Thursday, August 25, 2011

Racing - August 24, 2011 Ninigret NGX Series

I headed down to Ninigret for one last race down there, with the following two weeks off, and the final week one where I'd be elsewhere. For me, then, this would be it for the Wed night series.

I'd be joining SOC, as usual. Another would be bostongarden, a racer that does the Rent and who I first met, appropriately, at Ninigret in the 2010 Mystic Crit.

Finally, as a special guest, I'd be seeing botto, he of the intraweb world. And Clogland, if you want to be technical.

It's amazing how bits and bytes can assemble themselves into something resembling a bike racer. Whenever I see botto it's like seeing someone (or something) out of a movie. We interact in one venue (the intraweb) often, the real world not so much.

I headed down solo, kind of unusual for me. The Missus normally sits next to me, sometimes piloting, sometimes navigating, but we normally sit side by side when going to races. I realized just how many tasks we share as I worked to set up navigation, the dash cam, get a drink from the cooler, and get an idea of time, all in the first few minutes of the drive.

I drove the new car ("red is the new blue"), one that is, relatively speaking, loaded to the gills. It came with nav, normally something I wouldn't get, but it was that or mudflaps, and as cool as mudflaps can be ("rallyesque"), I can always put them on. Installing a computer in the dashboard, not so easy.

Normally I use the very competent, very easy to use Android Navigator in the phone. It's easy, it has real-time traffic (for pretty much all roads), and the Missus and I used it for all our trips.

The only drawback is that it doesn't allow me to dash-cam with the phone (a DroidX), something that I prefer to do when I drive.

So, with the new car barely broken in (using its first tank of fuel), I used the built-in nav, allowing the DroidX to do its recording thing.

I realized, somewhere along those early minutes, that the nav system shows the ETA in time format, not "time to travel" format. So instead of telling me I had 1 hour 49 minutes to go, it told me that I'd arrive at 5:50 PM.

Since the races started at 6:00 PM, the little numbers in the bottom right corner suddenly took some significance. The earlier time I could get the numbers to show, the more time I'd have to get ready to race.

Of course I immediately got stuck in some bumper to bumper traffic, got stuck behind a car going 28 mph in a 35 mph zone, etc etc etc. The ETA rose as high as 5:55 PM before I got on a highway (it's a 1:50 drive).

I missed the DroidX's real time traffic reports, which come in the form of green, yellow, or red roads, reflecting travel speeds of other Verizon Wireless customer's phones I think. I had to guess where to go, although I quickly peeked at the road colors when stuck at one light for a couple cycles.

I got onto some of the more clear highways, get up to an edgy cruising speed, and watch the ETA drop a minute here, a minute there.

5:49 PM.

Then I'd hit some traffic, or get behind two cars going 58 mph side by side.

The ETA would bump up again.

5:51 PM.

I mentally rehearsed what I'd do when I got to the race. No number, I already had my shorts on, so I'd just slip on the jersey, stick the wheels in my bike, pump them up, grab shoes and helmet, go.

Oh, the SRM. And the bottles. One bottle. I should drink the Coke before. Right, get the Coke out of the cooler. I need a bar too, that's in my gear bag, which is behind me, which... crap, it's much easier when the Missus can poke around and get it.

I got closer to Ninigret, mainly highways, the ETA creeping down below 5:50 PM.

I got stuck behind a distracted Z3 driver (2.3 liter) on Route 1 just before Rhode Island. I drove such a car once, it was fun, but it didn't have a lot of power. It was so low you could see everything around you, especially with the top down.

The driver of that car almost smashed into the car next to him when he started to change lanes without looking right. I don't know how he managed to miss the big SUV there when he had the top down - the looming shadow should have been a clue.

I passed him as soon as I could.

That distraction out of the way, I continued on. 5:48 PM, 12 minutes to get ready to race.

When I pulled in the clock said 5:46 PM (and, conveniently, the nav system updated to the correct time of arrival). I stopped to use the bathroom, headed on towards the spots and saw, in the prime parking spots, SOC. And botto. And, although I didn't realize it, bostongarden was there too.

Strangely they didn't look very... hurried.

Pretty casual for 14 minutes to race time.

"Don't the races start at 6?"

SOC looked at me, grinning.

"Yes they do. But not ours."


I relaxed a bit, still got my bike ready. A guy driving a Hummer pulled up next to me, changed in a flash, and was out there before I realized he was gone. I kept looking over and grinned to myself - he left his keys on his tire. I understand that - when there's no one to hold the keys, you hide them somewhere discrete, like on a tire or under the bumper lip.

But on the Hummer, the top of the tire was a foot away from any body work.

You could see the keys from a hundred feet away.

The emperor has no clothes on.

Yada yada yada.

Find the keys.

I got on my bike, rolled around a bit, caught up with botto (I hadn't seen him this year), bostongarden, and a bit with SOC. I headed to the car to drop off a bottle, realized my cranks didn't feel right, and, on examining them, realized they were pretty notchy.

Of course we had to line up at about that moment so I just rolled over to the line, next to bostongarden.

"Check this out," I said, picking up the bike and plopping it down next to him.

When I plopped it down, it didn't feel right. I thumbed the rear tire.

It was basically flat.

"Hold that thought, I'll be right back."

Back to the car, unlock, put clincher rear wheel down, flip off tubular, slap the clincher on, roll back to the line.

Bostongarden looked at me.

"You were saying?"

"Check out my bottom bracket. It's notchy."

"Hm. Yep, it is."

I noticed when I lifted the rear wheel the tire wasn't spinning. I spun the wheel. It stopped on the rear brake. Campy, in its brilliance, made the rear brake an old fashioned single pivot brake. You can't just twist it to center it.

Mentally I shrugged. It wouldn't help me to have the rear brake rubbing lightly but it certainly wouldn't hurt me that much either.

And with that we got ready and started the race.

Unfortunately the race was somewhat uneventful. I rolled up to SOC at the start, after our first neutral lap, pretending to attack.

He didn't notice.

Neither did Botto, who was busy launching a huge move at the start. He said before the race that he ran a 5k kind of on a lark a few days ago and still couldn't walk right.

When he went his form looked fine to me.

Botto at the front, about to go.
SOC to the left, waiting to see what develops.

I sat in. I groveled in the gutter in the crosswind. Chases went. SOC went with the main one when a guy rolled a tire in Turn Two, fragmenting the group just before the critical crosswinds that hit you after Turn Three.

I didn't make the junction. Bostongarden didn't either.

I suffered again and again, digging repeatedly. Just a couple weeks ago I couldn't make the effort to break 200 watts, to break 165 bpm consistently. That night I was a bit better. I averaged over 200 watts, barely, for 20 minutes. My heart rate regularly went into the low 170s.

I tried to bridge a gap to a chase group, failing miserably, but reintegrating somehow when I blew up.

I was racing.

Team Kenda racer.
She reminds me of the SoCal Training Camp hostess.
That's a good thing because the Kenda rider is a Cat 1.
In this race she did a lot of work chasing.

Eventually came off, a lapped rider waiting for me to pass him, me waiting for him to get on the wheel. When I realized he wasn't going, that he wasn't coasting just for the corner, it was too late.

Ten feet might as well have been a hundred or a thousand. Mentally I blew, my mind unable to comprehend efforts and bridging and pedaling a bike. I wanted to yell at this guy, why didn't he wave me on, why didn't he say he was lapped. But that would take too much energy and I didn't think I could enunciate the words anyway.

I rolled around a bit, watched the break lap me (sans SOC - he didn't realize the power of some of the riders with him). The chase caught me too, then the next chase.

SOC was in that one so I tried to pull a bit for them, two straights.

Then, with nothing more to do, I rode a lap, did a sprint (I thought it was good until I looked at the SRM numbers - a pitiful 36 mph), and pulled out.

Botto was waiting, already dressed. He'd rolled a tire in turn two while in the break, effectively ending his race.

Before anyone gets on his case, it was, get this, a clincher.

We headed out for some food. Although we didn't necessarily set the world on fire, we had all earned some nourishment, SOC especially.

I settled on a bucket of ribs (an appetizer, not a meal) and drank a few Cokes. Other people had more stuff, some had less.

I had ice cream too. Screw it, right?

When I started back the nav system didn't take me along the same route as before, sending me a bit further on I95 than before.

Just before the Frontage Road exit, before the bridge before the Frontage Road exit, something caught my eye to the left.

I looked.


A huge one.

Okay, it wasn't that huge. I read about the "Mum for Men" team with some mysteriously named racers in South Africa. I didn't read about it in a book - I had the actual magazines covering the races. A certain Sean Kelly was one of the dominant racers, and when they found out he was racing in the then-off-limits South Africa, he became ineligible for the Olympics.

But that's not why I mention that magazine. They wrote about the stage race, about some of the challenges the Europeans faced when racing there.

One stage had a huge stack up in the middle of a nice, normal road. Nonetheless the field piled it up. When asked what happened, the wide eyed Euros talked of a spider.

A huge spider.

It was a foot wide.

Panicked Euros swerved out of the way, shocked by the insanity of something you only see in B series horror flicks.

No word on the spider's fate.

You get my drift here, right?

I'd have been the first one to have swerved away from the spider, all normal bike instincts out the window when the sheer terror of such a creature hits me.

So, although this spider was probably 1/12 the diameter of that foot wide one, it totally freaked me out.

I cringed to the right, my body bent sideways over the gearshift, going 63 mph, my head under the rear view mirror. The spider sat there nonchalantly.

I tried to stay still, thinking that would help keep the spider in place.

If that thing dropped on me...

I passed a cop sitting in the median. He didn't see me or he thought it normal to drive while leaning into the passenger seat area.

When I got to the Frontage Road (which, when I was 15, I thought was pronounced "Frahn-Tahj Road", so I've called it that ever since), I pulled over, drove slowly down the interminable lane, and, seeing no parking lots, pulled onto the curb.

I carefully opened the door, trying to keep my arm away from any projected spider-drop paths.

When the light went on the spider cringed, shrinking away from the light.

I cringed too, shrinking away from the spider.

I gathered up my courage, leaned forward just a bit and blew hard at it, sending it out into the night.

Then, my skin crawling, I slammed the door shut, shot off of the curb, and took off.

After a minute I realized that maybe he fell into the door pocket. He was right over it.

Nah, couldn't be.

10 minutes later I jumped with fright, almost swerving the car at 75 mph.

The spider had just sprinted up the driver side door pillar.

I was on Route 9, well on my way home. I decided that I'd just drive bent over, and when the spider made way toward the back, I leaned forward.

When I got home I spent a good half hour with my NightRider light looking for the thing, carefully moving stuff out of the car. I think it dropped out of the car when I opened one of the back doors, or it fell out when I was moving bags from the car to a "containment zone" in the middle of one of the garage spaces. The zone had a clear lit area around it so I could observe any 8-legged skittering.

I laughed about it afterwards but spiders in cars can cause problems.

Luckily I made it home alive.

And, truth be told, I think the spider made it to the house as well.

Spiders aren't bad. They eat mosquitos and other bugs.

But when they're big enough that you can see them cringe and brace themselves, just like a cat ducks when a shadow flies by...

Those spiders I leave alone.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Racing - August 23, 2011 @TuesdayTheRent

Ah, yes, Tuesday Night Worlds.

I think that my thoughts of the Rent are along the lines of childbirth for women - the women say that they don't remember the pain. For me, in my memory, the Rent is about blasting around the course, bridging gaps, attacking, and doing a good sprint.

It's not about clinging on the back of the field while guys take strong but steady pulls at the front, long past my 20 minute expiration date, and finally getting ignomiously sawed off the back.

The reality is that, unlike my fond (selective) memories, I regularly get shelled here at the Rent.

Like totally shelled.


Off the back.


It's a tough thing, this whole racing scene. I know, maybe a little too well, my strengths and weaknesses. I'm not good at steady state stuff. You know in the Tour you watch an "easy" sprint stage and break gets 10 minutes and the commentators start talking about, "Oh, they can pull back, as a rule, a minute every 10 kilometers."

Yeah, well, when you go real fast like that, real steady like, for 100 km (to bring back a 10 minute break), well, that there's some serious riding.

Ironically, as a sprinter that would benefit from a field sprint, it's the kind of riding I can't handle.

Me, the sprinter, can't hang on wheels when it's steady fast like that, so when a team drills it at the front, like CCNS did last week, I struggle and slip and slide down that slope until zzzzzzip I fall off the back. It took about 10 minutes of fast, steady riding to kill me last time.

For this week I hoped that there'd be no steady racing. I wanted a choppy pace, attack, chase, sit, attack, chase, sit. I can handle that, digging each time for another book of matches, another $20 bill from the racing legs cash machine, looking for anything, but if I know it'll ease again, well, heck, if I have to I'll pretend to have found something.

Part of this involved some preparation - I planned on getting a decent warm up, one where I have to recover from efforts. Twiddling around doesn't do it.

A few weeks ago I started the race, blew up, got dropped, twiddled around for a few laps, then jumped back in. It seemed awfully manageable the second time around and I hung in there until the bell, sitting up to let the real racers sprint it out. Afterward I'd queried SOC if the pace had slackened in the last 10 laps.

It hadn't.

I decided that I should warm up harder, blow up, recover, and then I'd be okay for the races.

Rolling out to the other part of the complex, I saw several racers loitering just past Turn One, a few bikes laying on the ground nearby. Loitering racers usually means a crash, especially with bikes on the ground, and this was no exception.

A racer lay in pain (eventually I'd learn it was a broken ankle), some road rash on the elbow. I stopped, tried to help, supported the leg while another racer wrapped ice pack stuff around said ankle, then helped the racer into the car (which is a sportier version of my car, which reminds me I have to post about that).

A preview.

By the time we finished all this it was just a few laps to go for the B race. With no warm-up time left, I did a couple jumps, visited the portapotties, admired the wall inside, then lined up.

I tried not to do anything stupid like I did once before, but I didn't want to get caught unawares either. The CCNS boys were there in force, some unfamiliar ones in the kit.

I noticed one had the pelvic cradle bumps (in the lower back). The only time I see bumps like that is when I watch pro cycling DVDs and the camera's behind the break.

Normal people have dimples where the pelvic cradle gets attached to the skin, the skin having to reach inward past extraneous fat to get to the bone. Fit racers, on the other hand, have two bumps there because they're so fit the pelvic bones stick out of their torso.

I noted this at about the same time I heard one of the regular CCNS guys holler back to him, "Ah, just wait until you see us go."

Hey, look, I now had a plan! Wait till CCNS goes and try my hardest to go with them.

Simple enough.

I sat in, waiting for the move. Things got a bit blurry there, especially since I forgot to clear the ContourHD memory of my super long training ride the day before; this meant I ran out of memory only halfway through the race.

Anyway CCNS launched the move, something like five Cat 1s were up there, I couldn't go, and that was the race.

When we hit 5 to go I knew I could finish in the group. The leaders had declined to lap us, hanging back a bit, so the group could sprint for 8th or so without interfering with the break. I started to move up a bit, slicing and dicing. I forgot what it's like, the excitement, the little moves and countermoves and stuff.

At two to go I decided that I didn't want to pressure myself to try and win the field sprint. This meant I really had only one other choice - help out SOC for the finish. Just before we hit the bell I rolled past him, giving him the Leadout Look.

He glanced over, deciphered the look, and swung onto my wheel.

I drilled it, on the left side, rolling past our teammate (multiple Rent winner Todd B), and into the first turn.

No racer on the ground any more, just an early apex, a hammering lead rider, and SOC right behind me.

I kept driving, the legs not quite so magical as last year, but significantly better than the past couple months. I saw Shovel up ahead, a guy from the BikeForum world. He had one rider for company, saw us behind, and drilled it.

We flew past his former break partner. Shovel kept the pace high enough that he got around the last turn before I really got on his wheel. I rolled up to his right - he left a lane to his left, leaving us in a weird situation.

If I went left of Shovel but blew before I cleared him, I'd box in SOC.

If I went right, there'd always be a lane to my right. SOC could, if necessary, go to Shovel's left.

I went right.

Just before SOC went left, the bumpy CCNS guy rocketed through the gap.

I rolled even with Shovel, sat up, and swore under my breath. I didn't sense anyone to my right so SOC was between me and Shovel, boxed in.

I couldn't move too much because the odds were against me - if I moved right I might be moving into SOC's way, who would then go more right, making things worse for the guys inevitably trying to get by on the right.

If I moved right and SOC blasted through the gap between Shovel and me, Shovel may move to his right to clear the stream of racers flying up the left side.

So on and so forth.

In the end Shovel and I ended up riding side by side, exploded, the rest of the race leaving us behind. No one fell, no one swore. It ended up okay.

I talked a bit with another BikeForums rider (they seemed to be coming to the Rent a bit more frequently), giving a bit of friendly advice based on some observations I made during the race.

Then, with darkness rapidly falling, the Missus and I set out for dinner with the Mr and Mrs SOC. I felt a lot better, like I could actually race. I hung in through some of the harder bits, did some efforts when it was a bit slower, and basically acted more like a bike racer than not.

Better, yes. Not great. Just better.

I'll take better.

Life - Johnny Appleseed

(This story has a bike involved in it, I promise.)

Pretty much everyone knows the story of Johnny Appleseed. He roamed around parts of the US, eating apples, planting apple trees where he wandered. People use his story to illustrate the need for long term investments, typically in money or, for our purposes, people (like coaching and such). A little discipline or knowledge imparted now can grow into reams of character later.

This morning a young boy came into the store, leaving his bike around the corner. He needed to buy a utilitarian thing, nothing a 10 year old would buy for himself. When I queried him on why he needed it, he answered that he wanted to buy it so his mom didn't have to weed by hand.

I helped him locate the item and brought it to the counter. With tax the total cost came to $20.20.

The boy pulled out a homemade duct tape wallet, filled with a lot of singles, a five, and one quarter. He started counting the singles.

I stepped back, giving him privacy to count his money.

After a little too much time I discretely looked over. I realized he was recounting so I kept an eye on him. His face fell visibly on his confirmation count.

Suspecting a slight shortage of funds, I asked him what was wrong.

"I don't have enough money."

I could see his mind frozen, unable to get beyond the fact that he didn't have enough money. He wanted that item, we didn't have it any cheaper, and we didn't have any alternatives.

"How much do you have?" I asked him.

"Eighteen dollars and 25 cents."

"Well, let's see what I can do on this side."

I put in a code for a contractor's discount, a 10% break on discountable items. This utilitarian item qualified.

When I hit the total button the total came out a bit lower: $18.18.

I looked at the boy.

"I'm going to pretend you're a contractor, okay? Contractors get a break on certain items, and in your case, as a contractor, with your contractor's discount, your cost for this item will be $18.18."

I could see him processing the words, the amount, and the comprehension that the total cost was less than his $18.25.

The boy's face lit up.

I carefully counted out his change, seven cents, and handed it to him with his receipt.

"Thank you," he said, his mood noticeably brighter.

He was about to put the coins in his duct tape wallet but paused, then looked up at me.

"Here, you should keep the change," he said, offering the money back to me.

He walked out, head up, holding his prize. He came back a few minutes later - he'd assembled it in the parking lot, managed to stick it in his backpack sack, and asked me if there was a garbage can around where he could throw out the box.

I told him I could take care of it. He handed it over, thanked me again, and walked out to his bike.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Life - Shelled

I debated naming this post "Life" or "Training". I learned a bit of both, but ultimately I decided to choose "Life".

Wednesdays are my day off from work. I typically poke around the house a bit, get some errands done, and generally goof off until I start getting that "I really need to ride" feel. Then, pending weather, I either choose to ride indoors or I hurry up and get on the bike.

Training, as you might have guessed, doesn't rank super high on my list of priorities. Racing, okay, that's fun. Training not so much.

This particular Wednesday I had a big project at hand. It'd make me a lot of usable money in a very short time, therefore my motivation was high to get it done. I was prepping the blue car for its final drive, at least under my ownership.

In other words I'm getting ready to trade it in.

The dealer wanted to have it as close to stock as possible. I was glad to oblige, since I could sell off whatever I removed.

To accomplish this I had two major projects, one minor one, relatively speaking - I'd put the stock wheels on, the stock air box, and find the stock stereo head unit (for them to install).

The first project was to revert the wheels to stock. I'd have to jack up the car, swap wheels, and I'd be done. It's easy enough that I went rummaging around for the original lug nuts prior last weekend. The aftermarket lug nuts on the car don't work with the stock wheels so I had to use the stock lug nuts.

Of course I couldn't find them.

I swore to the Missus that I had them in this white mailing pouch, like a USPS or FedEx or something, the plastic-y paper, full of heavy steel Nissan lug nuts. I found just such a package in my travails but it contained, to my dismay, all the sway bar mounts and collars.

So I bought another set, knowing that if I did, I'd find the lug nuts miraculously. There's this thing that happens to me sometimes, when I really need it to happen. I don't know if it's me doing stuff subconsciously or what, but whenever I really, really need something to get done, it gets done. I don't rely on this "thing" necessarily so I bought some aftermarket lug nuts.

I also needed to install the stock air filter box thing, project number two. I had installed an aftermarket intake - as equipped from the factory the car was so quiet inside it wasn't much fun to accelerate. With the cold air intake the car takes on this wailing shriek when you punch it, an aural reward that makes boys happy - ears perk up and such.

Last weekend, when I went to put the stock air box in place, I realized I'd swapped it out when the original air filter needed replacing. I try to upgrade parts when they're worn or need servicing, not when they're still new. I logically tossed the filthy original air filter, leaving a huge gaping hole in the air box.

So when I got the replacement lug nuts I also bought an air filter.

Since I wanted to put off the OEM lug nut search as long as possible I decided to do the air box first. I got out the cardboard box holding all the parts, quite heavy for just a plastic shell and some tubing. I pulled out all the parts, getting all the ingredients in place before I started cooking. I grabbed the big air box, put it aside, and looked in the box.

White plastic-y bag.


Full of.. you guessed it.

The air box went in without a hitch. The wheels went on pretty quickly too, the driveway strewn with an impressive array of alloy wheels.

Just to put it in perspective from a life point of view, when I was in my 20s I dreamed, and I mean dreaaaamed, about buying alloy wheels for my car. At that time I had a GTI, black number, with 14" wheels. Alloys, fine, but stock ones. I really wanted 15" wheels. I knew, in that faith way, that I'd get wheels, maybe just not on that car. I'd grab the chance if I could ("carpe diem"), but if it didn't happen then, it didn't happen.

Well it took about 12 years to get my alloys. Instead of 15" wheels they were 18", and instead of some 205s the car took a staggeringly wide pair of tires, 275 fronts and 315 rears.

A guy at the track (velodrome, not the car kind) called them "rollers". That be them.

So here I was, a dozen years later, with not just one set of alloys in the driveway but three (another set, 15", were on the red car).

With the blue car all finished (I'm just going to hand them the OEM radio, letting them install it), some food in me, and cats properly scritched, I got ready to ride. I figured I'd ride over to the shop and do their Wednesday ride, a hilly number. It usually takes 2 hours, has some tough hills, and it's, well, it's hard. Last year I romped around on the ride, pushed to my limit on the longer climbs, enjoying the punchier steep short ones.

It was a bit early so I did my Quarry loop, about an hour ride, not really pushing it. I kept seeing 140s wattage-wise, rarely saw anything sustained in the 200s. At the end of the loop I zipped over to the shop, still a bit early, and refilled my bottles, got a couple Hammer gels, and collected myself just before the ride. I'd say close to 30 people showed up; it's be a good ride.

I took it easy at first, hanging back, bridging a small gap (30? feet). Things felt normal. At these rides I try not to lead at all, instead just following, letting myself relax when someone in front opens a gap, bridging said gap, then repeating the process. This way I don't increase the speed of the ride but I get some speed work in.

Well that was the plan.

When the road started climbing steadily, I watched the gaps grow. I went around one or two riders, but, even close to the back, I realized that I was already approaching my limits. I scrambled a bit when I realized we'd be hitting a somewhat challenging hill, moving up towards the front.

(I say "scrambled" but we were going all of about 18 mph. It wasn't a major effort.)

On that first hill I was the first to get popped off, from the group of 25 or 30 riders, few or no racers included.

Right, I forgot to mention that this is a recreational ride. Okay, fine, there's a guy or two that race, probably the Cat 4s or 5s. I don't think we had any 3s except one guy who I saw briefly when we rolled out of the parking lot and never saw again.

The rest of the riders are just that, riders. One guy, a friendly sort who is a customer where I work, he rides in running shoes with toe clips (that are way too small), pedaling somehow with just his big toe.

He rolled past me, as did the guy who normally rides recumbents (he rarely stands, a habit carried over from the 'bent riding). Another guy went by, one that had asked me at the beginning of the ride how I was doing after my (relatively speaking) spectacular year in 2010.

Obviously not as well.

I rode alone, panting, totally tweaked, up the moderate hill.

Everyone was waiting at the next intersection, sipping from bottles, chatting, watching. After a moment of rest, we started off again.

Again the gaps opened in front of me. I hung back, behind a rider that must have had SRAM shifters. The rider was in the big-big and tried to shift into a lower gear in the back. The SRAM shifter doesn't let you move the shift lever without actually shifting, so if you try and shift into an easier gear and you're already in the biggest cog in the back, it unceremoniously dumps you into the second biggest cog.

In other words it shifts you into a higher gear.

This rider, whether realizing it or not, kept shifting while in the big-big, so the chain would drop into the big-next-biggest-cog. A pedal stroke of the bigger gear was enough, the rider would shift into the big cog, then try and shift into an easier gear again.

Chain drops into the next biggest cog.

Repeat every 15 or 20 seconds.

This would have been mildly amusing had I not been going almost cross-eyed trying to hang onto the wheel. I wanted to say, "Hey, you're in the big ring. Just shift into the small one" but I couldn't. Unbelievably (or not), after about 7 or 8 minutes of this nonsense, I finally got away from this comedy of errors.

No, I didn't surge around the Shifter. The Shifter dropped me, shifting gears regularly.

With the magical pull of a wheel in front gone, my pace slowed dramatically. The few riders behind quickly rolled by, leaving me to suffer alone on this long, not really steep, not really continuous, mainly uphill road.

Again I found the group waiting, and again, after a short pause, we set off.

One one particularly steep hilled road (Lost Acres), I practically ground to a halt, in my biggest cog (the 25 tooth), mildly regretting fitting the huge 44T inner ring. Mildly because a 39T inner ring would have just made me go slower. I had a hard time getting the pedals to move down, pushing down with my foot, pulling on the bars, sweat drizzling off my forehead.

I looked down and saw the sweat dripping onto the steel bolt in the stem cap. I tilted my head to direct the sweat elsewhere.

I sometimes swerved a bit erratically, for whatever reason.

A quick pedaling sound behind me woke me up. I sat, held a straighter line, and waited.

"You doing okay?" the guy asked.

"No", I replied, not even looking up.

I glanced over. Sneakers. The nice guy from the store.

"You want a gel?"

"No, it's just my legs. They're not working."

I could feel his sympathetic feelings, his concern. He stopped talking, knowing it wasn't going to help. He pedaled next to me, the rhythmic sound of his drivetrain a metronome for me to use as a pacer.

As the hill steepened I'd have to stand.

Next to me he rode steadily.

I slowed. My legs stopped working again.

He rolled on ahead, not accelerating, looking back, deciding to get over the steep part before waiting.

I struggled on, downstroke after downstroke. I tried pulling up more, using my hamstrings. Sat down, butt way back, tried to recruit my glutes. I writhed on the saddle, looking for some cure, some untaxed muscle group, some reserves hidden away somewhere.


At one point I was in my bottom gear, pedaling about 40 rpm, thinking about one downstroke at a time.

We went down some crazy descent, twisty, curvy, awesome. I flew by riders that had dropped me 10 or 15 minutes ago.

Just because I'm not fit doesn't mean I don't know how to ride.

On the next hill they all rolled by me again.

Sneakers waited for me, as did one other guy, a racer (he did 5 races a couple years ago - he should be a 4 now) who liked going fast down hills. He understood the benefits of sharing the pace when bombing down descents, and he also liked being able to follow someone who likes descending. He grinned, started going, and egged me on.

We blasted down a cool winding descent, flying along, until I accidentally knocked my frame pump askew. Trying to get it back in place at 35 mph didn't work so I had to ease (one handed, holding onto the pump, while in the 55x12), fiddle with said pump for a good 30 seconds, and then get going.

By then both he and Sneakers were gone.

They waited for me.


We rolled together back to the shop, a slightly downhill type road, a good direction for speed, the racer pulling a lot. He eventually pulled off to go home, but we caught another rider to replace him. He'd been twiddling along solo, but with a group he found motivation to work hard.

Sneakers dropped back, leaving me with the white jersey guy. We took longish pulls, 30-40 seconds apiece.

On the two short rises before the shop I came off. The first one ends at a light - it was red, allowing me to catch on. The second one pops up just before the shop, and I didn't catch the guy until he'd stopped in the parking lot.

I felt totally cooked. A couple guys asked what happened to me, shop owner included. The Missus called. I'd ridden by her office 3 hours ago; now the sun had set.

"Where are you?"
"Shop parking lot."
"Did you do the shop ride?"

I thought about that question for a moment.


I just didn't do it with the group.

"It's getting dark."
"Yeah, I'm about to leave."

I said my good-byes, rolled away towards home. It was pretty dark, especially under the trees. My tail light works well, but without a headlight I had to pretend I was invisible from the front.

There's something meditative about riding in (near) dark. I get this hyperawareness of the road, I hear more noticeably (since I can't see as well, even if I had a headlight), I can feel my legs better.

The day's heat had given away to an almost coolness. No pavement baking me, releasing the pent up heat energy collected over the day. A hint of a breeze, enough to cool but not enough to slow a rider.

It felt like Fall, the time of (for me) notebooks and pens. Or, as I mentioned to someone who has a teen kid, laptops and flash drives. I don't know what kids bring to school now, but for me, if I was serious in my time, I'd have college ruled notebooks, ones that focus my writing, ones that encouraged me to write neatly.

School always meant an exciting mix of known and unknown. I knew part of the environment, the physical structures and such. But the people, the experiences, that was all a deck of cards thrown in the air. I could be drawing bad cards or good cards, but until I started the school year I had no idea. Some years weren't so good, others were fantastic. They all felt stressful at some point; it's only looking back that I realized it was all good.

Bike racing (and riding) isn't much different. I know my bike, I know a lot of the courses. It's the people that drive the pedals that change, from year to year, from week to week. I have good years, bad years. Good patches, bad ones. Even good or bad weeks.

The toughest days on the bike seem so stressful at the time. Struggling up Palomar 30 minutes into a 120 minute climb, in my bottom gear, one down stroke at a time, wondering what I got myself into.

Hanging on at the back of a single file peloton, going warp speed, wondering who was at the front pulling, wondering how the heck I can move up for the finish.

Blasting around 8 turns every 1/2 mile in Birmingham, MI, on a course I'd never seen before and would never see again. Pouring rain, so much so that sheets of white would drift across the road. I was shivering before the race, partially because of the cold, partially from fear, partially because I felt I had a chance of finishing in the top 20 overall (I was 21st). I never crashed to the ground but I broke my rear wheel, pulled my foot out of my shoe when trying to stay upright, and did a number of inadvertent power-slides on the neutral support rear wheel that they'd pumped up with about 120 psi.

When it was over I was happy. I also knew that it'd be a special day before I took those risks again.

This year I know I'll take something like this away from this year, regardless of the results.

The tough part is just getting through the tough part. Then I can look back and say, "Oh, man, that was a tough part", whether it be a year or a month or a week or a day. I just need the tough part to be over.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Equipment - Rolling Tubulars

A couple Sundays ago, watching the Cat 4 race at New Britain, I offered a friend's wife to take their camera and capture some of the racing. With a bike (to get around on) and some basic knowledge of what makes a cool looking picture cool, I set out to try and get some decent shots of the race.

Ends up that I took about 40 or 50 before I headed back to the start/finish line for the final sprint. I use two criteria when selecting a spot for me to watch or take pictures:
1. Crashes
2. Cool shots/visuals/sensations

I'll explain the first criteria second which means I'm explaining the second criteria first. Got that?

Cool shots, cool visuals, and cool sensations - these are the good parts of the sport. It's watching a field of racers fly down a straight, then, as if there was a guide floating above their head, dive into the turn, one by one, leaning impossible angles, too close to tell one rider from another.

The visuals can be anything. A quick left-right can't lose, with riders leaning both ways within about 50 or 100 meters of road. Hairpin turns work too, with some guys leaned way over while others are still upright and braking, and the leaders are sprinting out of the turn.

The sensations - the wind after the field passes, the sound of the bikes, those are sensations that only a bike race can create.

Good reasons, all, to sit at particular spots.

Sometimes I'll pick out the crash spots. Those are the spots that I think, based on the course, the tactics, and the conditions, that someone will fall. In Vegas, at the USA Crit series, I couldn't get near the finish line so I chose a spot where I figured there'd be a crash.

Yeppers. I told my (also a racer) friend that if anyone crashed they'd slide to my feet.
I even shuffled back and forth a bit to fine tune my aim.

Because we weren't in Vegas where the last 200 meters are all VIP tents (so we didn't have access to the finish), and because my friend's wife really doesn't want pictures of him (or those near him) crashing, I decided to skip the crash sites and focus on the good part of the sport, the finish line.

Of course, before the field got to the line, we could all hear the huge pile up a couple hundred meters down the road.

Massive pile up.

And by the looks of the field trickling over the line, it was a doozy of a crash.

My friend was AWOL so I jumped on my bike and headed over.

At some point I heard someone say, "Oh, they're just Cat 4s."

Yeah, well, they may be "just" Cat 4s, but that doesn't mean they just tumble onto the pavement arbitrarily.

I headed over there, with camera, to see what happened. I'm not medically trained so I kept back from the medical folks, but I couldn't resist when the first guy to hit the deck asked for water. I had a bottle of ice and water and gave it to him. He thanked me, sprayed everything on his various wounds, and gave me the bottle back.

With nothing else to offer I stepped back. And took some pictures.

I saw a lot of skid marks on the pavement, both the tire kind and the white marks that come from scratching metal on pavement. There were some other stuff, including an orange stripe (I looked for a burnt orange saddle, kit, or frame, but still don't know where that bright orange came from).

Look carefully - lots of skid marks.
The race comes from the top right, going through what would be a left turn.
The crashers were to the left, to the outside of the turn.

The picture didn't come out well but I'll let you check it out, just in case you can spot stuff I can't see (tip: click on any picture in the blog to get a larger version of it).

I looked around for the bike. When I spotted it, leaning against the EMT cart, I could tell what happened immediately.

Rolled tire.

The symptoms of a rolled tire:
1. Tire is not on the rim completely (duh).
2. Base tape of tire, i.e. the bit that sits on the rim, is pretty clean compared to rest of tire.
3. Tire looks like it has air in it, usually not full, but a little.

We have a flopper.

The first symptom is the key. A tubular tire should never come off of a rim, never, except when someone removes it on purpose.

Therefore if you see a tire flopping on or next to a rim, it's a bad, bad sign.

(Note: You're excused if you do something like win Nationals while on a rolled tire. Roy Knickman, in the 1983 National Crit Championships, got in a 2 man break on a course with a 50 mph downhill going into a hard left turn. In the sprint, at the end of the race, he rolled his rear tire. He just lost to the guy that won, but the "winner" had used illegal-for-Junior gearing, so Knickman won. The fact that he could blast through that 50 mph downhill turn lap after lap meant that the tire was glued pretty well, but the fact that he rolled it in the sprint... well, I'm not going to say that he has Godzilla like quads but I've never heard of anyone else who got to the end of a hard technical crit only to roll the tire in the sprint. What's amazing is that the tire flopped around next to the rim all the way to the finish and Knickman still got second, sprinting on a bare rim with a tire flopping around next to it.)
Last year I was lucky enough to be in a place where I could watch parts of the 2010 Tour on TV. Lance Armstrong was one of the favorites, but he ended up finishing a bit back. One setback was when he had a massive crash at high speed. He went down just before a big climb, and although he caught back on with the help of his teammates, he lost time that day.

(Edit: I wrote this on the night of July 31... coincidentally Velonews ran an article Aug 1 stating the tire rolled because of the crash. Without more conclusive evidence, i.e. better video, it's impossible to verify if the tire rolled due to the crash or if the tire rolling caused the crash. The last rolled tubular I saw, from a few feet away, seemed like a pedal strike. On closer inspection the rolled tire caused the pedal strike, not the other way around.)

Although it's impossible for us laymen to know if he'd have been better without the crash (he went on to lose more time in other stages), it's certainly not an advantageous thing to hit the deck at 40-odd mph in the middle of the race.

For me the most electrifying part of that bit of coverage was after the actual crash. Lance was on a new bike, his team dragging him back to the field, and the camera moto behind the team car. They specifically shot some footage of Lance's crashed bike, and there it was:

Flopping tire.

Lance had rolled a tire.

Later, in a Velonews article, the mechanic (Nick) verifies that this was the case, although it was more a case of the tire delaminating rather than a glue job failing:

"We at the hotel in St. Moritz heard that Armstrong had rolled a tire and went down. We collectively started to sweat. When we saw the wheel in person, we realized that our glue job was better than Hutchinson’s. The base tape was still attached to the rim bed. The tire casing had delaminated from its own base tape. It’s important to point out that this was NOT a failure on the part of Hutchinson or the mechanics that glued it on." (quoted from here)

Curiously enough the only tire I've ever seen delaminated like that (by my friend Mike K) was also a Hutchinson. Regardless of who races what brands, I'll stick with my Vittoria (Evo CX), Bontrager (the two handmade ones), and sometimes Conti (generally don't like them but I bought a few to support a local shop) tires, thank you.

Anyway, back to the Cat 4 race. Since the owner of the bike was a bit distracted by all his injuries, I took the liberty of checking out his rear wheel.

Closer look

Note that there's some clear tape coming off the rim. I suspect this is tubular tire mounting tape (I hope it's not normal double sided tape). Whatever it is, it didn't work properly, whether due to poor installation or what I don't know.

I ran my finger along the rim. It was as smooth as a freshly-clayed-and-waxed car, so slick that it felt slicker than a bare carbon rim. I have no idea what happened there but it wasn't good. I suspect that a standard glue job, although potentially a bit messier, would have worked fine. The tape thing failed.

Whatever the outcome of that particular corner, I suspect the tire mounting job would have failed the "try and roll the tire with your hands" test.

What is that?

Let me explain.

It used to be that you'd line up at a crit and some gorilla pretending to be an official would walk up and down the row of racers, viciously pushing tires off of rims. If you had even a 95% glue job, your tire would pop off under this guy's horrifically strong thumbs.

Heck, I remember him rolling clinchers right off the rim at the start line of Harlem. The hapless racer would protest that he had clinchers and the official (rightfully) pointed out that he'd probably have rolled it anyway.

After that guy checked your wheels (and your tire didn't look like it suddenly had a spinal defect), you knew you could dive into whatever turn just as hard as you want, and the tire just would not let go.

The fact that you'd see ten or so guys get pulled out of every, and I mean every race at the start line because of poorly glued tires, well, that's pretty bad. We all knew that they'd be checking, yet guys would show up with tires so freshly glued that there'd be stringy glue stuff all over the gorilla's hands.

(This all stopped when someone pointed out that by inspecting equipment the Federation was taking responsibility for saying the equipment was safe. This meant that if you had an equipment failure you could theoretically sue the Federation. Now the racers roll tires in races, crash themselves and others, hurt themselves and others, but no one can sue the Federation.)

Remember, if you race tubulars you need to take responsibility for racing tubulars. This is a case where you're not the only one affected. If you roll a tire and you crash, so be it, that's the way it's supposed to work. But if you roll a tire and someone else crashes, that's not so good.

Therefore, if you use tubulars, you should check your tires inflated and not, trying to remove them with just your fingers and hands. If you cannot remove any part of the tire you're good, because, frankly, you need a screwdriver or knife or something to dismount a well glued tubular.

In case you don't know, here are two primers.

How to glue a tubular.

How to remove a properly glued tubular.

Here's to some good, fast, and safe racing.

Monday, August 01, 2011

How To - Pre-Race Instructions

A long time ago the Bethel Spring Series was the Bethel Training Series. There was no Cat 5 race because the USCF had only Cat 4s and up. We didn't have a camera at the finish.

But we raced. Boy did we race.

For many years the Bethel Training Series was my romping ground. I loved the sprint up the hill (still do, usually). I liked the non-technical course, making the race essentially one long, meandering straight. I loved the hill, a big ring hill for most of us, a small ring hill for the best (and worst, depending on how fast you went in the small ring).

I started some of the Cat 3-4 races thinking of how I'd win, not just if I could. Would I jump really early? Should I bury myself in the field and try and sprint through the field? It was like SUNY Purchase Tuesday Night Sprints. With one or two trusted "final leadout" teammates and a slew of guys who'd randomly go to the front and drop the hammer to string things out, I thought of different ways to win the sprints at SUNY Purchse. Depending on who showed up, I'd realistically have about 15 all out sprints i could win, and 15 where I'd sit and watch the others fight it out.

Of course at Bethel there was just one sprint, the final one, so I only had one chance at getting it right.

As a real casual race, Bethel wasn't as hotly contested as some of the "summer" races. In fact, for many years, the races at Bethel didn't count as regular races, due to the permitting process. Now each week is a different race, but back then they were all lumped under a training series permit.

That meant that even though I enjoyed my races at Bethel, they weren't the end-all. Just like SUNY Purchase sprints - if I didn't win a particular sprint, it was just a moment of disappointment, then I'd think about the next one.

Bethel used to go on for seven weeks, so to me it seemed there'd always be "another chance".

Our club hosted the race, and like all clubs there were those members that primarily raced, those that primarily helped out, and the bunch (there were a good dozen) who did both. I did both, and this put me in touch with all the club members that primarily helped out (but didn't race all that much).

The racing members didn't really interact much with the helping members because, frankly, the racers were too busy racing.

One of the guys who always helped out, and I mean always helped out, was a Cat 4. Bike racing wasn't his life - he had a great wife, had a whole other social life outside of cycling, and for him the club was just another interest of his (at least that's how I read him).

Because he didn't train quite so fanatically, because he didn't aspire to be a Cat 2 (like me), he was perfectly happy being a Cat 4. He'd race the Bethel Training Series, do a couple races during the summer, and do some of the group rides.

One year, I don't know why, he rode a bit more than normal. This went into and through the winter. He started up at Bethel in pretty good shape, at least compared to his prior years. He seemed to be willing to suffer more, he could roll up the hill with just a little bit less effort, and he didn't look quite so tweaked after a surge or two.

As a 4 in the 3-4 race, and with me in the race, he tried to help me when he could. If the pace slowed he'd go to the front and try and increase it. If he found himself near me he'd offer to try and bring me up.

Although flattered, I felt kind of bad. When you think about it my whole race is about the sprint, and I was already relatively fluent in "peloton speak". The super strong break guys were around, but in the 3-4s they could be intimidated by just one hard chase. Since I was relatively fit, I'd even do the chasing. All too often (for the others) the race would come down to a sprint.

One of the later weeks in the Series I was either well into the lead or well out of it, I don't remember. Either way my actual placing meant less than any workout I'd get. Anything the team did to work together would help too, since we had a few guys join up that year.

So here was our very helpful Cat 4 in a 3-4 race. Except this year he'd never been at the sharp end of the race, and definitely not near the front at the end. He raced kind of timidly, didn't really mix it up, but that was fine with him.

We raced for a bit on that particular week. I had my tubulars, Zipps (the first generation Zipp 340s, evolved into the 303s now), with super light Campy Record Crono rim (yes, rims) 28H tubulars as backups. We didn't have a pit per se but everyone kind of threw their wheels in a spot by the mailboxes (they still do), so I had them there too.

I raced expectantly, wanting to use my Scott Rakes, wanting to sprint, wanting to feel the bike respond as I furiously smashed the pedals.

Then I flatted.

I rejoined the race a lap down. It's casual and all but this meant that I couldn't go for the win. Therefore I could do something else, try something new, experiment a bit.

At the back I saw the Cat 4, working hard but looking less-than-troubled.

I got an idea.

I rolled up to him and told him to save it for the sprint, just sit in. I'd find him, but his job would be to sit in. I explained that I flatted and wouldn't be eligible for the sprint, but I'd try and make it a good race for him.

At about 3 to go I found him, told him to follow me, to shift when I shifted, just don't lose my wheel.

I made baby steps to move up (it was like playing with the huge Lego blocks instead of the intricate stuff the complicated things have). I avoided shifting too much (I think I shifted only 2-3 times a lap), called out the cog when I shifted, and kept checking to make sure he was there.

I remember rolling up the hill in a 53x15 coming up on maybe 2 to go, shifting just once so that I wouldn't "lose" him gear-wise, and slogging over the top as guys rolled by. It was okay, we rolled back past them, but when I looked back to make sure he was okay, I could see the concern in his face.

We (well, I) hit the front with about 1/2 lap to go, the backstretch, and I started rolling hard. I was holding the tops, sitting upright, elbows out, knees splayed as I pedaled, imitating a derny driver, trying to give him as much shelter as possible. After looking down to make sure he still sat on my wheel I shifted into the 14 ("14!"), then the 13 ("13!"), then rolled the 12 hard. I was totally tweaked as we hit the finishing hill.

I looked again to make sure he was there.

No one.

Looked back.

I had like 70 feet on the field, a totally strung out, hammering, hurting field. I rolled up the hill, slowed to a stop near the line, got off my bike, and, when the field started sprinting past me, yelled at the guy to go, go, go. He got maybe 8th or 10th or something, got crushed just before the line by the sprinters in the field.

But, man, he was soooo stoked. He'd never been in that kind of position before, never seen what happens on the last lap of a race. Okay, yes, I shouldn't have gone quite so hard in the final bit of the leadout, but when I gapped him some of my friendly rivals immediately tried to close the gap so my teammate got shelter.

I was pretty happy with myself. I'd turned a potentially race-destroying incident (the flat) into a great experience for a teammate. He'd never been the leader of the team, and today he experienced part of what that was like. He got immersed in a field sprint.

And, really, the best thing was that the guy he worked for for so many races, the guy that he never actually saw finish because he wasn't there in the sprint, that guy turned around and helped him out. It's like when Hampsten took the lead in the Tour of Switzerland and ended up with Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond working for him (!!). He won of course. How could he not, with those two as domestiques?

Awesome. What a day. I was so happy for my teammate, to see that huge grin on his face, it made me so happy.

Still grinning I went to the officials to see how my teammate actually placed.

One of them asked why I stopped just before the line. I told him I wasn't eligible for the sprint because of my flat so I wanted to cheer on my teammate that I led out.

Said official looked at me.

"If you'd listened to my instructions you'd have heard that the free lap rule was in effect today."