Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Racing - June 29, 2011 NBX Training Series

So after my disastrous June 28th Rent race, I decided to give the Ninigret race a chance. In the past I've had good memories at Ninigret. I finished my first race there, in 1983 (!!). I got second there last year too, after romping around having fun, with absolutely no plans except for romping around and having fun.

This year, with less fitness, more weight... miracles can sometimes happen.

Of course, first I had to get there. With my blue car kind of on the market, I didn't want to put my bike in there. Part of it was that I'd just spent a few hours earlier that day detailing the car (and my bike and the three wheel sets I use). Tossing a bike, no matter how clean, into the car would mess it up. This meant swapping out for the red car (the "winter" car), which hasn't been driven for a few months now. I drove over to the "storage garage" and got into the red car.

Fortunately for me the red car started without a hiccup.

After swapping spots, red car for blue, I drove back home. I did note that the tank was less than a quarter full, maybe two gallons, and I had a 100 mile drive ahead of me. I mentally noted I'd have to stop for gas.

Without the Missus's car, I didn't have the regular stuff already packed. I'd gotten kind of used to the whole "leave everything in the car and just get another kit" business, like we did for two Tuesdays and a Sunday race.

This time I had to get everything and not forget. Helmet. Shoes. Pump. Kit. Heartrate belt. SRM head. Camera (and is it charged and is the memory cleared?). So on and so forth. I even brought a laptop just in case I checked the camera and it had data on it.

By the time I left it was a bit late, like 45 minutes later than I wanted to leave. This put me into the heart of rush hour traffic, so I creeped and crawled through Hartford. Then, free of constraints, I made good (but sensible) time down to Ninigret.

I forgot about the red car's low power and struggled up some of the hills. Trying to stretch the tank out, now that I had no extra time, I wanted to get to Ninigret without having to stop for gas, but I also wanted to avoid going 40 mph up some of the longer grades.

Eventually, thinking about how pessimistic the gauge has been in the past, I decided to maximize power on the uphills, and try and minimize consumption elsewhere.

Delicately balancing on this razor edge of economy and speed, I managed to get to the race.

At 6:30 PM.

Which, coincidentally, is the start time for the A race.

SOC was waiting for me, telling me that we don't necessarily have to start on the first lap. See, it's a low key race, and there are no numbers and a lot of honor system stuff. Still, though, it didn't seem right, so I hurried anyway.

He got my bike out of the car while I registered (check payable to "Cash" in lieu of knowing exactly what to write), then ran back. With SOC puzzled by the somewhat tight tolerances of the bike, he waited for me holding the bike and a wheel. I got the wheels on, pumped them up, got the heart rate belt on, slipped on my jersey, grabbed my helmet, stuck both wheels in the bike, grabbed a couple bottles, buckled on my shoes, and we were rolling to the line.

No time for gloves so I told myself not to crash.

Field already lined up.

With a relatively low key start, I hoped that things would escalate gradually. The first lap went by sedately. I'd seen some pretty big guns lining up so I hoped that they'd ride slow, break away cleanly, then lap the field. This way the field's speed wouldn't escalate too high and I'd be able to sit in.

At this point I even had time to sight-see.

Spinergy Rev-X wheels!

The wind, ever present at Ninigret, hit us square going away from the start/finish little hut thing (i.e. hit us after the second right turn). This made for a severe crosswind on the straight parallel (and opposite) the start/finish stretch. I knew I had to find shelter there but I found it difficult, lacking focus and concentration. Inevitably, lap after lap, I'd find myself in the wind, too late to move over.

And, eventually, as would be expected with multiple errors like this, I came off the back of the field.

It wasn't at the crosswind section though. A crosswind section may saw you off if it's long enough, but usually it'll just zap your legs. Then, on the less windy sections, when the rest of the racers pick it up, your legs don't do anything.

And so it was for me.

Note: this is a cross-tailwind stretch, not a headwind one.

I eased, letting the field lap me. SOC told me that I could participate in all but the final sprint if I was lapped, so I decided that once my heart rate got back to racing level (instead of coasting around the course level), I'd do whatever I could. Once I reintegrated into the field, I let my heartrate rise until I was back in "hurting" mode, my regular race mode.

When the officials rang the bell for a prime, I decided that I'd pull for the sprint. A few guys insisted on trying to get away, but without a significant gap, I followed through with my pull. I went pretty hard, too hard actually, and kept pulling about two straights longer than I would have pulled had I wanted to get back in the race.

Pulling hard. Heart rate 168, about my max in normal life.
Note lack of gloves. This lack of hand protection was a first for me in many years.

Instead, after I peeled off, the whole field zipped by me.

I coasted around again.

The field reabsorbed me again.

And I did another pull, another one that was too long, too hard, and would see me off the back.

Eventually, as the laps wound down, I decided to actually stop. SOC was still in the race, with a break that had gone away. As expected it had a lot of the big guns in it, and although they shed one rider just before they lapped the field, four riders did lap the field.

Therefore the field would be sprinting for fifth.

The main break antagonist, Bill Y, couldn't help himself and went again with about 5 laps to go, soloing in for the win.

The other four resigned themselves to sprinting it out in the field, while the field set up for the scraps.

Arc-En-Ciel put two guys at the front for the last three laps, stringing out the field into single file. SOC, somehow, planted himself right on their wheels.

As the field rounded the 5th turn, the front three looked exactly the same, the two Arc-en-Ciels followed by SOC. They disappeared from view at the 6th turn, with a lot of moving up and such. I lost the tactical picture there but saw that a surge had swamped the Arc-en-Ciels.

I hoped the best for SOC.

When the group popped out from behind the low trees, a few guys at the front, followed by a couple length gap, then SOC at the head of a very pointy field.

SOC jumped hard, overhauled the others, and started his final effort to the line. A couple break riders tried to pass him, gave up, and then they all finished.

With SOC at the front of affairs.

Incredibly, after sitting for 3 laps in relative wind, after getting slightly gapped going into the sprint, and leading out the sprint, he managed to win it.

His haul?

His entry fee, a pound of coffee (he passed up on the booze), and a gift certificate.

That was for 5th place! Well, that and a prime. And another prime (a second place in the two place prime - all primes are two places there).

Yeah, he was cleaning up that day.

After the race we had some food, I got gas for the red car (it still had over a gallon left in the ten gallon tank - the gauge kind of misses the first gallon I guess) and set off on the 100 mile trip home.

It's a great series. Low key, inexpensive ($10), with some serious racing. We'll be back for sure, and I promise I'll arrive earlier, be more awake, and be much more careful about the wind.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Racing - June 28, 2011 @TuesdayTheRent

After the KB Crit, the long drive before it, and then usual "we just got back from vacation and have nothing in the house so we have to go shopping" biz, the Missus and I were a bit fatigued. I thought that my legs were pretty good Sunday at the race so figured that the Rent wouldn't be a problem.

Luckily I had all my racing stuff in the car (just left it in there after the KB Crit); I just had to get a clean kit, make sure my camera was charged, and we'd be good to go.

The Missus gathered up some of the racing supplies before I got home, stuff like ice and water in the Podium bottles, so we left at a good time. After our little trick at the intersection near us, we got under way.

I should explain the intersection bit.

First off, we live in a cycling friendly town, according to a national group's ratings. It's the only one in Connecticut, so you can kind of guess where we live.

However, and I say this in all seriousness, the drivers here are quite oblivious. I've never seen such blatant red-light running, stop sign running, or tailgating so tight that it would make a NASCAR driver flinch. This is the town we live in.

So, when we leave our humble abode, we have to navigate this one intersection, a 3 way stop.

Since two of the three roads are pretty busy, most of the drivers are going to and from those two roads. Going one direction ("east"), it's a right turn; going the other ("west") it's a left.

The right turn people rarely stop, if ever. A lot of times two cars will stream through like one, as if the first car had a hitch connecting it to the second one.

Problem is that we have to turn onto that road about 20 yards later. Since no one really stops at the three way, we ended up facing a never-ending stream of cars.

After one particularly frustrating day, we decided we'd use the stop sign as our way out of this impossible left turn.

We'd go to the three way stop (from the "less busy" road), stop, and turn left.

This forces those drivers going east to actually stop. It also forces the drivers going west to actually stop at the line, not 10 or 15 feet past it. Our left is extremely acute, barely giving us room to clear the curb.

So when we get to the intersection, we carefully use our turn signal. We do normally, but here it's extremely important.

We wait for one car each from the other directions to go.

Then we go.

Of course we almost get t-boned from the right by the next car going east, and the west-bound car will start moving forward quickly, almost t-boning us from the left.

We each give the appropriate driver dirty looks, one to the left, one to the right. Both drivers look a bit embarrassed for being caught doing something naughty, especially doing something that they knew they shouldn't be doing.

After we clear the intersection we giggle because, really, what else can you do? The drivers are pretty oblivious. There's even some empirical proof. They've been repaving a road here, carefully marking the now-raised manhole covers. Yet, unbelievably, people are paying attention to everything but the road, and now a lot of people are deservedly bending wheels and blowing tires. If they didn't tailgate, if they actually paid attention to the road in front of them, they wouldn't be hitting stationary objects painted bright orange.

(Today the manhole covers have tall cones on them. It's called dumbing down the system, working for the lowest common denominator.)

Anyway, with the start to any I-91 trip, we do this, and today wasn't any different.

We got to Rentschler Field okay and after getting ready, I got on the bike.


My legs were tired. Sore, even. I guess the KB Crit was harder than I thought. The long driving didn't help any.

I remembered to be thankful that I wasn't good enough to be a pro, where my life would be driving and racing all the time.

It's nice to be able to pick and choose my races, skipping any really sketchy ones, instead of having to do this or that race.

A pleasant surprise - ShovelHD, a rider from up north, making an appearance at the Rent. He made the even longer drive to Bethel to support the Bethel Spring Series. A good guy, strong and savvy racer, he's recently returned to the sport after a long hiatus, racing like he'd never stopped.

The race started off okay, a few of the Expo guys got into a move, and that move attracted more and more racers. The group in front grew in size, the racer count going up almost every lap.

Problem was that the Expo number didn't go up enough. Soon we were a pack of 10 with 7 Expo riders.

The rest of the race was up the road.

The Expo guys weren't necessarily blocking, but no one was really chasing either. Since we had to bridge sooner than later, I decided that I'd make my first huge withdrawal (from the race account) to bridge the gap.

I got to the front, echoed another's cry that we had to close the gap ("Gap? It was like the Grand Canyon!"), and then surged. Not too hard, just got the big gear rolling.

It took just under half a lap to catch and pass two dangling off the front, then another almost half lap to actually bridge up to the group in front of them. The gap was probably around 12 or 13 seconds to the group in front, about the maximum a solo rider like myself can close in one anaerobic effort.

At that point, to be frank, I was cooked. A few laps later, behind Shovel and teammate Cliff, towards the back of the field, I found I couldn't go out of Turn Three. I'd already been pushing hard to stay in contact, hoping for some recovery, but I never got out of the hole I got into through that bridge effort.

I came off, rolled around for a lap or four, and when I had a clear shot to the line (no racers in my way, or, rather, me not in the way of any racer), I did one practice sprint to the line.

It was a bit weak, to be frank. I barely broke 35 mph (no power data available), my legs threatening mutiny all the way.

I debated doing a sprint a lap for a while, but after coasting around Turn One, I realized that it'd take me another 5 minutes to gather up the courage (and strength) to go again. Cutting my losses, I stopped.

At the end teammate Todd B won the sprint. I can't remember if he'd been a lap up but I think he was.

Although I felt really fatigued, I didn't think I felt that tired, nor did I think I went too hard before I collapsed so spectacularly.

Yes, the bridge effort spiked my heart rate, but on a normal "good" day I'd have recovered from that in a lap or two. Tonight I never did, and it eventually forced me off the back.

After I bridged I had some thoughts to add to my bridging thoughts. Unlike my normal "I want to get me, myself, and I across the gap", I wanted to bring 6 teammates and a few others across. My goal wasn't to break free of the group, it was to help the group.

I knew that my acceleration would hurt, but it'd hurt me more because I was the one pulling. Anyone who would be able to hang in for the duration of the race would be able to hang onto my wheel during the bridge.

Therefore I didn't jump. I only got the big gear rolling. I got it going kind of quickly, yes, but it wasn't a sharp 35-38 mph attack. Instead I stayed seated, used an overly large gear to start off, and notched up the pace to 31 mph, then 32 mph, then finally 33 mph. Incredibly I pulled for about a minute, averaging a touch over 30 mph for that minute.

(Note: that's incredible for me as I've never done that before, that I know of, where I'm pulling the whole time.)

However, and this is key, everyone back there made it with me.

I never got separation.

I never did, but it's important to note that a 31 mph surge out of a 24 mph group is not an attack, it's only "raising the pace". To get a gap on others you need to go up another level. In this surge I accelerated about 7 mph over the group pace. In other surges I've figured that it takes about 13-15 mph of speed difference before the racers best able to respond start having second thoughts. They look around at the next guy, the next guy is thinking, "Um, no, not me" and suddenly there's a gap.

So with that lesson in mind, I accepted the night's fate.

For some reason SOC and I decided that we'd try the NBX Ninigret summer training series the next night. He lives pretty close to the course, relatively speaking, but for me it'd be, at best, a 1:45 drive. I wanted to improve on my single move race of tonight. SOC wanted to explore his recently discovered form.

As the Missus pointed out as I debated driving to this race, a couple years prior I drove much further every Wednesday to go to the track. Unlike virtually all my races, the Missus wouldn't join me at Ninigret, nor would Mrs SOC join SOC. It'd be a guy's night out.

With all the carousing it'd be difficult to get in a bike race but we'd try anyway.

Ninigret on deck.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Racing - 2011 Keith Berger Criterium

So, finally, the day arrived. We'd be going to the Keith Berger Crit at long last. A forever drive out to the midwest, another forever drive back, and, because I really wanted to do the race, we'd stop at the KB Crit. I'd hauled my bike with us the whole time, a few kits, spare wheels, everything.

We started the day at Mifflinville, the Harry Potter sounding town, heading east towards home. With our driving speeds a little muted, we managed to make good time for the whole trip. Without our quaint inn's nice breakfast, we had to make do with some McDonald's off the highway a bit down the road.

With no home fridge full of ice and reusable frozen thingies for the cooler, we had to stop to actually buy ice. We waited until we were on home turf, with a particular spot in mind. At our favorite I-84 gas stop (cheapest gas), I went in to get ice, a caffeine-sugar soda (RockStar), and some PowerBars (Harvest - I think that's the "energy" one - and a higher protein one).
Up to this point I'd been driving. I suppose I felt a bit nervous because I'd started to do some "young me" moves, like passing on the right, or (gasp!) tailgating people going well below the speed limit.

As this wasn't productive in any way (we were on target to arrive two hours before the race), we switched at the gas station, the Missus driving the rest of the way, putting us back into a more mellow style of travel.

The KB Crit promised to be reasonably warm, with some threatening clouds that never made a difference. In the P123 race we had a good crew of riders, with three guys Cliff, Todd, and David already having raced a race. Kevin, SOC, and myself would be fresh for this race. I figured that I could be a contender, but that it'd be more likely to be a David or Cliff or Todd or even SOC. After the long day on Saturday I wasn't sure how my legs would feel.

I kitted up and rolled out, warming up with the boys. I felt okay, the RockStar perking me up, the Energy bar filling the empty feeling in my stomach. I hadn't had an optimal diet in the days leading up to the race, one filled with carbs and such, so I wasn't sure how my legs would feel.

I did know that I felt some pressure on myself, pressure to do something, anything. To have dragged the bike all over the place, spend a few hours riding it on Friday, and then to come here and get blown out of the water... that would be bad.

With that in mind I lined up, the camera well charged (it sat on the charger all night, and my backup camera sat on the charger during the umpteen hours of driving on Saturday), memory clear (I made sure both were clear before we set off from Mifflinville), and the SRM charged (it sat on the charger all night), I knew that at least electronically I was ready.

As a bonus I had started getting power readings again. Either my wire harness was acting up before or the battery in the crank suddenly revived, but either way, I had some power numbers and such.

During the warm up I saw some Stans NoTubes riders. The name popped out because I saw that some of them had placed at Nationals just the weekend prior, and I'd never seen them before. I figured they'd be a reasonable team to watch.

I saw some other teams, matching kits and all. The only other new-to-me team was some Bicycle School team, I think Boston Bicycle School. They looked pretty impressive in their kits, but I couldn't recall reading about them in any national level races. I figured they'd be good tactically so I decided that perhaps I should keep an eye out on them too.

I felt pretty thirsty, drinking down a lot of water before the race. Normally I don't feel "thirsty" but I felt it today. That wasn't a good sign - it meant that I was pretty dehydrated.

Incidentally I've had much better luck with cramps when I avoid electrolyte drinks, so I've been drinking plain water and sugar/caffeine stuff if I'm tired.

I swapped bottles, my Podium Ice bottles reserved for the actual race, the taller size Podium Chills (I ended up with the taller version of the Chills) for the warm up. Although the Ice bottles stay colder longer, the main reason I leave the Chills behind is that the really-tall Chills fall out of my bottle cages.

We lined up, me a bit behind the bunch because I didn't want pressure while clipping in. A few hellos and we were off.

Lining up.
Note the gap to everyone else.

Incredibly the field had closed out, totally full, 100 racers. Awesome for the promoters, that's for sure.

It was also good for me - more shelter, more legs to chase moves. Typically, at least for crits, larger fields means higher chances of a field sprint. Guys will try and get away, some team or three will miss the move, chase, and once together again someone will go again.

With more racers there'd be more teams, more individuals (who have no reason to block), and therefore a higher overall pace.

Only if a huge break went up the road would it have a chance - it'd have to have strong riders from the biggest teams there in order to work, and the break would have to cooperate. That's highly unlikely, but, in case it happened, I'd have to be ready to bridge to such a move.

The first lap of the race passed by pretty easily, everyone mellow, no first lap attacks. But then it got going, and the SRM shows the stress. I regularly break 1000 watts on the early laps, jumping out of turns, and I break 900 watts at each corner for a few minutes, at two corners a minute.

I was wondering what the heck was going on, if a break would actually stick due to the high pace. I even contemplated sitting up, giving up, but realized that I had to keep going. To have brought the bike everywhere and then sit up after three laps would be disappointing at best, shameful at worst.

My view for the first part of the race. It was fast!

It ends up that teammate David, looking for a good 50 minute workout, was launching moves one after another for the first bit of the race. Once him and the other frisky racers eased off the fast stuff the pace slowed.

And when David finished his workout, he promptly dropped out. I must have given him a hurt look when he shot backwards because he gave me a puzzled one.

My numbers came down to breaking only 700 watts per corner, but still, it's 700+ watts four times a lap. As my normal tactic I tail gunned, sitting at the back, but it became precarious sometimes, and I had to close a gap or two. The long coasts, the soft pedaling on the backstretch, it made the tailgunning worthwhile.

But for the most part, with a 41 or so mile race ahead of us (45 laps), I decided to sit tight and wait for the latter part of the race. Most crits have a tough start, an easy period, then an escalating finish, with the last five laps the hardest of the race.

The racing could get close.
Bike wagger right, super-smooth left.

One of the cool things about this year, versus last year, is that this year I did the P123 race, not the Cat 3s. Overall I noticed a much higher quality of bike riding skills and etiquette, where racers looked comfortable even in closer quarters. And when the more-wobbly riders made some churning efforts, wagging their bikes a bit much, no one blinked. They just gave them more room.

Another feature of this race, although not as cool, was that these P123 races tended to drag on a bit longer than the 3s. This year I've found myself lapcard-praying, looking for low numbers. First I wait as long as I can, hoping for at least the halfway point, then I look at the cards.

After that it's all downhill (and not in a good way). Every few laps I double check the cards in disbelief.

"It can't be just 2 laps since I looked!"

I broke the "unknown" period by looking at the cards. I don't remember what they said, but I think it was 35 or 36 laps. That's "to go", not "done". Suffice it to say that that's the highest lap count I've ever seen as the first glance count.

It took an eternity to get the cards down into the 20s, and by about 23 laps, just under halfway, I'd already swapped bottles once, so I'd have a "reserve" left in the original bottle. Thankfully the temperatures stayed under control and I realized that I could be a bit more generous with the icy water in the second half of the race.

One poor CCB soul, pictured in the strung out picture, had to resort to riding through a huge puddle to keep cool. I could see both of his uninsulated bottles, and both were pretty much empty for the last 10 laps of the race. Some Podium Ice bottles would go a long way towards fixing his water problem. It's probably fair to say that he already raced one race - he looked like someone that already did one. But whatever, I was glad I could pour water on myself that was so cold it still had chunks of ice in it.

I got into a pattern while riding in the race. Go past start finish, move a bit if necessary, go into the first turn a little to the inside of someone else. If I wanted a sip of water I'd take it. Watch the big crack in the turn - on one lap it almost ripped the bars out of my hands.

Roll up the second stretch, nothing major, just staying to the left of the next rider to find some shelter.

The third turn was the sketchiest, and I preferred to be on the right. I'd go through on the left without any complaints, it was just that the right side was a bit more manageable in the following backstretch.

Once on the super long backstretch I'd dump some water, sip some, and steel myself for the efforts after the third and fourth turns. Those would fly by, we'd be back on the main stretch, and I'd repeat myself.

Although I felt a bit tired, I wasn't getting twinges in my legs like I normally do. I felt pretty good overall, but the distance really started to affect me. I remember saying to someone at the start of a recent race that I hadn't done a 40 mile ride in a while, and here I was again, doing a 40 mile ride. The somewhat unusual distance (for me) really started to sap my legs.

At about 14 to go I felt a bit of worry. I knew that in other P123 races that moving up in the last lap simply didn't happen for me. I figured that I should move up and maintain a position. I'd surf the front, try to balance on that delicate edge of the wave, riding the edge without going over. In cycling terms I'd make the little jumps to go with each surge, all while remaining protected from the wind. No super big efforts, just a bunch of little ones.

Ideally this would keep my heart rate under control, instead of spiking it by making a big move.

Looking at the power meter numbers after the race, I probably could have waited a few more laps before moving up. But, at that time, in this race, 14 to go triggered some alarm.

So I started moving up a bit.

By 10 to go I'd moved up enough that the Missus, usually looking for me tailgunning, started wondering if I'd dropped out of the race. I wasn't "at the front" as much as I was in the core of the clump of racers just behind the front.

What I (re-)discovered amazed me. In the group, in the middle, there was this "eye of the storm". I could make pretty regular efforts out of turns but other than that, I did absolutely nothing to maintain position.

I just rode my bike.

The guys around me protected my position when they protected their own position. I was in this little area where I could stay put, so long as I pedaled out of the turns. Granted, I was going a touch harder than the 550-600 watts I was doing at the back of the field, but now I had to respond to whatever moves the guys at the front made.

I started realizing this whole "eye of the storm" thing about 6 laps from the end. It seemed too good to be true, just gliding along in the middle of the chaos, so I just enjoyed it, tried to make it last.

Behind me, to the inside, I could hear pedals and spokes colliding. There was a crash on the inside, as guys tried to make room where no room existed. In fact I think there were two crashes before the last lap started.

Finally, at some point at about two laps to go, I made a mistake. I eased when I shouldn't have, I didn't accelerate with a surge, something.

So I found myself, at the bell, pretty much at the back of the race.

I'd worked for about 10 laps of the race, holding a pretty good position, worked a bit....

For nothing.

My view after Turn One on the last lap of the race.
Not really ideal, if you ask me.

I came out of Turn One pretty demoralized. I'd spent quite a bit of mental energy surfing on that delicate edge, having more than a few close calls requiring some actual input to the bike so that I'd stay upright.

And now, after all that, after all that driving, after dragging my bike into Chicago and Wisconsin and back to Pennsylvania and the long hours the Missus drove while I slept an exhausted sleep, after all that...

I had to do something.

So I charged.

I gathered my strength, willed myself out of the saddle, and drove into that mess. I had absolute faith that I would get through, that there'd be an opening hidden in there somewhere.

And voila, the right side had a hole.

If the pack was a castle, this was the secret entrance, the one that pops up in the fireplace in the keep. I dove through it like my life depended on it, and broke through to daylight, to all encompassing asphalt.

I could see the front of the field.

The view from the end of the secret entrance, the fireplace if you will.
This is approaching Turn Two.

The turn ended up a bit tight. The guy that I tucked behind ended up a bit off line. I think he couldn't see the curb through the guy in front of him, and he over-corrected in the turn, going a touch wider than everyone else expected.

Whoa, Nelly!
Turn Two, under pressure. Anthony, #85, to my left. He gets even closer after this frame.

Note that you really, really, really should be on the drops when going into a turn.


You have so much more control over the bike, you can brake so much harder, and if all else fails, you have a much better platform for pavement diving.

The drops really help, and those that phsaw that and race on the hoods... well, it's kind of tempting Darwin, that's all I'll say.

What's a bit amazing, even to me, is that my tire is actually close to being under Anthony's right hand. My bike is tilted to the right, my body to the left.

And, yes, my hands are on the drops.

Nothing happened to him, to me (on his wheel), or to the guy to my left. I did have to make some jinking maneuvers to avoid contact with the rear tire in front of me, without slamming into Anthony to my left.

I barely missed the rear tire, focusing on it for some macabre reason (normally you shouldn't focus on what you're trying to avoid - in this case I couldn't help myself). I saw my tire miss his by about an inch, my tire crossing his at an aggressive angle. I think I'd have made it had I hit it, and in fact I'm guessing I may have shoved his rear wheel out of the way, but it's better not to experiment like that.

I also brought in my left shoulder to avoid contact with Anthony. I felt no contact, he seemed comfortable with his New York City studio-sized space, and we all got through the turn okay.

Just behind, though, under my arm, I saw three guys trying to move up my inside. Seeing as I was about a foot from the curb, there wasn't room for one, forget about three.

Guys tumbled to the ground.

I started moving up the side, saw Anthony really punch the pedals, and realized that my legs were cooked. All that stuff that motivated me to move up now demanded payment from my legs.

Literally feeling confused, I sat up, watching the others slowly ride past me. I probably could have pedaled a bit, salvaged something, anything, but my addled mind got stuck on a subroutine.

"Pedal or not?"
"Pedal or not?"
"Pedal or not?"

After a gazillion thoughts ran though my head, it became too late to do anything. Virtually the whole field having ridden past me so I really gave up.

This is what giving up looks like.
Note that even the pavement suddenly cracked.

I came across the line well behind everyone, defeated, the Missus looking disappointed for me. She saw me fighting for position, something really unusual for me. She knew that it meant something to me, that I wanted to do something.

This time, this race, it didn't happen. The officials politely placed me 73rd.

And, as a final note, just to be totally honest, the pavement was already cracked. It didn't crack when I gave up.


Sleepy pin job.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Life - The Long Trip To The 2011 Keith Berger Crit, Part 2

(This bit covers Day Two through Day Four of the long trip to the Keith Berger Crit)

On the Day Two of our long drive to the Keith Berger Crit, we got off to a slow start. We spent way too much time in Chicago in the morning with our hosts (with one of the couple leaving for work).

The third host Dexter, with the hosts' trainer (not mine).
Yes, they're riders too, and we've ridden with them.

It was just too much fun, we had too much stuff to talk about, and we spent way too much time there, first eating at a great breakfast place, then doing some insanely difficult puzzle until about 11 AM.

Then, suddenly, all of our "you're going to be late" internal alarms collectively went off (ours and our remaining host's), and in a few heartbeats the Missus and I were back in the car, Nina chirping her directions at us, on the way to Wisconsin.

We'd never been here, either of us, so it was new territory for us. (To clarify things I'd been to Chicago a few times, traveling there all but one time by car).

Cruise control set, with some minor detours (hint: don't take Route 45 going north out of Chicago, stay on I94, especially if the traffic lights on 45 are out), we headed north and west.

It got pretty remote, I have to admit. When you see those large gizmos that water a gazillion square feet of fields at a time, you know you're out in farm country.

Veins. I lack the veins of a "real" racer.

This is the kind of thing you do on a long drive - take pictures of your veins while sitting in the navigator's seat. The Missus glanced over for a moment and wondered what I was doing.

"Taking pictures of my veins. Normally they don't pop out, but right now I have a vein."

(As a general rule, when we drive, we don't look at each other when we talk. The driver always looks forward, and since it's impolite to not look at a person that's looking at you, the passenger also looks forward, eliminating the social instinct the driver may have to look over. This way the driver can drive, talk, and still be aware of what's going on. If you're ever in a car with me then this will explain why I don't glance over now and then if we're talking.)

We found our "inn", a quaint place named the Crystal River Inn, in Rural, WI. Yep, that's for real, Rural, WI. The hosts are a great couple, Robert and Deb, and they were really, really nice to the Missus when she first made reservations.

Of course at the time we didn't know that they have bird feeders in the yard, a Flicker living in a dead tree nearby, a creek running by the Inn, and that Robert lived in my parents' home country for a while, and, best of all, he's a cyclist!

We didn't have nearly enough time to chat with the kind hosts with all of the family stuff we had planned. We checked in, changed, and left for the dinner. More family, a reunion with the Missus's mom and stepdad, and we all had a good time.

The next day we had nothing planned until the actual wedding, in the early evening. The Missus figured it'd be a good time for me to get a ride in, loosen the legs prior to Sunday's race. As she pointed out, Friday would be the last day to ride since Saturday would be a monster drive out from our present locale in Wisconsin to some town, to be determined, in eastern Pennsylvania.

Breakfast before the ride. I had pancakes and sausage too.

Properly motivated, I headed out on the bike. The ride ended up really quiet, with me planning on doing about an hour out before heading back to the Inn. I got my bearings straight after that hour or so of riding, headed in a roundabout way home for another half hour, then realized things didn't seem right. I checked my phone, asked Nina where I was, and she gave me the bad news. Cheerfully, of course.

I'd ridden another half hour away from the Inn.

And, because it was a wedding in the evening, not just some get together of a less significant magnitude, it was all downhill and tailwinds on the way out. That meant I'd be fighting my way back to home base, going up various short climbs and pounding the pedals into a headwind.

To sum up my situation in a sentence:

I hadn't eaten since our 9 AM breakfast, it was coming up on 1:30 PM, I was lost about 90 minutes away from home base, and we had a wedding to attend at 5:00 PM.

My leisurely ride suddenly notched up to a jersey-defending, break-chasing, must-make-it-at-all-costs hammerfest. The farms became Belgian, the crosswinds the vicious crosswinds of the shore lands, the manure smell... well, the manure smell was just like any other farm country, and the hills the steep Alps. My bike transformed into a team bike, the aero wheels fitted not to weigh down the bike but to help domestiques like myself chase down breaks with enormous time gaps.

With 90 minutes to go, it meant the "break" was 9 minutes ahead (at a minute per 10km the chasers can bridge).

I had a lot of work to do.

Of course, in the real world, I was still a bit lost. I tried to zig zag my way back, avoiding the super busy and very narrow main roads. I had to ride on one super busy road (with no shoulder and a well-ignored 55 mph speed limit) for about a quarter mile, thankful when I could finally turn off onto yet another quiet country road.

I still had time to sight-see, kind of.

The bears in the woods are fake (black smudges to the right), but they made me do a triple take.

I made it back in time to relax, finish sweating, shower, and dress in some respectable clothes. The evening flew by as we went to the wedding, a nice outdoors one by the water. It was all great, nice, fun, and then we headed back to the Inn.

We decided we'd try and do about 15 hours of driving Saturday, leaving us with less than 4 hours to the race. I actually tossed around the idea of doing the full 20-ish hours at one shot, then sleeping in a bit before heading out to the race. It was definitely an outside shot, but I thought that if we could make it by 2 AM or so then we should try. If we wouldn't be able to get to sleep until some insane hour, like 4 or 5 AM, then it'd be out of the question. Regardless we had to stop at a decent hour, like 10 PM or so. If we could get a decent night's sleep, at a decent scheduled hour, we'd be relatively fresh for the race.

Sorry, I'd be relatively fresh for the race. The Missus would probably be a bit groggy, as she was doing most of the driving.

Saturday morning we set out extremely early, our hosts up with us to make muffins, coffee, and to hand us some musette bags, if you will.

We had some fun with Nina the Navigator before we left the area. Most of the roads around Rural, WI were "county roads", labeled with letters. Our favorite was County Road OO, or "County Road Oh-Oh".

Nina, ever so polite, wasn't sure how to say it, so she's very carefully tell us to turn on "County Road Oh-Oh, County Road Oooh," the latter pronounced to rhyme with "moo".

The Missus and I would giggle every time Nina said "Ooo" so we purposely turned the wrong way a few times (to top off the fuel tank) to hear her tell us to get back onto "County Road Oooh".

With that out of our system we set out for real. We ran into traffic in Chicago, heavy traffic, and decided to try a feature of the DroidX navigator that I don't quite get. I'm guessing here, but it seems like when I use the navigator, our carrier Verizon will use my GPS movement to judge whether or not I'm traveling at a reasonable pace. If I am a green dot shows up in the corner of the screen. If I'm at a standstill then the dot turns red. If I'm somewhere inbetween, the dot becomes yellow.

Coincidentally the roads get overlaid with color too. Green when traffic is moving well, yellow when it's a bit slow, and red when it's bad.

I'm guessing that Verizon gets each phone's speed and GPS location and makes a guess at traffic speeds on the map. It's real time traffic, with the bands of color quite localized, literally from block to block in the city.

Well, in Chicago we ran into some heavy duty red bits, where it took us about an hour to cover 2 miles. After mulling over some ideas I decided that trying out the red-yellow-green bit of the navigator couldn't hurt, meaning taking local roads that weren't red. We exited the highway (the Missus was driving), and started zig-zagging our way down the green/yellow roads parallel to the highway.

To our immense surprise it worked.

We skipped all the traffic, hopped on the highway south of all the red stuff, and got back up to cruising speed. Incredible.

Much of the middle of the trip ended up just boring, amusing ourselves with average speeds, drafting, tactics, and such. For some reason I felt totally exhausted, and by default the Missus did much of the driving. I put the full size pillow to good use, laying unconscious for bits of various states, the Missus just plugging away at the miles.

When I recovered some of my senses I finally decided that making it home in one shot would simply be impossible - at our rate we'd have to drive until about 5 AM to get home. We'd be totally wasted and I'd be a zombie at the race. Although I hadn't been vocalizing the possibility of making the straight shot home (once I took over driving duty I'd just "keep driving" after it got dark), I finally accepted that we'd be stopping in Pennsylvania somewhere.

Where was the question, and since we had no better reason to stop in one place over another, we decided that we'd stay in an interesting sounding town. As we started to get towards the end of Ohio we had to think of a place to stop. I started listing out the names of the towns on the map, and, using the trusty DroidX browser, started looking for places to stay.

We wanted to stay in a weird sounding town, so the regular ones (Wilkes Barre, which Nina pronounced "Wikes Bar" due to a Navigator misspelling) were out. The one we finally selected: Mifflinville.

Since this town obviously belonged in a Harry Potter story, we decided to hunker down for the night there. Maybe we'd see some mail owls or flying cars or people running through walls. Whatever, we called ahead, got a pleasant surprise at the rate, and rolled in at just before midnight.

Having left at about 6 AM, we'd been on the road for about 17 hours (we lost an hour due to a time zone change). Alert but fatigued, we settled in for the night.

Tomorrow we'd drive the rest of the way back to the Keith Berger Crit. Booyah!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Life - The Long Trip To The 2011 Keith Berger Crit, Part 1

When we got home from the Rent on Tuesday night, we had a whole new mission in front of us:

Prepare for a Road Trip.

For the Missus and myself it would be the longest trip together, two days each way in the car. We traveled well together on day long trips, but two days each way, that's a lot of time.

We'd be making a couple stops on the way. The first stop would be in Chicago, dropping in on some friends. Ironically they'd been in Connecticut just the week prior, but other than a chat on the phone, we couldn't catch up with them. Instead, we'd catch up with them on their turf.

The second stop would be out in Wisconsin, for a cousin's wedding. She's a fiesty one, a scientist, marrying another scientist, but both so modest that you forget that they do all sorts of crazy stuff in their everyday life.

We'd catch up with the Missus's mom and stepdad too, since we'd seen little of them once they moved more than a few hours away. They'd spent the night Sunday, making basically the same road trip, just a day earlier.

One more traveler would accompany us. After Thomas the Train Engine and Cranky the Crane, we decided that we'd name our navigator Nina.

Nina the Navigator.

Nina resides in my phone, a DroidX. She's the most forgiving of them all. We'd deviate from her route and she'd just nonchalantly tell us how to get back on track, even if it meant taking totally different highways. She'd sometimes lock up, requiring a reboot (twice requiring removing the battery), but for 6 or 8 or more hours at a time she'd drone on, content.

Nina would navigate for us through most of the trip. We'd give her a break once in familiar territory, but west of the eastern part of New York, Nina held power over us.

We packed the car in segments. The rear bit held the bike, racing and training wheels (since I'd be training one day in Wisconsin and racing just before we got home), my bike gear, pump, some spare parts, SRM, helmet, various bottles, etc. Except when I rode, this stuff stayed untouched for the duration of the trip, and we'd packed it pretty much before the Rent race Tuesday night.

The middle sides (behind the driver's and passenger's seat) held the Wisconsin/sleep-over stuff - our rolling bags (carry on size), computer bag (just the Mac), various shoes (I brought 3 pairs of shoes plus my Sidis), umbrellas, stuff like that.

The middle center and the front seats held the driving stuff. Cooler (in the back) with sandwiches (on the way out), drinks, bottles in the door pockets and the center console, Nina on the windshield, and either Nina herself or a camera or two charging in the center console. We also had one full size pillow so the co-pilot could sleep. I didn't realize just how useful that pillow would be - we both took advantage every time we "co-piloted".

Once under way we discovered to our dismay that we'd be driving into a pretty serious cross-headwind most of the way out west. Our mileage, so nice going to Virginia and back (48-52 mpg), dropped to about 43 mpg for each tank. We had the AC on, and we drove at cruising speed, but still, we expected more. The wind killed it for us. A few storms slowed us down too, forcing us to radically slow down to keep from hydroplaning.

Luckily, by midday, the storms dissipated, leaving bright blue skies for most of the trip.

We stopped mainly because of biological limitations (i.e. we needed to use the restrooms). The car could go 600 or more miles between fills; we could only go about 150 miles before we had to stop.

By leaving at just before 7 AM, we'd hoped to avoid some of the traffic in the New York area; the weather handled that for us, the storms and near tornados encouraging people to stay indoors.

But with a solid 14+ hour drive ahead of us, we'd have to push to make a 7 PM dinner date in Chicago. Knowing Chicago's horrendous traffic, we'd have to arrive before 4 PM or after 7 PM. Anything in between would spell traffic. We chose the 7 PM target time since we'd be hard pressed to get up for a 3 AM start.

(See, being realistic about stuff helps. We wouldn't be in any decent shape to drive all day if we slept just a few hours after a Rent night.)

Luckily Chicago is one hour past our time zone so we'd get an hour extra time, at least on the way out. Plus, based on, ahem, past experience, it's perfectly possible to make the drive in 13 actual hours. It seemed pretty safe to aim for a 7 PM dinner date in Chicago based on a slightly-before-7-AM start time in Connecticut. 13 hours flat, no problem.

Well, after getting pretty far into the drive, I realized that my 13 hour trip from Chicago to Connecticut was a total fluke. I have no idea how I managed it - it even started out with two hours going 50-ish mph over unplowed interstate highways. Traffic luck, legal luck, and even traffic light luck got us into our driveway in Connecticut 12 hours and 59 minutes after we left Chicago.

(I think my little brother and my mom's encouragement helped immensely. We all cheered when we pulled into the driveway and the clock went from 12:58 to 12:59. We'd started when the clock turned to 12:00 so we'd done the whole drive in 12:59, real time. We left at noon because we'd been in Chicago to see another brother play in their band's last gig. I paid tribute to that gig here.)

Eons later, the Missus and I didn't have the same luck going out. The rain slowed us down, but ever optimistic, I figured that we could push through, just like we pushed through that initial snow stuff way back when. Prudence slowed us down on the open stretches of road, and no truckers appeared magically to pace us at some of the higher speeds necessary for a 13 hour trip.

(An additional handicap - we'd be starting almost 90 minutes further away as we live in a different part of Connecticut.)

I've also gotten older. I barely slept during that 13 hour stint, wired to the max, focused on maximizing speed and efficiency. This time I slept solidly through pretty much most of Pennsylvania and let the Missus drive in some of the last bits going into Chicago.

I guess getting older slows you down, and not just on the bike.

We ran out of legal luck in Ohio, when yours truly got pulled over by the most polite State Trooper around. He cheerfully notified me of why he pulled me over (80 in a 70), asked if we were in a hurry (not anymore), and, after glancing around the trip-kitted car complete with formal clothes hanging in a window, decided we weren't a threat.

After a (relatively speaking, compared to Connecticut) less expensive ticket, we set back out. We gave up the extra mpg we get when not using the cruise control - we needed to eek out the highest possible average speed to get to Chicago before our hosts went to sleep. Cruise control at 73 mph (at first) then 74 mph (a bit later) and then finally 75 mph (since everyone was passing us) meant we spent as much time possible at legally safe speeds.

We ended up a bit slow in the tolls, since I learned the hard way that EZPass will suspend your pass if you speed through tolls. I got my initial suspension lifted when I pointed out that I may have been doing the highway speed limit until just before the much lower toll booth speed limit sign, but that it's unclear if I'm supposed to be doing the lower speed limit before the sign itself.

After my EZPass got reinstated, I played it safe. I drive through every toll at the posted limit, even the 5 mph ones. The Missus, having lived through my EZPass commuting days, does the same thing.

Our Chicago hosts understood our situation and forgave us for showing up a bit late. 8:30 PM, about 14.5 hours after we left home base. Factoring in the fact that we started almost 1.5 hours further out than my previous trip, we did pretty well.

We dined with our friends and their dog Dexter. Luckily the store dog has taught me how to handle largish dogs who like running around, and we all got along fine.

After a lot of catching up, some much needed food, we called it a night. We'd have another 4 or 5 hours of driving the next day, with our goal only to get to the rehearsal dinner on time. Check in at the bed and breakfast would open at 3 PM so we had plenty of time.



Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Racing - June 21, 2011 @TuesdayTheRent

This report's quite a bit late, and you'll see why as soon as I finish and post the next post. So I offer my apologies in advance. It's dated appropriately but I didn't post it until July.

Tuesday would be an interesting day. Coming off of lax weekend, I had few expectations. With a visit to my dad's place (and no riding), I wasn't expecting much for the week. I managed a short ride, maybe an hour, and did barely any efforts, but otherwise spent most of the time getting ready for a short-in-time but long-in-length road trip.

Of course the Rent inspires me to ride and race hard. I love the course, the familiar competitors, and the (mostly) predictable racing I see there. In 2011 I've seen a lot of my teammates too, something I missed in the past. It's even more fun for me when I race with teammates - it's that whole "why I buy a kit" thing.

I haven't bothered fixing my bike so I still have the front derailleur locked into the big ring. This is fine for flat crits but it makes warming up a little less optimal - I have to go kind of fast to spin easy gears.

Of course, since I don't warm up a lot for most races, this wasn't really a problem, just an excuse.

Another excuse is something that I've becoming aware of this year - the cramps I have in races. In way too many races I'll get massive twinges in my hamstrings, sometimes followed by an inopportune cramp, as if there are "opportune" cramps.

Some are kind of funny, like when I suddenly turn bright red, face almost bursting, in a restaurant, and start convulsing in the chair as I try and straighten my leg which is, at the moment, trying to drive my heel through my skull via my butt.

Others are not as funny, like when I cramped seconds after stopping the car. If I'd cramped while pulling up the driveway...

Yeah, that wouldn't have been good.

One thing that I've kind of neglected this year is buying those "88 cents per bottle" low calorie electrolyte drinks, like Powerade or Gatorade. For whatever reason - too heavy, not enough room, etc - I haven't been buying them.

And guess what?

I haven't been cramping in races.

Okay, so I've been eating more salty foods, and I drink more water. And I've had more fruit and veggies and almonds and all sorts of various other minor kind of changes in my diet.

But the huge thing is that I haven't been drinking a lot of electrolytes on purpose.

Unfortunately, having spent the past few days doing other things, Tuesday evening, before the race, I had no sugary drinks in the house except a leaded (i.e. sugared) Gatorade.

With no other immediate options I decided I'd drink that. Couldn't hurt, right? Being hydrated would be better than not, and I wanted a sugar boost after not eating real well during the day.

Well, it could kind of hurt. As soon as I got on the bike I could feel my legs twinging.

And when the race went off, I knew immediately I'd be in trouble.

Luckily one of my teammates went with the first move, so I had the option of doing whatever involved "working less", but even so my legs felt really bad. The twinges told me that within a few laps I'd be sitting up and getting out of the race.

It was that horrible.

I moved up towards the front, intent on doing something, anything, before the race ended (for me). I sat fourth wheel in the field, unusual for me, looking for any excuse to use up my legs.

But as we started the third lap, disaster.

I was sitting near the front we crossed the start/finish, approaching the first turn. My teammate Jon rolled up the side, and I briefly contemplated telling him not to pull, that David was off the front. But I decided that since it was a training race, whatever he wanted to do was okay.

At any rate he went really wide, giving us on the inside plenty of room. The guy in front of me moved over to Jon, leaving me third wheel on the inside line.

What happened next was, in reality, quick, confusing, and over in about two seconds, based on the footage from the helmet cam.

The rider at the front of my line had already been pulling for most of a lap. At the start/finish line he looked over his shoulder to both assess the situation behind as well as look for some help.

Seeing no help coming forward from behind, he focused back on the first turn. A glance to his side as my teammate rolled up, but nothing more than that.

Rider in front, focused forward. Teammate Jon to his right.

Then, as I said before, disaster.

As he turned in his rear wheel started to slid out. It's possible he hit his pedal, but looking at the footage it's possible too that the pedal scraping sound was actually his rim hitting the ground.

To be perfectly honest, at that moment I thought he hit a pedal.

Now, to be fair, I have to admit that I've touched pedal a few times here this year, more so than usual. Nothing major, I've surprised myself, but I haven't lost control or anything.

Therefore I didn't expect him to suddenly power slide a full 90 degrees, the bike coming out from under him, sitting him down on the pavement hard, totally and completely.

The rider behind, a Junior, had no chance. With his hands on his hoods he could only lay down a black stripe from the rear tire, his weight up high, and in a heartbeat (or less) he tumbled awkwardly over his bars.

The Junior bike, tumbling upside down, slammed its front tire into my neck, jarring me momentarily.

That tire is about to whack me in the neck.

I could only focus on a curb in front of me. Left or right? Left would be tight, and if there were riders to my inside, I'd probably take them out. Right looked better, with more room.

I went right.

The end result?

Massive road rash for the first rider down. More of the same and a broken collarbone for the Junior. A black smudge covering up the discoloration on my neck from my poison ivy. Skid marks on the road.

Of course we didn't know the seriousness of the injuries. The speed at that time was pretty low (my SRM says we were going 23.5 mph), the tumble seemed relatively tame, and everyone else avoided incident.

But within a lap it was clear, the Junior was hurt, and the promoters stopped the race until the ambulance got there.

Luckily for us the idle ambulances actually sit next to the course, hiding by the portapotties for Rentschler Field. A few waves from the riders and they both rolled onto the street for 50 meters, turned back into the parking lot, and over to the Junior. I actually rolled over gravel on my race wheels (tubulars on super wide HED Stinger carbon rims); some things are more important than others. But before I could holler or yell the ambulances started to roll.

The ambulances park in that gap between the trees.

Post race analysis showed that the tire rolled off the mounting tape. Although it's possible the rider touched his pedal, I can't tell from the clip. It appears the bike starts to move before the pedal gets to the bottom of the pedal stroke. Therefore it's possible that the tire rolling off the rim caused the pedal to hit the ground, not the other way around. All of us amateur CSIs will be able to analyze my clip once it's up, but on my computer, frame by frame, it's hard to tell.

10 minutes late for us (and an eternity for the Junior and his dad, who'd sprinted over there in a time that'd impress an NFL coach) and the race was back on. My legs miraculously loosened up a bit, and I felt like maybe I could actually race the race.

With a lot more caution we started out, a slightly shorter race due to the crash.

Teammate Cliff, he of the 2010 Francis J Clarke leadout, went away with a break, with the escapists eventually lapping everyone.

This gave us a bit of time in the field to race around the course. I partook in some stuff, tried to get the kinks worked out of my legs, and did my usual observing.

This week I noticed something interesting. It really struck me two weeks prior how poorly we in the A race were handling the second turn, and I said as much in the helmet cam clip that I posted about that race.

Tuesday, the first race after I posted the clip, I noticed how politely everyone took that turn. The outside riders stayed more outside, the inside ones stayed more inside. I don't know if it's because they all watched the clip, but if the clip got even one or two people to become more aware of their line in that turn, then great.

As the laps wound down, a few riders escaped, trying to re-escape the field actually. The field strung out, pedal to the metal, single file, chasing with a vengeance. I hung on grimly at the back, not doing too well, my legs threatening me with cramping a little more discretely than at the start but threatening nonetheless.

With a teammate in the break, we could all ostensibly set up for the sprint, so I decided that, what the heck, I'll try and do something.

As we approached the bell the rider two in front of me let a gap go, putting the three of us off the back. With the end of the race rapidly approaching, I knew I wouldn't have the miraculous lap I had a couple weeks earlier, but I decided that I'd make the best of what I had. It really didn't matter though - if I didn't go across the gap, I'd be off the back. With no choice but to go, I went into the wind and bridged the tiny gap, just as we got to the bell.

The gap to bridge, maybe 5 bike lengths, took me from here till almost the first turn.
At over 30 mph it took some sap out of my already tired legs.

Tiny gap, but still an effort, probably about 50 to 75 meters all out, just to get onto the back of the field. I knew right away the significance of what just happened.

I had erased the last 50 meters of my sprint.

Deleted. Nada. Nowhere. No how.

Those last 50 meters would be... slower than molasses.

I used my momentum to integrate into the back of the field, then used another surge to move up on the short second straight, my body already starting to redline. The riders at the front went kindly wide, led by CCNS's Ron, followed by teammate Cliff.

I sat on the left, stranded in the wind, wondering what to do, debating if I should get mixed up, if I should just wait, wondering if it's worth it to mix it up when I'd already used up so much of my sprint. I knew I'd have to go super late, but super late here meant as the final stretch straightens out, like 50 meters from the line.

Not a great option, and I'd have to be second wheel to make anything work at that point.

That's when one of the Leg Breakers rolled up next to me.


I looked over, he looked at me, and he drilled it.

I decided to go, right there and then ("carpe diem!"), punching the pedals as I moved left. I rode briefly next to a Mystic Velo rider then yielded the spot. He had it first, he was on the sheltered side, and, frankly, I had to get the eff out of the wind.

At this point I'd used another 4 or 5 seconds of my sprint, sitting needlessly in the wind.

We went wide out of the last turn, not accelerating, the Leg Breaker having broken his own legs. I steeled myself for a long sprint in the wind, uncertain of my legs, just the one guy in front of me. This wasn't last week where I could go from well before the last turn.

Then I heard my name, from the left, again.

Looking over, I saw teammate Joe T, with teammate David just behind him. Joe moved to me, making it clear what he wanted.

I jumped out of the saddle, accelerated onto Joe's wheel, David let me in, and Joe drilled it, a three man Expo train flying to the line.

My jump used up the last bit of the sprint. I had ridden myself into a dead end. Nowhere to go but back.

As Joe went wide, waiting for the inevitable swarm, with me being the first one expected to pass, I knew I had less than the 50-meter short sprint that I thought I had. I couldn't go to Joe's inside because if I got off his wheel I'd slow like I just hit a brick wall. If I went wide I'd just take up more room, endangering anyone trying to go around me.

Then it got worse - I actually started to come off Joe's wheel. It's the sprinter's worst nightmare, when a teammate kills himself to help you and all you can do is get gapped off his wheel, floundering helplessly as the field swarms the two of you.

Luckily we had an option, the Option D (for David). I glanced left, a bit desperate, and saw David waiting patiently, riding almost next to me, willing me to go, mentally pushing me forward.

His telekinesis needs some serious work because I was going slower and slower - he couldn't will me to go any faster.

I had only one option, and I flung it out there as soon as I realized my situation.

"Go, go, go!", I yelled at David.

He went immediately, pulling away with such ease I couldn't believe he waited for me. He had to be on his brakes trying not to pass me, he went that fast once he lit it up.

David, lighting it up to the left, and Joe, drilling it to the line.
I'm supposed to be on Joe's wheel.

Joe was like the Energizer bunny - he just would not slow down. He barely got nudged out for second in the field sprint when a Berlin Bikes guy pipped him at the line, but he had a deceivingly fast sprint.

Cliff jumped hard when he had the line in sight, beating his break mates to the line, winning the race.

Cliff, launching hard.
Jeff M is the only guy up there that's not an official teammate.

SOC rolled by me too, putting a swarm of Expo jerseys at the front of the sprint.

And that was the race.

Properly impressed with my teammates, positively unimpressed with myself, we rolled around, cooling down.

I think I set the record for the highest number of leadout men in the last half lap where the leadout men actually saw the front the field and where their sprinter didn't even place in the top ten (!?).

With a lot of stuff happening in the week before Sunday's Keith Berger Crit, I wasn't confident that I could change much with that last lap fiasco. I could only hope that some more rest days would result in some miraculous power gains.

Either that or the Keith Berger Crit would be a huge disappointment.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Life - Training, Prednisone, HCT

In light of my recent incredibly inaccurate thoughts (I still have to post the corrections) on how my own blood profile would look to a biological passport sleuth, I figured it's only appropriate that I mention that I recently got to look at a snapshot of my blood parameters.

Yep, I went and had a physical.

Now, curiously, when I went there, they mentioned that I'd "lost some weight", about 14 or 15 pounds, from the mid 180s to just a touch under 170.

I realized pretty quickly that I hadn't seen the doc for any reason in 2010, when I was a svelte 158 or so. Disappointed, I realized that my weight loss had never been official - no health insurance company would ever say, "Oh, look, see, he lost all that weight in 2010. He should be insurable."

Since I went to the doctor's office with no instructions except to fill out a form, I thought that they wouldn't be doing a blood test. Since the main reason I go get a physical is to see what my hematocrit is, I immediately asked about any possible blood work, if that's covered under a physical.

"Of course, I'm going to give you a form to get some blood drawn, and we'll review any findings with you."


The rest of the appointment was a blur. I don't remember my heartrate, blood pressure (but it seemed kind of high, like 120/70, instead of the 105/60 like I hope for), whatever else stuff.

Oh, he did ask me about the prednisone.

That, my friends, is a cortisteroid (that's my made-up-from-half-forgotten-things-I-read-on-the-web).

It's used to treat all sorts of stuff, I think like saddle sores (for example).

It's also used to treat poison ivy.

Somehow I got poison ivy. Little spots, not streaks, on my arms, legs, neck, torso, even almost my upper thighs.

Coincidentally the blonde next door from work also got poison ivy (she had to go get a shot as well as pills). Although nefarious minds may suspect the worst, I suspect that I got the poison ivy partially from handling the same extension cord as she did, when she exchanged it for another one.

And, yes, the Missus knows about her. Even met her one day. Plus everyone knows she's my boss's girlfriend.

Whatever, the end result was that for almost a solid week I was also itching and whining and being an all-round grump. The missus, exhausted with dealing with a 5 year old stuck in her husband's body, finally convinced me that maybe seeing a doctor would be a good thing.

Because, as you well know, dealing with a 5 year old is much easier if said 5 year old doesn't have poison ivy.

Although not necessarily convinced of the cause of the itchy, bumpy rash, the doc pointed out that he could prescribe treatment for said rash. He also suggested Claritin (which I already take) and, at night, Benadryl. Apparently, since poison ivy is an allergic kind of reaction, an antihistamine will help reduce the effects of the cruel plant.

Prednisone, of course, is a steroid. I checked the side effects. The ones that stood out are things like liver things and some achiness or something like that.


No "Caution: May cause explosive muscle growth"???

I looked up the effects of cortisone, and, after some skimming, realized that it really doesn't do much, at least not in the way I'd be taking it. Plus my extremely abbreviated cycle would hardly affect anything except, hopefully, the little bumps all over my body.

I'm writing this post late enough that I'm actually done with the 12 day cycle, a tapering one designed to wean my body off of the stuff. I also took the Benadryl, and, in fact, am still taking it. I skipped one night, the night before the physical, in case it affected my stats, and found myself awake until about 5 o'clock in the morning.

After the physical I called the Missus and gave her the news that, no, I didn't have any explosive muscle growth, and, yes, I seem to be living okay.

She countered by asking me about my sleeplessness.

"Yeah, I'm kind of tired today."
"You know what the first side effect is that they list for prednisone?"
"What is it?"
"May cause sleeplessness."


So it gets you wired but doesn't explode muscles. Great.

A couple days after the physical, like yesterday, we got the results of the blood test. Luckily I'd skipped breakfast before the appointment (keeping the body "neutral" before the appointment, no jacked up metabolism from coffee or whatever), making it possible for me to go get the blood drawn immediately afterwards.

I was waiting to hear from the doc and then ask politely to have them fax me my blood profile. But, luckily for me, they sent me the results directly, with the doc's comments on them.

The missus opened the envelope.

"Oh, what's my hematocrit? What's my hematocrit?"

"It says here that your something cholesterol is blah blah and that your blah cholesterol is blah."


"I think this is good, it's better than before. Last time your blah was blah, now it's blah."

"Um, do you see the letters HCT anywhere?"

"It says that your blah is good too. In the normal range."

"Anything about red blood cells?"

"Oh. Here. Red blood cell blah. 52."

52?! Was that right?


The world was spinning ever so fast. Oh, man, that's how I became a Cat 2! My blood is so thick! I'll have to take an aspirin. Two aspirin! I'll have to drink a lot more water. Heck, I should try doing something like time trialing or climbing. Wow. 52. Incredible. 49 was great, in 2006 or whatever. But 52, that's just unbelievable. 52. Holy smokes. Maybe I should do jumping jacks at night, keep that thick blood flowing.

"Um, wait, here it is. Hematocrit. 46.3"

Ehhhh. What?

My world stopped spinning. Three point something points lower than my record. No sludge. No rich red corpuscles coursing through my veins. Just ordinary blood. Well, with a bit of extra prednisone in it. And some sleepy Benadryl.

"Yeah, the other number was red blood cell blah-blah. Your hematocrit is 46."

Ah well. So much for that.

It reminded me of the time I woke up in my dorm room, in the middle of the night, and looked across the room. The digital clock stared back at me. I could see the time, but the clock was 10 feet away. Being extremely nearsighted, I normally can't see more than about 6 inches before things go blurry quickly. But these numbers, across the room... I squinted.

The numbers stayed in focus, just in a squinty way.

I thought, holy smokes, my cornea did something, or some nerve got un-pinched, but whatever it is, I can see again! Wow! I can buy some Oakleys! I can see! It's a miracle!

I quickly felt the side table for my glasses (out of habit), couldn't find them, started patting my chest, thinking maybe I fell asleep with them on, and they slid down to my chest... wait... fell asleep with them on?

I touched the bridge of my nose.

My glasses got in the way.

I was wearing my glasses.

I took them off.

The red numbers virtually disappeared, a slight red smudge in the blackness of the dorm room.

Ah well.

At least I can say one thing - hematocrit does not the rider make. My threshold power is something that is so low that a bonking pro would still outride me. On the forums someone asked if I was pulling their leg, talking about my sub 3.0 w/kg threshold (it's about 2.85 w/kg).

Well, yeah, it's really about that low. I'd dreamed about getting to 3.5 or even, if the stars all lined up, 4.0, but that never happened. I guess I just didn't want it that bad.

Of course the other way of looking at it is that I'm maximizing my potential.

"2.85 w/kg? No problem, you can be a Cat 2. Next patient please."

(It helps to have a decent sprint, but even my sprint isn't that impressive, with a typical 1200w peak and 900-1100w sustained for, usually, just under 20 seconds - but that's all I have, so if you have it, you can be a 2 too).

With that elation/deflation little roller coaster out of the way, I could think about the next block of riding. My blocks don't have much to do with enormous cycles of training. They have more to do with "When's my next race?"

I hope to do the Keith Berger race in East Hartford, but we'll be 18 hours away 36 hours before the race. That means we'll need to drive at least 12 hours, if not 13 or 14, the day before the race, meaning I'll probably skip a ride then.

Going backwards, I'll be able to do the Tuesday Night Worlds, weather permitting.

And today, in order to try and get stuff done at home, I skipped my ride. I did a short ride yesterday, nothing major, under an hour.

My next training block, then, is Tuesday race, hopefully an hour somewhere in Thursday or Friday, then Sunday race.

One day of training before Sunday, maybe two. Sounds like a plan. I mean, heck, I've been racing at 2.85 w/kg. The race can't got that badly, then, right?


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Helmet Cam - June 7, 2011 @TuesdayTheRent

One more Rent race, to psych people up for next week after this week's rain-out.

In this race it's a bit more normal, with no real technical issues. A larger field meant a higher chance of things staying together, and at the finish, it was pretty much all together.

Original text post here.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Helmet Cam - May 31, 2011 @TuesdayTheRent

This is the video taken from the helmet cam from the report here. At some point I realized I didn't have use of my big ring, but, being in the midst of some action, I decided it was just a slipped cable or something.

Later I really tried to shift into the big ring, hoping that if the cable had slipped it'd have slipped just a little. No luck. By the end of the race I could feel the cable head poking out of the lever - the cable had no tension on it. Ends up I broke a cable housing stop, making "while I race" repairs virtually impossible.

What all that means is that I raced a lot of the race in the 39T ring, with an 11-23 cassette in back. I only used the 11T and 12T, and the 12T was pretty light for the pace. This is the equivalent of a 53x15 and 53x16, for those of you Juniors and those who know about gearing.

Curiously enough, when reviewing the clip to find where I lost the big ring, I noticed that my pedaling action smoothed out significantly once I had to spin. It was tough to find that spot - I don't look obviously at the cranks when I first discover the problem since I thought such an action would alert others to my problem and encourage them to attack. I also thought that it was temporary and that it'd be okay in a lap or two. That wasn't the case, of course.

But the lesson here - forced to use easier gears, I relearned how to pedal more smoothly.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Helmet Cam - 2011 Criterium de Bethel P123s

Finally, a helmet cam.

I missed on a lot of footage at the 2011 Outdoor Sports Center Bethel Spring Series, with all sorts of non-helmet-cam related stress distracting me from the simpler parts of racing.

I also struggled to race well, and, frankly, races where either I get shelled or the clip just ends mid-race are boring to watch.

I had one race worth "clipping" though, the Criterium de Bethel. It took place a long, long time ago, April 3.

Here it is. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Racing - 2011 Nutmeg State Games P123

Action shot, chasing the second break,
courtesy Michelle Marble 2011.

I've always held the New Britain course dear to my heart. Located in Walnut Hill Park, in New Britain, CT, I did my second ever race there.

Of course, back in the day, we went the other way 'round the loop, clockwise, until a series of incredibly damaging accidents on the S-curves convinced the various powers that be to reverse the direction to its safer counter-clockwise direction.

In its clockwise state I managed to win one spring series race; in the current form I also won one spring series race. They no longer hold them anymore, and for summer races, well, I've never won one, and New Britain is about as close as I've gotten to winning a summer race (I've gotten second here and at another race).

Of course, that's as a Cat 3, or, in the first win back in 1986, as a Cat 4 (I got my upgrade literally at the finish line after that race).

Now, as a 2, I'd be eligible for just the Masters 40+ or younger races, or the P123 race.

I've watched a lot of the P123 (and P12) races at New Britain. I've always been astounded at the consistently high pace of their races, as opposed to the stop 'n go pace of the Cat 3s. As a Cat 3 there'd be plenty of time to coast in the field, soft pedal, relax, rest. The group would spread curb to curb, not because they're anxiously moving up but because the pace is slow enough that everyone naturally flares out, filling in gaps, avoiding hitting the brakes too hard.

The P123s, though, were different. They'd be strung out single file from the get go, racers constantly trying to escape the front, others just as determinedly chasing.

Then, when the attackers come back, another group goes, relentlessly driving the pace.

I'd watch, wide-eyed with disbelief, wondering how anyone could race like that.

The few times I've done the P123 race as a 3, I've been totally outclassed by the speed of the others. I struggled to hang on, couldn't contribute anything, and would usually sit up at some point, spent.

This year, as a 2, I'd be doing "those races", those single-file-for-an-hour races.

For the first time in many years I felt nervous.

Luckily for me my poison ivy's been under control, after a visit to the doctor. I'm taking prednisone, a steroid of sorts. Oddly enough my muslces haven't been explosing out of my clothes, nor have I felt stronger than I have before.

This whole doping thing must be a myth :)

Actually, I've also been taking an extra antihistime, Benadryl, at night. I didn't know this but the poison ivy reaction is some kind of allergy thing, so a Benadryl really helps with the itchy bumps. I noticed that I sleep for the whole night pretty solidly. By Saturday my poison ivy bumps pretty much "expired", hit with the triple combination of Claritin-D (which I take all the time), Benadryl, and the prednisone.

Now it just looks like someone shot me from afar with a shotgun, red dots scattered randomly around my body. I'm less irritable though, without the constant itching driving me crazy.

What's crazy is that I didn't get exposed to poison ivy directly, because, frankly, I'm super paranoid of the stuff. I probably touched either an extension cord used in a poison ivy area (for maybe 30 seconds) or a propane tank used in a Mosquito Magnet in a poison ivy area. But no direct contact, no way, and yet I had all this rash.

As the doc pointed out, my symptoms were very unusual, with no streaks of rash, just random spots everywhere. He acknowledged that I'm "extremely sensitive", and that he couldn't even verify it was poison ivy.

Anyway, back to the race.

With my body somewhat under control (just steadily gaining weight since last fall), I could deal with my next worry, the weather.

"70% chance of thundershowers" makes me less than psyched to race. The weather hadn't read the forecast, though, and the pavement stayed dry right up to the 3:55 PM start.

I brought two sets of wheels to the race - my carbon Stinger 6 tubulars and my aluminum Bastogne training clinchers. I have dry weather pads on the bike so I lose pretty much all braking ability on the carbons, at least for the first few seconds. On the aluminums it's not as bad. In dry conditions I'd stay with the carbons; in wet, the aluminums.

I looked up at the clouds. Definitely more grey than before.

I felt like I was starting a Formula 1 race under threatening clouds. More than one F1 race got decided when either the clouds opened up (or didn't) within minutes of the start.

I even rolled over to the Missus with a compromise set up - carbon rear and aluminum front. The carbon rear would roll fast, and since the rear brake does very little, especially in the wet, the lack of braking there wouldn't affect me.

The aluminum front would let me brake in the wet, but I'd pay the weight and aero handicap.

I swapped the front wheel out, putting on my carbon, thinking I'd swap back if it still looked grey. Then I rolled out to loosen my legs. I've been on a non-training streak, having ridden just Tuesday and Wednesday this week, and Tuesday last week. 3 days of training in 12 days meant that my legs would be fresh but a bit slow.

I warmed up with Luciano, a Navone Studios racer. A very strong racer, he can go with the breaks and still dig up a nice sprint for the finish. I thought for sure this would be his kind of race, with a break going up the road to decide the race.

When I got back to the Missus we were just about ready to line up.

"You want the other wheels? You have to decide now," she warned.

I hesitated, not wanting to give up the fun, fast carbon race wheels.

The staged riders rolled to the line.

I rolled away from the aluminum wheels.

I decided that if it started to rain I'd put in some monster efforts, blow myself up, and drop out of the race. If it stayed dry I'd try and race a normal race.

We set off and immediately the attacks went.

Two times breaks got up the road. Twice I watched them go, debated digging deep to go, and then, hesitating, debated myself right out of the "must go" time window. Within a lap the break would be 20-odd seconds ahead, too big a gap to close on my own.

I prayed that someone strong missed the move and would drag the field back up to it.

The second break seemed quite strong, and built a decent lead. I know they were a good 30 seconds ahead at one point, but, thankfully, had left some very good riders in the field.

The pace ramped up super hard suddenly. A few strong riders, after taking huge pulls, shot back backwards so quickly I had to believe their races ended right there and then.

The immense effort told - we caught the break so quickly I didn't realize that the front of the field was actually the break.

When the front 20 or so separated from the field, now the third time a group went away, I thought about it again.

Aain thought about it too long.

On the backstretch the racers virtually slammed on their brakes. For the first time we flared out, not because we were trying to move up, but because we were going so slow that we'd have to slam on our brakes if we didn't.

And that was that, or so I thought.

I watched Aidan, of CCNS, strangely complacent in the field. I couldn't understand why he'd be happy to see 20-odd racers away, even if he had a teammate up there. In a group of 20, to have just one or two riders, that's not a winning combination. You need two in five, not two in 20.

Then, as the laps started counting down, and I started feeling mist on my face, I saw why he was waiting.

The Trek-Livestrong U23 racer had been left in the field.

When that guy went, Aidan went too. A 100% committed move, something I've rarely seen in him (since, frankly, I'm not around long enough in races to see them).

A third rider went too, making it a three man chase, probably 20 or 30 seconds behind the big break.

Then, as the field started to crumble, two more guys went clear, including a guy Jeff that won the P123 Mystic Velo Crit earlier this year.

And the mist turned to a drizzle.

My rims, okay in the mist, were now wet.

I touched my brakes and felt that uneasy acceleration feeling, where your brain expects to slow but instead nothing happens.

I needed to stop.

So close, though, only a few laps to go.

But with 20 guys away, 5 guys chasing... what the heck was there left?

I knew I wanted to make an effort, a big one, and I wanted to be in a much smaller group so that my lack of braking wouldn't hurt me or anyone around me.

So I thought of a plan, briefly, an ambitious one that had three stages. Since even the second stage seemed unreasonable, I figured it was a safe plan.

Stage One - bridge to the chase with Jeff in it.
Stage Two - bridge to the chase with Aiden and the U23 guy.
Stage Three - bridge to the break.
Stage Four - (incomprehensible)

As we rounded the last turn, my tires okay but my brakes totally useless, I launched hard, out of the saddle, building up speed.

I hunkered down in the drops, missing my Cane Creek Speed Bars, removed since Somerville.

"I'd never use them anyway", I told someone while warming up. I wish I had them now.

Instead I turned over the biggest gear I could, flying up on the two man chase. It felt good to work hard, with no tactical thoughts, just pedaling my heart out.

I got on, still not exploded because I hadn't used up all of my anaerobic fuse, but needing some serious recovery if I were to do anything aerobically.

I declined pulling, trying to recover, Jeff looking back each time I skipped a turn.

Going down the backstretch, still unable to recover, I came off the chase.

At the top of the hill the field rolled by. I thought that by some miracle I might be able to do the move again, but as I started to pedal, I realized I couldn't even stay with the field.

I almost ran into the curb at the last turn trying to stop, but managed to get turned around and watched the last lap of the race.

Incredibly the U23 racer had not only bridged solo to the break, apparently he won the sprint right afterwards. Crazy.

Then, my day over, I rolled back to the Missus, and headed home.

Nary a flap from my number.