time ever,
where we could get some food fast, preferably McDonald's.

We zipped into a nearby McDonalds, placed our order.

(For the record, I got 3 hamburgers and a Coke; SOC got a double cheeseburger, fries, and a Diet. Neither were necessarily good, but they got the job done.)

We placed the order and rolled up to the first window to pay.

The girl at the window commented on the car.

"I like your car."


"You must get a lot of girls with it."


We rolled up to the second window, where a giggling girl handed us our food. She could barely talk for her giggling. Obviously the two girls were talking over their headsets.


Back to SOC's, split the food, and I rushed off to the ride. I managed to scarf down one burger before the highway, another on it, and the third disappeared just as I turned into the parking lot for the ride.

The Coke I guzzled while I dressed and got the bike ready.

Not ideal, I know.

Botto was there as well as a bunch of the regulars. This time I didn't hold them up too much, although I was lagging a bit as we pulled out of the lot.

Fortunately we (or rather, "they") set off on an easy pace. I'm still oblivious to the area, so every route has had a treat. This one started off with, get this, a bunch of switchbacks going up an easy climb.

Key words:
1. Switchbacks
2. Easy

A perfect place to do a pretend L'Alpe d'Huez because you can turn big gears like the pros, you need to ease for the bends, and you have at least three switchbacks in a row.


We also did some Benelux type of stuff, crosswinds and headwinds on flat roads, easy to find on a shoreline route. Causeways make the best ones, long open roads buffeted by the wind, with crosswind shoreline roads a close second. Maybe not a treat for regulars, but it's a hoot for those of us used to valley-channeled head and tailwinds.

I made some efforts, my body protesting the multi-tasking demanded of it. Apparently it doesn't like digesting 3 burgers and a Coke while trying to put down huge watts on the pedals. Appropriately I surged myself right off the back, creeping and crawling to regroupment points.

I didn't complain when we cut out a bit early, maybe an hour into the ride, because we were having a get together after the ride.

This would be Botto's farewell party, it seems (I thought we'd run into him more, but maybe not). Shoreline stuff, beautiful scenery, the sounds of waves lapping in the background.

Armed to the teeth against the expected horde of mosquitoes, I had both Cutter spray and an Off Clip On repellent. Combined with any native measures (those bug-repelling candles and who knows what else), I managed to (gasp!) get away with ZERO bites for the evening.


We shot the, um, breeze, so to speak, for the next 4 hours. A Dennis Hopper made a guest appearance (the Good Dennis Hopper, seeing as he's alive and smiling and very pleasant), but otherwise it was us boys from the Cannibal ride.

I learned that you can see at least one moon of Jupiter using just normal binoculars (I saw one, but you should be able to see up to four). We checked out @DarthVader's tweets (which are hilarious, if I do say so myself - I was the one reading them). We had some more burgers (one each, incredibly good, from some place in Deep River where they make the patties to order), cooked up nicely on a charcoal grill.

Recovery essentials: Off Clip On, Cutter spray, beer and/or margarita, buns, guacamole, chips, and pasta. The Twitter research tool also took the picture.

I should mention that one of the crew managed to light the charcoal in a very impressive way. Not as impressive as some, but impressive nonetheless.

The night drew to a close as I had to get going - over an hour drive back, and after tempting the fates by trading speeding stories, I had to be a bit careful.

I started out following SOC to the main highway nearby, not paying attention to the mileage/speed numbers until I got onto familiar roads. In this case it would be the next highway, a highway I would drive on for 53 miles (yeah, my new Twitter research tool also has built in Nav).

I'd glance over at the trip computer readouts every now and then, watching the mileage climb, not paying much attention to speed. See, speed follows. The mileage, that's the hard part.

With caution weighing heavily, I really focused on mileage. Sure enough, a long way into the drive, as I rounded a bend on a long downhill, I saw the telltale reflective glimmers of a State Trooper. I was over the limit, yes, but not stupidly so. I eased instinctively (and naturally - it's expected), went past the car, spotted the guy actually holding something up to his face (like a speed measuring device), and glanced in the mirror.

Nope, definitely not stupidly so.

The rest of the drive went by peacefully. With more traffic around me as I headed north, I had more fast cars to follow (although, again, never stupidly so).

When I pulled into the driveway I instinctively checked the numbers.

28.6 mpg.

48 mph.

Life is good.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Racing - 2010 Blount Fine Foods Criterium, Fall River, MA

The Missus's mom was on the phone.

"So how'd he do in his race today?"

The Missus didn't know quite how to describe it.

"Um, what do you call the second to last place?"

"A Lah-who. Sah-her?"

I heard the Missus giggle, but I hadn't heard the answer. But the giggle was fine - it made me smile. It didn't matter what the answer was - it was that kind of race for me.

The Blount Fine Foods Criterium in Fall River, Mass. Rectangular course, a hill on the 3rd stretch, a long flat sprint (into the wind today), and the rest of the course fast, with either a downhill or a tailwind or a little of both.

I got there in decent spirits. I'd been worried about my pedaling form, worked on it for a few rides, and then, after two days off the bike, decided to hone my form on rollers Saturday night.

After adjusting the wheelbase of the rollers (the track bike required a homemade wheelbase "reduction" fitting, the Tsunami is a full four inches longer), I jumped on the bike.

Well, kind of. It's been a while since I'd been on the rollers (last August, at the latest, so over a year, since I haven't ridden my track bike since August 10th or earlier), and those first few moments of getting onto the bike is always a bit... nervous. Luckily I didn't slam myself onto the top tube, I got under way, and I started working on my form.

After 20 minutes of zipping up and down the tachometer (i.e. cadence), I decided my form was fine, at least the spinning part of it. With coasting, shorts arranging, and the tentative start, I still managed to average about 100 rpm for the 24 minutes, with much of my time spent in the 110s.

Good enough for me.

I climbed off feeling like Fonzie. You know, when he walks up to the mirror, pulls out his comb, looks, and just says "Heyyyyy" and put the comb away?

Well, I got on the rollers, spun a bit, realized I didn't have the choppiness I expected, and decided it was fine. I got off the rollers feeling like Fonzie looking in the mirror and finding nothing wrong.


I'd also debated swapping in the 175mm crank arms. The course apparently had a hill on it, and when there's a hill, I prefer the 175s. I'd fitted the 170s a little while back, expecting to contest a track race or two at some point. But since the New England Track Championships were this weekend, and I worked Saturday and came to this race Sunday, well, I really didn't need the 170s.

So I thought maybe I should put on the 175s.

For whatever reason, I didn't.


Sunday's trip to the race went pretty well. I'd spoken to a good friend Kevin about Fall River, and, although he's out West, he used to live in the area. He recommended a route, even calling a friend in the area to confirm there wasn't any unusual construction. With his recommendations I altered our planned route. Suffice it to say that we got there in good time, even stopping to buy breakfast (my third one) and making a pit stop (which fortunately dropped us out of a bunch of slower traffic).

And we still saved 30 minutes.

Speaking of which... I'm still paranoid about the Mass Pike, the tolls (get a ticket when you enter the highway, pay when you leave, or, if you have an EZPass, do that virtually), and the fact that it's really easy to determine average speed between two points if you have a start and finish time.

Hopefully they don't do this.


SOC trailed us time-wise just a bit, arriving after I'd registered and gotten my number. And, as a special guest, Botto showed up as well. He'd be our unknown friend, racing to help us out.

SOC had targeted this race from last year. You never know how those things work out, with weather, illness, crashes, and the like, but for him everything lined up perfectly for this year. He was riding really well, was not sick, had recovered nicely from a block of training, and had full confidence in his strengths on this course.

Botto, well, he's good. I'll just leave it at that.

Checking the start list, I noticed one name in particular - EBTI. It's close enough to the accounting term EBITA (Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Amortization) that I'll... um... never mind, I'll call him EBTI.

So, as SOC, Botto, and I warmed up, I told them about EBTI. I've watched him race on the track - he's really fast, really strong, willing to put it on the line, and he has a nice strong team around him. I didn't know if he was their strongest rider, but since he impressed me on the track, I figured he'd be a pretty good choice to lead their Cat 3 team. Luckily we'd parked bumper to bumper to him, so when we returned to our cars to top off fluids and such, EBTI was there and I could discretely point him out to Botto.

SOC would not worry about him. It was our job to do the worrying today.

Somewhere in our warm up pedaling, I also saw the Greenline Velo kit. It resembles the Target Training one, so I get the two confused, but when I realized it was Greenline, I noted to both guys that there's another one that needed to be watched - Sam R (he doesn't have a blog that I know about so I'll use his name).

Sam's impressed over the course of the year. As a Cat 5 he dominated the field sprints at the Bethel Spring Series. I missed him racing as a 4, but by July he was a Cat 3.

And winning.

He slayed the field at Naugatuck, riding astutely and with form that belies his short racing career. As Botto pointed out, it wasn't like the guy just rolled off the couch and started racing. Sam is strong, smart, and, for us, definitely a rider to watch.

He prefers field sprints so I figured he'd play that card. EBTI, I haven't raced with him much, so we needed to make sure that he didn't get away in a break group.

I say "we" like I helped out during the race. But other than pointing out two guys to Botto, I didn't do much to help anyone out.

We lined up fine, the three of us finding our own spots, content to simmer in our own thoughts just before the race.

Then we were off.

I saw SOC in trouble right away. He'd missed clipping in the first try and his pedal bounced and spun around like they do after you kick at them. I'd missed too, but I managed to clip in before he did.

And, at this moment, I made the biggest contribution to SOC's race.

I waited.

If he panicked and couldn't clip in, I'd be there to either help chase or give him a big shove.

Luckily he clipped in and closed the gaps in front of him no problem.

A few laps into the race, dying a thousand deaths, I realized the outside of Turn 2 was fast, pretty smooth, and dumped you out on a fast, rumbly strip of pavement (as opposed to the hammer shock middle of the road).

I decided I needed to tell SOC.

I rolled up to him after struggling to move up to his position for a full lap, and, before I blew up, mentioned it was smoother to the outside of Turn 2.

And that was the last interaction I had with him until after the race ended.

I realized pretty quickly that I felt uncomfortable in the turns. Part of it was the radical lines some riders chose to take. Part of it was the realization that my (expensive and fragile) rim was hitting the pothole edges when I was leaned way over. And I suppose part of it was just me feeling not all there.

Something happens to me when I race. I guess it's adrenaline that I regularly deny feeling in a race. But I must because, when it counts, I feel extremely motivated. I'll dig deeper than I think possible, notice things in crystal clear detail in the midst of a hectic bell lap, and find untapped strength in my legs.

None of this happened during the race.

Yes, I noticed the riders that I needed to keep at arm's length (or more). I found different lines in the different turns. I experimented with technique going up the hill (sitting, standing, high cadence, low cadence, tops, drops, hoods, left side, right, middle), and I moved between different sides of the pack to see how the wind worked me over.

But that was all kind of self-education. It wasn't helping SOC race.

Botto, on the other hand...

First time I noticed him was when he dove into Turn 1, perfect form (he denied it). I saw him launching huge efforts up the hill. I wanted to get up there to tell him to calm down, but two things went wrong:
1. I couldn't move up to the front of the field.
2. Botto bridged up to a break.

I guess his effort was him launching a superlative effort to get into the first break of the day. After all, if he was in it, we (or rather, I) wouldn't need to chase. He buried the pain needle way into the red zone, then, when it retreated a bit, he started to work.

Then, for probably a third of the race, he was in a two man break, slogging away, trying to dangle a carrot in front of the field. He let the other guy take a prime because, frankly, the other guy was doing a lot of work.

Then, when Botto had had enough, he came back into the field.

But other than a brief moment towards the back, he was immediately back up there, launching himself after attacks all over the place.

I could only squint and watch in wonder as I groveled at the back of the field. SOC, to his credit, sat patiently, doing his own self-education, finding the best bits of the course for his strength and style.

The first lap card I saw said "5" on it. I immediately tossed a bottle - it was easy to clear the field because everyone was in front of me.

Then I tried to move up to give SOC a heads up, maybe even move him up a bit in the field.

Botto, as usual, was monitoring the front.

With 2 to go I was getting close to the front, maybe 20 back, but I'd killed myself to get there.

A solo rider held a barely-there gap, but he held it through a lot of surges and such. He looked like he'd have a chance. Long odds, yes, but still something more than zero.

To help him out a teammate led out other teammates to the front of the field. Although they may have had other plans, the immediate effect was to add two blockers to the front of the field.

When the field started fighting at the bell, I had managed to climb into the front bit of the field, on one of the blocker's wheels.

But I had nothing left.

As the field swarmed the front over and over, I found myself getting pushed further and further back.

Up front, going around all the blockers, putting in an absolute superlative effort... Botto. He launched hard, knowing no one would let him go this late. His huge effort had the desired effect - the whole field sprang into action, with the solo break rider's chances diminishing by the millisecond.

On the fast backstretch, normally a juicy temptation for me to move up, I had a hard time maintaining position. I could Botto driving hard. I saw SOC to the outside, too far back in my opinion.

On the hill the field swarmed the breakaway rider. I came off.

I tried hard to get back on, and maybe I did for a moment, but I totally and completely blew. I couldn't even get up to SOC, and if I could see him and his bike from my off-the-back position, that meant he was too far back.

I knew the hill killed me. SOC not only climbed harder than me, he still had a sprint to execute.

I shook my head mentally. No way. No way he'd be able to do anything. He had to be suffering a thousand deaths just to hang onto wheels 20 riders back.

Blown, I sat up, put it in the small ring, and started slowly pedaling to the finish. I kicked myself for not being stronger. I saw Botto too; he'd given everything in that last lap effort, and he was paying the price, staggering up the hill that last lap.

I could see the Missus, standing with Mrs SOC, at the finish. I lowered my head, unwilling to look at two disappointed people.

When I finally looked up, 10 or 15 feet away from them, they seemed oddly gleeful.

"Listen!" Mrs SOC exclaimed.

The announcer was reading out the preliminary results.

"In first place, Sam R of Greenline Velo."

I grinned inside in triumph. He's a good guy, deserves this. And I picked him before the race.

"Second and third are too close to call but it's.... (I forget the name) and SOC"

My jaw dropped.

The Missus said that it seemed that SOC got 3rd, missing 2nd by a hair. She's good at picking these things, even if sometimes the news she gives is less than desirable.

Sure enough, ends up SOC got 3rd.

Botto and I grinned in triumph. Well, Botto. Me, just in grimness.

After the podium shots we headed out for some food. Botto's effort told when he stepped out of his car - he hobbled around comically, his right leg totally rigid, his teeth visible in a tight grimace.


He nodded.

After he recovered we celebrated with some food.

At some point I remembered EBTI. I asked Botto if he ever saw him. Yeah, he had. EBTI rode a really smart race, always up there, monitoring, following. Then, as Botto exploded on the last lap, two of EBTI's teammates went flying by everyone, towing EBTI.

They launched up the hill, a superlative effort.

Too superlative, actually, because they both blew before they could get onto the final straight. It dumped EBTI on the front in the wind at the beginning of the sprint. Forced to lead out, he lost his opportunity.

I grilled SOC on his sprint. He'd gone left, pretty early, and, as he realized over food, he'd led out the second place guy just like he'd gotten led out in a prior year's race.

Except for Sam R, he'd have been battling for the win.

And that I can live with.

Lotsa pins...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review - ContourHD 1080 Camera

The ContourHD 1080

I realized at some point that I never posted anything about the helmet cam I'm using now. It works great, it's simple to use, and it's reasonably priced.

I spent about $700-1000 on the original SDC helmet cam setup. Although I detail it in the link, in summary, it included the following main features. It included a small camera that mounts on the helmet (it only "sees" but doesn't record), linked to a camcorder that recorded what the cam saw (i.e. acted like a VCR). I spent a bunch of money on AA batteries for the helmet cam, a LOT of blank tapes for the camcorder, cable adapters, and various "experiments" on how to carry the lot.

Initially I used an old, original CamelBak to hold the whole rig, then a newer CamelBak, then finally, when I started buying lithium AA batteries (expensive but light), I would stick everything in my jersey pockets.

At some point, I started experimenting with a 1080 HD camcorder that used an SD card, using it in place of the camcorder. It was lighter, recorded in better resolution, but it was too unreliable. That experimenting took up enough time for the Contour HD to come out.

In comparison, the ContourHD 1080 cam cost me $325 (it's a little less now), I bought a few $20 8GB MicroSD cards (and promptly misplaced two of them), and... that's it.

Contour 1080 HD on the helmet. The failed 1080 HD minicam on the left.
I use Apple's iMovie to edit the Contour clips, and I use a stock Mac to do it. Both are pictured.

Note how far back the cam is mounted on the helmet - when I am in my normal race posture, my head tilts down a bit. The cam needs to be level at that point.

Note how far back the cam is on the helmet.
From the Keith Berger post, photo courtesy Mrs SOC.

One of the things I like about the ContourHD is its ease of use.

Before you start using the camera, you can set the resolution to two settings, saving them as "Low" or "High" controlled by a switch in the controls (this you'd need to use a delicate fingernail or the like). I followed Justin (he who first had one of these and impressed me with its playback quality) and his recommendations for the Contour settings - I use 720p @ 60fps (frames per second). This way it's clear and has smooth motion. At 1080p @ 30fps it's like watching a strobe light movie.

Since I only want that 720p@60fps setting, I put it in both "Low" and "High" when initially setting up the Contour. Other than prompting a friendly "Are you sure" message, that went fine.

Under a rubber protective cover:
1. Battery on right, held in by red cross bar thing.
2. MicroSD card on lower left. It's tiny.
3. The USB adapter port thing.
4. The switch for "Low" and "High" resolution.
5. The square in the middle, between the battery and the MicroSD card, is the power switch.

After setting up the resolution, you need to mount the thing and rotate the lens to match the mounting orientation. So if you're mounting it sideways like me, you need to rotate the lens so it's level. If you have problems "seeing" level, you can hold the power button down for a few seconds. A pair of laser beams shoots out, allowing you to align the lens.

Unfortunately, the lasers were burning holes in everything that isn't reflective. My living room walls have parallel burn marks everywhere. Wear a welding mask when making adjustments using the lasers.

Okay, that last paragraph isn't true. I was just kidding back there. But don't look at the lasers. Don't point them at pets, kids, or planes. And that's serious.

Finally, there's a power button that you can hit even when you have long finger gloves on. It takes about 10 seconds to boot up, maybe a bit more time, and it beeps to let you know it's ready.

Now you're set.

Charge the thing overnight and it's ready to be used. I leave it on my helmet for reasons you'll see in a bit, and I just charge it on there. I also clear the memory card so it's empty when I grab the helmet for a ride.

When you want to use it, it's pretty straight forward.

Turn it on.

Wait for the beep.

And slide the record button forward.

Record button, slid forward. If no red shows, you're not recording.
You can slide it forward even with thick gloves on.

When you slide the button forward, you hear a "beep-beep". You're set.

When you slide the button back, you hear another "beep-beep". You've stopped recording.

If you don't record for 15 minutes, it "beep-beeps" and powers off. Now, if you want to record, you need to turn the unit back on, wait for the boot-up beep, then slide the record button forward.

If you hear any beeps while you're not fiddling with the record button, then things are not good. Either you ran out of memory or battery. It beeps once to give you a warning, then, in short order, twice to let you know you're done.

On an 8GB MicroSD card, you can record about 2 hours of footage.

If you're turning it off when things are boring, you can record 2 hours of footage over the course of, oh, about 6 hours. At least that's been my experience.

Battle scars.

The unit is pretty tough too. I fell on it at about 30 mph. The Contour got a few scratches but was otherwise fine. I've recorded many rides and races since, and it's been fine.

Waitaminute, you say. Rides and races? You record your rides?

Well, yes. Let me explain.

When I fell, a year and a day ago today, the move that took me out was pretty clearly a move that wasn't safe to make. It's kind of obvious to say that because I fell, but seriously, it was a pretty dangerous move.

Because there was no photographic or video evidence of the move, the authorities had to use witness statements. If the statements varied then nothing was certain.

The statements varied and therefore nothing was certain.

What was certain was that I ended up losing enough money (through my medical deductible and lost wages) to buy TWENTY ContourHD1080s with an 8GB card for each one.

If I'd done that before that fateful race, I'd have had 20 different video clips of the incident. It would be hard to refute what happened.

So, after that crash, I told myself that I'd try and record every race with a helmet cam. My original set up was too difficult to use regularly so I looked for an alternative. JT found the ContourHD, took the plunge to try one, and I bought one because of him.

I decided, after a training ride where I watched some, um, unusual moves made by drivers, that I'd wear a helmet cam when I trained too. This way I'd have footage of whatever happened in front of me. If someone turned left suddenly in front of me without using a turn signal, causing me to hit the car, I'd have video proof of what happened.

It would make things so much clearer.

I started wearing the ContourHD on training rides, but I rapidly ran out of hard drive space. I deleted uninteresting clips, but knew I had to get some more drive space. I bought two 1.5 TB external drives, using them to back up the helmet cam clips and the iMovie files associated with each edited YouTube clip.

Note: iMovie bloats a 4 GB raw footage file to as much as 40-60 GB of files before you have a finished clip. It uses a LOT of drive space.

Now I record every day I ride (outside - I have yet to record a trainer session) and save to drive, just like I do the SRM. This is why I leave the ContourHD mounted to the helmet - I don't ride outside without the helmet, and I don't ride without the ContourHD. So I leave it on the helmet permanently.

I think that the helmet cam has dissuaded some riders from making sketchy moves. I have many instances captured in the raw footage where a rider really wants to make a move, looks, sees me, does a double take, looking at the camera, then decides not to make the move. I really think the camera acts like a police man in those situations - you want to speed but there's a police car sitting on the shoulder, so you don't.

Wouldn't it be great if there were 40 or 50 helmet cams in every race you did? If anyone pulled an iffy move, there'd be evidence of it.

I think that's great.

Granted, it might be a helmet cam wearer that pulls the sketchy move. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, at least if no one gets hurt.

See, because of its ability to capture such moments, the helmet cam is a great tool for learning. That applies to everyone, from the helmet cam rider's point of view (i.e. mine) as well as the riders around the cam (i.e. the riders you see in the clips).

Cam clips vividly illustrate riding flaws, things like poor group riding skills, making abrupt movements, improper gear selection, or even poor position. They also show tactical errors the wearer makes, or lapses of concentration.

I watched footage I hadn't edited at that time and found some puzzling head shaking. I didn't know what was going on, so I looked at my race notes to see what happened. Ends up I had my ears covered, and when I uncovered one ear, I realized that I rely on my hearing to feel comfortable in close quarters. Since it was only a lap or two to go, I desperately tugged at my very snug, very warm head cover. I managed to get my ears uncovered in time for the sprint.

I also used the helmet cam recently to help critique a teammate's sprint - he's changed the way he sprints because of that critiquing session. The Missus watched clips where she rode with me to see how she rode. And other riders, friends of mine, will watch some of the footage to see how they're doing. It's all good. It's feedback with no judgment, just evidence.

It works.

I think everyone should go get a ContourHD helmet cam or something like it. Definitely get HD because it'll get license plates and such. Wear your cam whenever you ride your bike outside. Even if you don't save all your recorded rides, just record your rides. Wipe the memory clear if nothing happened. Recording rides regularly will enable you to save, on video, that close call or near miss or, heaven forbid, an accident. If something like that happens, save the recording. Now you have evidence on what happened.


Sunday, August 08, 2010

Training - Class

I turned my head to get a wrench, but as I did, the skid plate that protects the exhaust, carbon fiber driveshaft (I looked, it looks like black plastic), brake lines, and some other stuff, well, the skid plate kind of slid my glasses off my head. Looking straight up, eyes closed, nose jammed against said plate, with my glasses somewhere near my left ear, I paused to think for a moment.

3300 lbs of car, literally squished up against my nose.

A chock, two wheel ramps, a parking brake, and a transmission in first gear. That's all that kept those 3300 lbs of car from squishing more than just my nose.

A lot of things could happen. A tire going flat, a clutch spring or ten failing, the chock slips, a ramp collapses. It would take more than just one of them, but if it happened, it would be pretty ugly. I'd reach up, helplessly, trying to bench 30 times my max, while thinking, "No, no, no, no!"

I had a mild panic attack and wriggled my way out from under the car.

The exhaust system could wait.

I did some internet therapy (Facebook, email, Bike Forums), and then, with a ride with a BF character in the works, got ready to make the drive down to meet the ride. I'd be meeting SOC, Botto (which I'll capitalize even though it's technically not supposed to be), and a few others for a group ride from Clark's Cycles.

I told SOC I'd meet him at his place, then we could ride over. I packed up the car (after I brought it back to earth), got half changed, and jetted off.

A few miles away I remembered something. The exhaust system. Specifically, two nuts on the exhaust system holding about 70 pounds of muffler and various pipes on to the rest of the system. I'd removed them, leaving them finger tight on the bolts so I wouldn't lose them.

In my momentary panic attack, I never tightened them up.

I pulled over where the shoulder was literally 5 or 6 feet wider than my car. Crawled under the back of the car to see what I could do.

Note for all you folks that may do exhaust work on a car in the future: even a 3 or 4 minute drive results in painfully high exhaust pipe temperatures.

With a (ahem) rag in my hand (which I had on my hand the whole time, not after the first time I touched hot exhaust parts, because I know exhaust parts get hot after only a few minutes... I read about that on the internet) to protect myself from some painfully hot exhaust pipes, I unscrewed one nut and, after trying unsuccessfully to tighten the other, crawled back out to retrieve a 14 mm wrench.

They were, of course, all in the garage at home. So, using some channel locks (don't do this at home since it damages the nuts), I tightened it as much as possible without wrecking it.

I called SOC to let him know I was late, but he was still on his way home from work, so I got voicemail. Therefore I texted him the news that I'd be late and to please call me.

I'd gotten onto Route 2 near Hartford, after struggling through some commuter traffic, and started making good time. I tried to be the second fastest car on the road, with an upper limit that I wouldn't exceed regardless of the fastest car's speed.

SOC called back. I had a hard time hearing him (the volume controls on my phone have long since died), but after some comical "WHAT? WAIT WHAT DID YOU SAY?" stuff, I realized he was saying, "Route 2? Why are you on Route 2?"

2, 9, I knew it was one of them.

SOC gave me directions to the shop's parking lot and figured out a way to backtrack to Route 3, a short highway that connects Route 2 to Route 9.

And he told me he'd meet me there and try and stall them a bit.

I pulled into the lot not quite 30 minutes later, a few minutes late, parking next to SOC.

He murmured under his breath that he'd been trying to change slowly to keep everyone there. I, on the other hand, set a record for getting ready.

Then, just before we set off, a guy in a black kit rolled up to me.


We introduced ourselves. And we set off.

It took me about 30 seconds to realize something wasn't quite right. Another 30 seconds and I realized what it was.

I'd let my pedaling form deteriorate significantly.

Not in the 30 or 60 seconds, no. But over the course of 5 or 10 years, yes.

I realized this because Botto had that magical pro-like pedaling form. And I didn't. In fact, I forgot what it looks like because I haven't trained with someone with tens of thousands of miles on his legs in forever. I don't count racing, because you rarely see someone in their "easy riding" mode. There's always a hint of stress, of pressure, something to pollute the pureness of this state of being.

It's hard to describe what it's like, this magical pro-like pedaling form. It's a bunch of different things.

It's pedaling at a high cadence fluidly, with no upper body movement, no strain, not even a focused look on your face. Casual talking, hand gestures, looking around, all while down below the legs pedal at a comfortable 120 rpm.

There's also the feeling of untapped power. You could tell that he had an enormous well of untapped power in his legs. When he got going, later in the ride, the untapped power came to fore, but even in this casual warm up, you could tell that he could kick it hard without any undue stress or strain.

Finally there's the casualness of it all. I sat one back and to the side of Botto, next to SOC, watching him pedal. He and his echelon partner let a gap go to the group. No worry, no hurry. The gap grew a bit, we picked it up a bit (or rather, he did and I followed - he still talked about whatever it was, complete with hand gestures, looking around, and the like), and then we were on.

No fuss, no muss.

Of course, when I asked Botto about his form, he modestly demurred. Apparently some of his training partners criticize his uncouth pedaling style. But since they train with guys like Cipollini, one might expect them to have quite the high standard.

Nonetheless, it marks what is possible for me, and therefore a goal as well.

Later, when the ride got a bit tougher, Botto's strength started showing through. He could pull over and over again, pedaling fluently the whole time. At times the ride would dissolve into a hard paceline. Botto at the front, me second wheel. I pulled through briefly, already on the limit, and planned on pulling off within, oh, 5 seconds.

I looked down to check my six and saw Botto's distinctive tires just behind me.


Apparently the guy behind me didn't want to go, so he let Botto in. I figured I should let him rest a little bit, so I pulled a bit longer, went way into the red, and ended up, a short time later, dropped.

Lesson learned: Don't pull more when you think you're gonna get popped. If you pull through, you'll get popped.

SOC would give us a heads up on course features, like climbs and such, and the three of us would romp up the hills. I came off on pretty much all of them, unable to match their torrid pace.

As we headed back, we once again started going hard. SOC pulled me across a gap to a solo rider, Botto followed (albeit solo), and suddenly there were four of us in a fast double paceline. We'd pull for only a few seconds, pull off, and rotate around.

Rinse and repeat.

After a bit of time I realized that this must be the finale of the ride, that there was no discussion of sitting up at a certain point. It was just hard riding, heavy gears, screaming legs.

And, like usual, I was on the limit.

(That's a You-Rope-Ian phraseology thing, "on the limit").

I declined a pull or three, trying to get the red mist out of my vision, trying to introduce my arms to Mister Coordination again, reintroduce some oxygen into my lungs. The fourth guy in the group, a racer himself, didn't decline any pulls, and he paid the price - he popped off as the pace crescendo-ed.

After a few more minutes of groveling at the back, while SOC and Botto buried themselves in effort, I started to pull through again.

SOC and Botto. Groveling riders to the back, please.
Yes, it was getting dark.

And before I knew it, we were back at the cars.

Yes, we all went out for dinner after the ride. Botto and I were there first there so we sat, drank, and talked.

Yes, we talked about bikes. Yes, we talked about some of the cyclists we knew, both in person and virtually. Botto described it perfectly in the following 1000 words:

(From here)

Eventually SOC and Mrs SOC made it there, and we had a proper dinner. The waitress knew the SOCs as regulars, which made things nice. We got around to a lot of topics - part of it was that Botto raced "back in the days" when I started racing. Another part was that he lived in Europe, close to where I grew up. And, of course, there was all the various bike talk.

But the whole time there was this underlying notion running through my head.

I'd just been schooled, in a good way, on how to pedal a bike.

And like any other class, it doesn't just seep into your head. You have to live it. Go do it. Read it. Study it. Something with it. It doesn't just happen.

make it happen.

I gotta go. I got some practicin' to do.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Racing - August 3, 1020 @TuesdayTheRent

I've had a bit of an off period for a few days, with not much writing, a bit more "life experiencing" (i.e. not virtual experiences), and a bit more riding.

The second bit has to do with some of the stuff I've done in the last week - working in the yard (I tried to do it through the keyboard but somehow the soil never moved no matter what I typed), working on the car (until I had a claustrophobic moment while rubbing my nose up against a skid plate), cleaning the garage (to make room for the car), and, finally, meeting another one of the BF crew in person.

But I get ahead of myself.

Tuesday, with my bike gear in a bit of disarray, it took me a while to get going. See, normally it's either "all set" or "laundry", and in this case it was almost in "laundry" phase - I had 2 of my 3 kits in the hamper. On top of that, over the course of various races and such I've managed to misplace a bunch of things. This week I managed to misplace my Halo headband and my primary long finger gloves.

And, for weeks now, I've been riding without my coded Polar heart rate band, used with the SRM to register heart rate. I still can't find it.

Part of that season-long entropy thing that goes on with bike gear.

Now, to give myself credit, I'd actually eaten some normal food during the day, so I felt like maybe I had a chance. This is better than my normal "wolf down a Hammer bar on the way to the race" followed by "better have two gels too because I'm started to shake from bonking".

Plus I knew from the intraweb that one of the Prime Leg Breakers would be absent (he's at Nationals), so I looked forward to a race that'd be closer to my abilities than not.

With the Missus driving, new pins for the number, all my various bike gear pieces in the car (helmet, shoes, helmet cam, SRM, pump, kit, gloves, cap, bike, 2 sets HED wheels), we were on the way.

I had tossed (into metal recycling) my old pins. The sharp tips were getting less than smooth, and nothing is worse than trying to force a rusty pin into a jersey and feeling the pin take a 2mm chunk out of the jersey as it bluntly hammers its way through the fabric.

Okay, there is one thing worse. When said pin with rusty tip jams into your finger, it's worse.

Anyway, I didn't want my jersey to look like a rusty moth had attacked it, so I ditched the old pins. I'd carefully gathered all these pins the hard way - at races, a few at a time - but I skipped that bit for my next set of pins.

I raided the Bethel Spring Series supply.

I figured we wouldn't miss 18-20 pins from the 20,000+ pins in the tote full of pins, so I took them. Not only that, I took them from an already-open box, instead of opening a sealed box. So it was kind of like a box we'd already written off.

I busily pinned while the Missus drove, regaling her with tales of what happened at work and such. Two things happened while I did this: I ran out of pins (!!!) and I forgot to change in the car (which I normally do to save time - I also have to leave work 30 min early to make it to the race on time).

I had to re-pin a few pins to spread them around, and I changed at the race venue.

I saw TC (which is what SOC called him which makes sense) standing by the side of the course. Normally I first see him as he flies by in the B race, but the B race was doing its flying without him. A bit concerned, I wondered if he'd had a mechanical. His grin seemed to contradict that notion.

Then he told me - he wanted to try out the A race.

Now, I've never been one to discourage toeing the waters. Seriously. No matter what bad things I may say about me entering a P123 race (heh), it's really a good thing to do some 35 mph motorpacing in the field. Better if you can get near the front.

Having watched TC in some other races, including some of the Bethel Spring Series ones, I knew he'd be fine handling-wise. It'd be interesting to see how he handled the speed because that's where every racer has difficulty - the surges in speed.

I thought this would be an interesting race for him.

SOC was there too, looking like his normal self. When I asked him how he felt, though, he wasn't feeling 100%. Real life and such had intruded on peaking perfectly for this particular Tuesday Night World Championships, just like it had mine.

We both decided to approach the night's race as a "wait and see" race. I had no particular aspirations other than to be able to stretch my legs out here and there.

TC asked what our plan was, and to his dismay, we told him we had none. Probably not what he was looking for. I know that I'd expect more experienced racers to always have a plan (think of, say, Saxo Bank - you think they ever enter a race thinking "well, whatever happens happens"?), but today, our plan was no plan.

Not helping any was wind so strong that the car moved around a bit on the highway. It didn't let up much at the race itself, and I joked that I felt like I was at Ninigret (a beachside airport crit - flat, lots of wind, no shelter).

We lined up with a very, very small group of racers. I looked around a bit worried - this would be hard. Tons of wind, no shelter in the pack, and guys willing to really drive the pace.

I thought about it for a bit though. I knew I could find shelter in even the most extreme situations. I remembered practically riding in the bushes at Floyd Bennet Field (another waterfront airport crit), finishing the race with leaves stuck in my wheel, skewers, and stuff. I remembered clinging desperately to wheels at Ninigret, tires skimming on the edge of the pavement.

So I thought, okay, it's gonna be one of those days. Lots of desperate cross-wind shelter seeking following by massive speed on the tailwind and slowness in the headwinds. Roger that.

We started off okay, the CTSR promoter going off on a lonely mission. Ends up he wanted to work on his time trialing, and he did just that for a few laps, soloing on his own. A couple guys bridged, and suddenly this move looked a bit threatening.

After a couple others bridged, I knew the rest of us needed to do something. I did a little effort to get going and started a bridge attempt. I looked back and saw TC there - that was good, he'd just sit, force others to chase. Since no one was making moves, and since I'm not a break threat (I inevitably drop myself from breaks), no one would chase.

But when I looked back, he was clinging desperately to my wheel. Behind him I could see everyone else hanging on to him. I wasn't getting clear, I was just dragging the field up.

I jumped again, out of the saddle for just a bit, trying to break the elastic. I checked back and everyone was still there.

Later, I learned TC thought my looks were those of encouragement, to hang on, to let me drag him up the road. I explained that if he was really burying himself to stay on my wheel, he should sit up and let others bury themselves. You get less shelter behind one rider than you do behind, say, five, so if you don't have a reason to work extra hard to stay behind one rider, you let a few filter by so you get the shelter of many.

I also knew that if TC sat up, it'd be unlikely that someone would go around him. I'm not a break threat so guys won't necessarily chase me. But they'll chase two teammates who look like they have a plan, even if the teammates don't have a plan.

But TC didn't know all this, and with the "we don't have a plan" plan, he had no reason to react otherwise.

I knew I made a big effort but I didn't realize how much of an effort I made (relatively speaking).
Although it's taken me three days to even open the power file, I now know what I did - for two minutes I averaged over 350 watts, and for a minute I averaged almost 500.

That's huge for me. Huge, huge, huge. No wonder I blew up afterwards.

(Note: Jens Voight was soft pedaling in the Tour at 385 watts, his heart rate about 140. That puts my effort in perspective compared to the pros.)

I almost made it to the break before I gave up, wiggling my elbow and moving over. I was about to totally explode, and we still had about 50 minutes of racing left. I'd hoped to bridge on my own, buying myself 10 or 20 seconds of time. I could recover while sitting on, or, if the field came up, before the field caught us. I had to have about 20 or 30 seconds to get my heart rate back down, and I needed a gap to the field to buy that time.

But I had no gap and therefore no recovery time. Well, maybe 10 seconds worth.

I never recovered.

Within 5 minutes I'd popped off the back, totally in the red, my power diminishing steadily until I came off and stopped pedaling.

Frustrated, I jumped on the back of the group when they came by, but to no avail. I came off again, barely breaking 200 watts for a couple minutes. It's hard to be motivated when you're lapped, and I lost any impetus I had.

I decided, though, to get in a jump or two. I've been missing these efforts since the beginning of the year. Instead of weekly sessions of 10 or more sprints (in training), I've gotten in maybe 20 or 30 for the whole year. The last turn dumped us onto a tailwind stretch, but by the time we got to the finish line it was a moderately stiff cross-headwind. I'd jump out of the turn, use the tailwind to help me accelerate, and try and finish off the sprint into the unfriendly wind.

I rolled around until I had a clear bit of "track", with a group just about to catch me and another group a good 15 seconds ahead of me.

That's when I punched it.

I did a decent jump, a decent acceleration. I had to ease around the final curve. Then, distracted by catching the group in front, I forgot to shift up at the end (I didn't want to interfere with the guys still racing). Ends up that, regardless of the situation, it was a good sprint for me.

Let me share some metrics.

28 seconds (very long for me).

1360 max power. That's okay, but 200 under my best max of this year.
1300 for 5 seconds. That's good for me. I think.
1200 for 10 seconds. Err, I don't know if that's good or not.
1000 for 20 seconds. Seems average/low.
900 for the 28 seconds. Pretty good.

My sprints usually peak hard and decline rapidly to a sustainable output. I haven't gone 30 seconds at 1000 watts (that I know of) but my power from 10 to 20 seconds is my second strength, my jump being my first.

Max speed 38.7 mph. This really disappointed me since I thought I could easily break 40, and I'd been hoping for 42 (which used to be me default top speed - now it's about 38 mph). Problem was that the course curves for the last 100 meters or so, giving me less time to accelerate. I was going fast enough into the curve that I had to ease. In fact, I slowed severely as I went through the last bend, getting to the line at only 32 mph, huge dips in power illustrating how I tried to stay on the gas while keeping a relatively predictable line on the course.

I knew right away, based on my gearing and cadence, that I didn't have enough straight-line pavement to get up to speed. Even though I had a decent cadence (it hovered at around 120 rpm the whole time), I was short a couple gears to go to hit the low 40s.

I tried again but it was bad. I was tired, unmotivated, and demoralized. I aborted the sprint almost as soon as I started it, and turned off the course when I got to the line.

Moping a bit, I watched the rest of the race, did some of the post-race chat stuff, and then packed up to go to dinner with SOC and our respective spouses.

Later, much later, I looked at the power files.

According to the power chart, I'm still anemic in a power sense, hitting about 7 w/kg for 1 minute (Cat 5), 4 w/kg for 5 min (Cat 4), and 2.5 w/kg for FTP ("Untrained" or below Cat 5).

I hadn't really thought of my sprint as being max power (jump), first part of sprint (<5 seconds), mid sprint (10--20 seconds), and length of sprint (30 seconds). But now that I've broken down my sprint like that, I realized that I need to work on max power and the mid-sprint. That's where I can gain a lot of power, get my coordination together, work harder.

Lasting longer than 28 seconds would help too, allowing me to respond well to a variety of finishes. Normally my "long" sprints are 20-21 seconds, so to be able to go, say, 30 seconds would be huge.

Although I left demoralized from the race, after thinking about it I realized that, hey, it's not all that bad.

And, like they always say, there's next week.

Lilly (left) and Mike (paws visible) checking out the pin job. Massive pin count didn't help with my race.

PS: SOC flatted his front tire while in the lead group/break, after contesting and winning a prime. He jumped back in until the laps wound down, then sat up to allow the final bit of the race to work itself out amongst the breakaway riders. TC worked with a different group until the end of the race.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Helmet Cam - July 18, 2010, Naugatuck Crit, Cat 3-4s

Went into the race with a plan, a week of solid training at a quasi training camp, and no idea if my legs would be okay or if they'd be flat. Did a short spin in the morning to loosen up the legs, but got no indication of how I'd feel.

I drank about 2/3 of a 2 liter bottle of Coke just before the start - my stomach's reaction caused me to hide in the field for a few laps, just before the finish, as I chided myself for drinking so much. Oddly enough I spent the first 15 laps riding okay. The last 5 I forced myself to the front.

I also dumped 4 bottles of ice water on myself - one over the course of a few minutes at the start line, three during the race.

Ends up I felt pretty good during the race. Worked for my friend and teammate so there's a lot more action than normal, meaning I'm not just sitting in the whole race. I had to skip out on the initial part of the race, where I probably could have used about 15 minutes of constant jumping, bridging, and pulling. Of course I did this to save time on the clip, and then YouTube extended their clip length maximum to 15 minutes. Still, though, this represents a good core of the race.

As usual, in hindsight, I realized I could have done things differently. I hope to return and give these ideas a try.

Anyway, I had a lot of fun in the race. I hope you have fun watching the clip.

Text is here.

Video is just below. Enjoy.

Note: Navone Studios are the folks that helped out immensely during the Spring Series.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Racing - A Question Of Honor

From Versus TV on YouTube

So we've all hashed out "Chaingate" in this year's Tour. Basically Andy Schleck, leading the overall, had a drivetrain "issue", making it necessary for him to dismount his bike to fix it. Since this was at a critical moment of the race (Schleck was literally in the middle of an attack), he quickly lost some time. Contador, sitting a very close second overall, gained distance on Schleck, taking the yellow at the end of the stage. Ultimately Contador won the Tour by exactly the time gained by this very attack.

The question is, of course, was attacking at this time acceptable?

A majority of folks have said no. Very few have said yes.

I wouldn't be writing a post if I didn't agree with the latter. I said this when I first heard what happened, and then, to make sure that I wasn't going on hearsay, I looked a bit into the actual video of the incident (which I've linked to above).

So, laying it on the table, I think Contador was okay in attacking Schleck at that time.

Interestingly enough, Riis (Schleck's director) himself doesn't criticize Contador's attack. Of course, he may have known that Schleck planned to leave Riis's team at the end of the year, so Riis might have been getting in a little dig. But I don't think so, and Riis has generally been supportive of his racers up to the moment they leave the team.

An interesting voice supporting Contador is that of Sastre. He attacked in a later stage when a GC contender (Sammy Sanchez) fell pretty hard. Sastre (and his team) had planned on setting up a point man in the early break, allowing Sastre to bridge to the break and having an ally waiting there.

Sastre's legs failed him though, and he never made it to the break. He actually lost a lot of time and ended any hopes of a high overall place.

Contador, perhaps remembering how the crowds treated him after the Schleck incident, told the field to wait for Sanchez. Then, properly integrated, they proceeded to shell Sanchez later.

Sastre's point after the race was that this is all about bike racing. It's not a post-Tour crit where the results are kind of negotiated before the race. Guys stake their whole season on the Tour, sometimes on just a day or two of the Tour, and you have to race when you race.

Cycling is a bit unusual in that there's an unwritten code of conduct that helps govern the group as a whole. They wait for one another, take pee breaks en masse, and lend each other food or water or even equipment or rides.

I can see how this evolved, with a small number of people always racing against each other. It's the same directors, same riders, same mechanics, same officials, all racing day in and day out against one another.

What you don't want to do is to get a bunch of riders mad at you. Like in any group of people you get some feuds. The Dutch teams notoriously feuded for a long time, with Jan Raas (director of Kwantum as well as other teams) fighting with Peter Post (of Panasonic). The feud got ridiculous, with each team riding so much against each other that they'd let a third party win major races.

Another feud occurred between a US team, Motorola, and a Dutch team, PDM (a separate Dutch team). PDM, after Motorola's actions upset them (Motorola signed Andy Bishop away from PDM), retaliated by working specifically against Motorola. Their then director even made references to these actions in the Tour du Pont coverage. He pulls up next to the Motorola director and point blank asks why Motorola is chasing a solo PDM rider. Motorola had no reason to chase - PDM's podium threat, Lemond's Z team, was leading the chase.

The Motorola director has no answer - he sounds like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. The PDM director angrily replies.

"You remember what we did after Andy, eh?"

Then he floors it and pulls away, which, I have to admit, isn't very impressive when you're doing it in the anemic GM minivans lent to the teams for the race.

Of course, at that moment in the race, PDM was trying to break Z's legs, forcing the Z team to chase a PDM rider all over the countryside. Motorola stepped in, lent their tremendous power to the chase, and brought the PDM interloper back into the fold. Motorola didn't need to do that - the solo rider was well under control, and Z was plugging away steadily at the front, using up their guys, trying to time the catch so that there'd be little time for any counters.

Two different teams, one (Motorola) sticking their noses into a situation which didn't concern them (they just wanted the stage win, which they got), the other (PDM) doing their job. PDM had more significant aspirations - they wanted to break their GC rival's team, and they sacrificed a guy to do it.

So what's that got to do with Chaingate?

It's all the unwritten rules of the sport. Motorola was breaking one; PDM was trying to enforce it.

What's interesting about cycling is that they actually write down some of the unwritten rules. For example, USA Cycling has this concept of a "Free Lap". In a race that does laps, if you have laps less than a certain distance, you can receive mechanical assistance at designated spots on the course ("pits"), and rejoin the race a lap later.

The idea here is that a rider shouldn't necessarily be penalized for a mechanical or a crash.

Sound familiar?

It should, because this is the written version (for crits) of the unwritten version (for road races).

In crits, until 5 miles to go, you can get a free lap. You have to have crashed or had a mechanical, and if it's a mechanical, it has to be a failure of some point. It cannot be a simple malfunction (like you drop your chain, ahem, or roll an improperly glued tire). Mechanicals need to be beyond the rider's control - broken spoke, bent rim, broken saddle, stuff like that. If the bike isn't adjusted right, that's not a mechanical. If it breaks, it is.

However, and this is key, the free lap rule expires with 5 miles to go. Or 8 km, as officially written. What the written rule says is that although it's proper to allow someone a second chance after a mishap, you can't get that second chance in the last 5 miles of a race.

Think about it.

Basically, once the race gets into the "no backsies" stage, you don't get any free laps.

In a road race it's trickier, and therefore there are no written rules.

Unlike a crit or a circuit race, where racers cover the same course and see the same tactical choke points over and over, a road race typically presents very specific tactical points, and usually they're far apart.

Typical road race obstacles for us mere mortals would be things like any hill (for me) that's longer than a 200 meters. Corners would be an obstacle. A narrowing road. Descents. Feed zones. The racers see a variety of areas where they can make a move.

At the ProTour level, you can eliminate some of these tactical choke points. It takes, it seems, climbs of at least 1st Category or Hors Category to truly separate the racers. A mere 5 km climb just won't do it.

Winds play a huge factor, especially with the high speeds ridden by the ProTour peloton. A flat area hit with a big crosswind can shatter a race.

Finally, because ProTour riders expect to be able to stay together in some reasonable form, cobblestones and dirt roads become a factor. For us amateurs they don't make a difference simply because our expectations differ - we don't think our fields will stick together after even short hills on dirt roads. The pros, on the other hand, think they will, at least in a Grand Tour.

ProTour racers need to make their own decisions on what is "acceptable" and what is not. On Stage 2 of the Tour, after a series of crashes that took out something like 80 or 100 racers, the racers took it upon themselves to neutralize the race. In this case it seems a motorcycle crashed, cracking its block, and spread oil all over an already slick descent. Chaos ensued. Schleck, ironically, ended up one of the main beneficiaries on this day, when a potential multi-minute loss turned into a "same time" finish.

Stage 2's neutralization hinged on the fact that so many riders went down. Some teams escaped unscathed, with Cervelo Test Team prominently at the front, with green jersey contender Thor Hushovd and the aforementioned Carlos Sastre.

(And it begs me to ask, "What kind of tires and pressures did they run that they didn't fall over on the wet and oily roads?", because, to me, I wouldn't necessarily call any of the Cervelo Test Team racers "the best bike handlers ever".)

The next day, on Stage 3, the racers put their heads down and raced throughout the day. Schleck, led ably by Classics expert Fabio Cancellara, distanced some of his rivals. Again racers crashed throughout the day, but not in the numbers like the previous day. No one had in mind any idea to neutralize the race. In fact, Schleck continues on after his brother Frank takes a big enough digger that Frank withdraws from the race.

Fast forward to Stage 15, when Schleck launched a big attack. Almost as soon as he did, his chain derailled.

Contador, already responding to Schleck's move, rides by. Now, in a normal situation, if your chain falls off, you just pedal a bit and pick it back up. I've gone by plenty of riders that dropped their chain, and it's not a big deal.

(Unless you have Campy like I do, in which case, for some reason, the chain doesn't want to get picked up again; this is why I use an N-Gear Jumpstop. Personally I don't know how SRAM systems deal with chain drops; I know Shimano front ends work well to pick up dropped chains.)

Unfortunately for Schleck, it's one of those times. He has to hop off the bike to fix the chain, twice.

And that's that.

Contador doesn't look back for a bit - that's normal for a pro. Roy Knickman, in a Tour de L'Avenir, once described attacking the field, hammering for 20 (!!) kilometers, then turning around to see who was there. Even at an extremely fast pace, he didn't turn around for a good 20 or 25 minutes.

Now, Contador isn't in quite the same situation, but he did just commit to a big move. He bridges a gap to Menchov and Sanchez, both potential podium finishers, goes blowing by them, and then seems to pause. He backs off enough to let Menchov back on, turns off the gas (he lets Sanchez come through), and seems to think about it.

When Schleck doesn't return (and probably with an earful of director screaming at him), Contador pushes on.

I have to say that Paul Sherwen, talking about "fair play", helps fan the fires here. There's nothing about having to wait for someone who, at first glance, simply dropped their chain. That's the rider's fault (and his mechanic's).

Schleck dropped chain ended up forcing him to get off the bike, twice, and that's what caused the problems. Not the chain dropping itself, because often times a rider can fix that "on the fly". It's his dismounting that caused the problems.

If I dropped a chain in a crit, I don't get a free lap. This is because there's an assumption that a properly adjusted, properly ridden bike will not spontaneously drop its chain. Sure, I could really screw things up by, say, putting it in the big ring and big cog and pedal backwards furiously. I guarantee you that my chain won't be happy within a second or two.

And with Schleck's case, whatever it was that caused him to drop his chain, it wasn't a peloton-wide phenomenon. It wasn't a cracked motorcycle engine case spewing oil everywhere on a wet, curvy descent taking out half the field. It wasn't a SRAM defect (Contador rode a SRAM bike as well). It wasn't a stray spectator taking him out. There was no blood, no crash, no rider plummeting off a cliff.

The problem struck only Schleck, when he was essentially by himself, in the middle of the road, on a hill at a reasonable speed (albeit faster than you or me), on a sunny, clear, and dry day. For a bike racer there couldn't be more ideal conditions to be riding a bike.

His motions also indicated a minor problem. Looking down, shifting... they're all indicative of a dropped chain. In most cases it would take a second or so to pick up the chain, and the race would be back to normal.

However, Schleck panics. He dismounts as he slows. He only half-restores his chain at first, hits the crank with his leg when he jumps on the saddle, and promptly derails his chain again. He has to repeat his work, this time completely, then gets going.

If he had put his chain back on completely the first time, I suspect he'd have been literally a few meters off the back of Contador at the top of the climb. The second (and unnecessary) "fix" makes up for pretty much all of the 13 or 14 second gap at the top - it's a good 10 seconds for him to fix the chain that second time before the cameras cut away from him. At 15 seconds, when they return to him, there are two guys giving him a push to get started, but you could hardly call his speed "racing".

Ultimately, it's a race. When I make a move to win a race, I'm looking to demolish my opposition. I don't jump in a sprint half-heartedly, trying to be nice to the others. I jump as hard as I can, no mercy. I use what strength I have totally and completely.

I expect nothing less from my opponents. And judging by the speed by which I've been passed in sprints, they think similarly.

At the same time, I get handed the same treatment. At a Rent a few weeks ago, I clung on desperately as a far stronger racer drove the pace at the front. He turned around, saw me in trouble, and launched an even more ferocious attack.

I came off.

If I drop my chain off the crankset and can't pick it back up, I don't expect any mercy from the other racers. It's my responsibility to maintain my equipment, my responsibility to ride it sensibly.

This latter bit is key.

A rider has to take into account any equipment shortcomings.

If you choose to run fragile tires, you need to avoid glass and sharp potholes. If you run fragile wheels, you'll want to avoid those potholes. If you run an unusually low or high amount of tire pressure, you need to adjust for that when you, say, dive into a sharp turn.

At Bethel, I've avoid using the small chainring specifically so that I reduce the chances of dropping my chain. Fine, I have the N-Gear Jumpstop, but if I never shift the front derailleur, the chances of the chain dropping off get reduced to near-zero. So I carefully stay on the big ring, using a slightly wider range cassette so I have a "bail out" gear in the big ring. I carefully avoid backpedaling when waiting at the start.

I do this because I want to reduce the risk of dropping my chain. It's my responsibility to not drop my chain and I accept it.

Now, at the same time, if there are riders that have crashed, there's a chance I'll stop. I stopped at the first Bethel P123 race, when a bunch of guys crashed with two to go. I'd been working really hard to finish my first P123 race in probably a decade, and instead of pedaling around two more laps, I stopped to make sure the guys were reasonably okay.

Yeah, I promote the race. Yeah, I recognized a couple guys that fell. But no, there were no rules saying I should or shouldn't stop. The fact that the race finished in a big bunch sprint meant that many racers didn't stop.

Do I fault them?

Not at all.

Like them, in other races, I've kept racing after watching or hearing a crash. I didn't stop in Somerville every time someone crashed. Had I done so, I'd have learned that a few friends had crashed, and some had crashed hard. Ditto Harlem - I didn't stop for any crashes. Even the Keith Berger Crit, I left a couple riders behind me, on the deck, after watching them tumble.

But in Chaingate we're not talking about a crash. We're not talking about injury or sabotage. We're talking about a rider, essentially alone, who has a mechanical that requires absolutely no adjustment or part replacement to fix.

The bike worked before, and it worked after the incident.

The rider was alone. No one touched him, no one caused him to drop his chain. No one jammed a pump in his wheel (or into his chain).

If a racer's bike has a problem that requires no parts or adjustment to fix, and it happens in the most ideal conditions - on smooth roads, dry, warm, sunny, on a top line bike, with no one around, at reasonable speeds - then there's no reason for anyone to wait.

One can be respectful to one's opponents. But at some point it's a competition, and everyone has to race. Although crashes are a case by case situation, solo mechanicals are not. I may push a teammate who dropped a chain so that he can pick it back up, but if he stops to put the chain back on, I wouldn't expect him to get a free lap, nor would I expect the field to wait for him.

Even if he was in the Yellow Jersey. In the greatest race in the world.