Sunday, December 16, 2012

Winter of my discontent

Some of you may not know this but I strongly dislike riding the trainer. The trainer is essentially a resistance wheel that you clamp your bike onto and it simulates the resistance of riding outdoors. The benefit of a trainer is that you can ride indoors and avoid poor weather but the drawbacks are many. The bike is clamped and therefore it doesn't feel very real because the bike never moves when you pedal. The resistance wheel is a poor replicator of actual riding as it is constant and outdoor rides are anything but constant. Lastly and most importantly trainer rides are boring and don't offer any of the escape that I so enjoy on outdoor rides. As you may noticed I have recently purchased lights for my bike in order that I won't have to ride indoors on weekdays, instead I can still ride after work with the lights attached to the bike (as a side note, I tend to stick to roads that are well lit on my night rides, just to be on the safe side).

The downfalls of riding at night are the lack of light and of course, the cold. We have had a particularly cold spell here in Northern California and although it hasn't stopped me from riding, it certainly has shaken my resolve to ride. I won't lie in saying that riding in the cold can be miserable and my last two rides have been particularly unbearable. I rode on Thursday evening for about 25 miles and I can admit that I was frozen by the time I got back (my bike computer said the average temperature was 42 degrees). It took a hot shower to thaw my extremities. As bad as that was, Saturday mornings ride was much worse. I had plans to go for a very long ride and left early (7:30) to take advantage of all of the light. As it was, the temperature was 34 degrees when I started to ride and despite having the warmest of my clothing on, it was certainly not enough. After an hour, I needed to stop as I was having trouble feeling my arms and they were starting to fail in supporting my upper body. I was at the point where I had gone past numb and the cold was starting to get painful. I stopped at a gas station, drank a hot chocolate, and tried to warm up. This was mostly futile and I knew I needed to turn around. I headed back and can admit that it started to warm up but the only thing that actually made a difference was that I started to ride harder in order to try and raise my heart rate and core temperature. Upon my return, a hot shower was the only remedy and I have vowed to learn that on weekends I will wait for it to warm up prior to riding.

I learned my lesson today and this morning Kelsey and I went up to napa to try a bakery that we had heard about it was delicious. It is called Bouchon Bakery and they make wonderful croissants, pastries, and sweets and after we got back I made the trek up Mt. Diablo for the first time in months. As a side note, the tour of California will be finishing on Diablo in May in what is being billed as the queen stage of the race (the queen stage is the biggest and toughest stage of the race). I rode to the junction as there was cloud cover further up and I wasn't looking to ride on wet roads any further. It was a good effort and I plan on starting to pick up the intensity from this point further.

I have included this photo to show all of the items that I carry/wear on a winter ride. From bottom to top - shoes, socks, shoe covers, knee warmers, bib shorts, undershirt, jersey, arm warmers, thermal vest, heart rate strap, food, pump, earphones(so I can listen to my books on tape), cycling computer, sandwich bag for phone, helmet, cycling cap, sunglasses, keys, gloves, water bottles. Depending on the length of ride I will carry 1 or 2 water bottles, 1 is always full of water and the second with a drink mix (contains salt, sugar and some flavoring). I will usually try to carry some food, mostly granola bars or gels of some sort. It takes me about 15 minutes to get fully dressed and ready to ride. Considering that it takes me about 5 minutes to get ready in the morning, the process of getting ready for a ride can seem like an eternity.

I took this picture on my way down Diablo. It is starting to turn green around here and is starting to look like what I always imagine Ireland looks like.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


It rained over the weekend. Not that it bothered me as I don't hate the rain like some people in California who have been spoiled by sunshine their whole lives. I actually enjoy rainy days as most people stay indoors so those of us willing to venture out get to enjoy the world by ourselves. This past weekend it rained pretty heavy for the first time since May and 8 of us went for a long bike ride in spite of it.

To be honest, I was looking forward to riding in the rain as I just purchased some winter riding gear but I wasn't looking to have go for a 5 hour ride. I also had committed to completing a Strava ride challenge. I may have mentioned this before but Strava is "fitness facebook". I upload my rides to the website using a Garmin cycling computer and they rank segments of the ride based on time versus others that have ridden the same segments. Strava will also sponsor challenges to ride a certain amount of miles over a specified time period. This past weekend was a challenge to ride at least 79 miles in one ride.

We had set out on the ride at 7:30AM and it was lightly raining. After about 10 miles it started to rain in earnest and soon enough we were all fairly soaked. As a side note, I am pretty certain that their is no such thing as "water-proof" in cycling clothing. If it rains, you will eventually get wet. It stopped raining for just over 1 hour and then as we headed back it picked up again and didn't stop until we got back. The last hour was pretty miserable as we were all starting to get cold and just wanted to get rid of the road grime and warm up.

Just before my shower I took this picture and adjusted the color with Instagram. Below is a picture of a bicycle I found on a different blog, I think it looks pretty awesome.

I am currently in Washington state visiting with family and when I get back I will have to clean up the bike from the rain and continue fixing my backup bike to take back to PA.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Night riding

Just thought I would share a photo I took from my ride yesterday evening. It isn't the most clear picture but it is a palm tree lit with Christmas lights.

I also wanted to keep everyone informed of my training. I logged over 100 miles over the weekend and have continued my night rides on week nights. The plan is to continue this for the next few weeks and then to gradually build intensity into my rides. I won't race in January but I will most likely start in February with a few races to speed up my fitness level.

A quick story from my ride this weekends ride. While near the top of Patterson pass a teammate of mine ran over some glass on the road and instantly flatted. He pulled over to fix the flat but was having trouble finding puncture in the tire or tube. After a few more minutes we looked over at his bike to discover that the other tire was flat and that he had mistakenly thought the flat was on the front and not the rear tire. After a quick switch we put the front tire back together and had a new tube in the rear. Needless to say he was embarrassed from the mistake but it allowed for a nice break in the middle of the climb

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A few photos from recent rides

I have started my training for next year in earnest and just in time as the race schedule was just released. I took a few photos on my ride Sunday and yesterday and wanted everyone to see. I have also just started my darkness rides and have added lights to make sure I am seen at night.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

More end of year stats and an opinion

What do the following numbers represent:

They represent the total number of hours, vertical feet, and miles I have ridden this season.  During this year I have joined strava as a way to track my rides and fitness.  Plus, it is a great way to see what rides my teammates and competitors are doing as well.  I still plan on adding more miles this year as I start training for next season with long slow rides.  In an effort to keep these long base mile rides interesting I have decided to start listening to books on tape.  I joined and just purchased Destiny of the Republic, a book about James Garfield, the 20th president of the US.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to express my opinion of the Lance Armstrong doping case.  Although Lance has yet to admit to doping during his career, the evidence is now overwhelming to point to the fact that he and his team all used performance enhancing drugs on their way to winning 7 Tour de France titles.  About a year ago I read a book called Lance Armstrongs War which detailed his 6th Tour de France win and the overwhelming feeling I got from the book was that he was as competitive an athlete as has ever lived, always looking for an enemy and ruthlessly dispatching each one.

His desire to win was legendary and I do believe that he had the ability to win a Tour de France without the use of EPO and other drugs, how many tours can never be proven.  I also am of the opinion that most if not all of the grand tour contenders during this era all doped so nobody is clean and deserving of the Tour de France wins.  So what should anyone believe of the pro cycling going forward.  I am of the belief that some will always try to cheat to win and that they will be caught over time trying to do this.  The statistics seem to show that almost all cheats are out of the pro peloton and that there is a new generation of cyclists who are sick of being labeled as cheats and want to win cleanly.  

I am interested to see where the Lance case will go in the coming months but it seems like he will have all of his wins stricken from the record and will most likely be pushed out of his involvement with Livestrong as well.  Unless he comes clean he will most likely never be accepted in the athletics community again (when was the last time anyone heard Barry bonds mentioned).

Sunday, October 7, 2012

2 weeks of gluttony + Yosemite

Yes, I have officially labeled my off-season "2 weeks of gluttony".  I have enjoyed not going on any rides for the last two weeks and I have enjoyed eating (and drinking) whatever I can get my hands on.  I have gained weight and better yet I have finished my weeks off the bike with the desire to start training again.  The plan for the rest of the off season is long slow rides with some climbing at a very slow pace mixed in.  The goal is to build a really strong endurance base so that I can have more strength at the end of races next year.

I also wanted update everyone on my newest bike.  I bought the frame in August and proceeded to buy the components to piece together the rest of the bike.  By the end of August I had went to a bike fitting to get the best position for me on the bike and then used this info to build the bike.  After a month of riding the bike as I had built it and adjusting a few shifting issues, I can now report that the bike is awesome and ready to race.

Now a few pictures from Kelsey and my trip to Yosemite National Park.  Enjoy.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Season wrap-up and what's next

The season is officially over.  Well, actually the season ends this weekend but I am currently in Portland for work and will be here for the weekend so I won't be able to race.  The second half of my season was marked by mostly inconsistent training and much less racing.  I struggled to find a good level of fitness and this has led me to some thinking about what I will need to do for next year in order to improve.  Here are some random thoughts about this year and next year:

-I need to ride longer training rides if I want to be competitive in road races.  I can typically get to the last mile of a race with the group but I am nowhere once the pace starts to increase.

-I need to spend more time riding towards the front.

-I need to attack more often.  Sitting in isn't fun if you aren't there for the sprint anyway.

-I don't need to worry about my diet as much, as long as I am riding consistently, my weight stays pretty regulated.

-I need to do more hard group rides and more interval training.  Basically I need to ride harder and more often.

-the season is very long if you start racing in January.  It is also much more fun racing in August when the weather is nice instead of the rain and hail in February.  No more racing in January for me.

-leg strength stays with you for a while but cardio will disappear in only about a week.

A few more updates from the second half of the season.  I have sold off my second bike and bought a frame and components and built my first bicycle.  Nothing has fallen off the bike as of yet and I am pretty certain that my patience in building the bike has paid off.

I did race the fast &furious crit in pleasonton in August and tried my hand at attacking for the first time.  Full disclosure, this wasn't my first time attacking, but this was my first try at attacking with the intent of forming a breakaway.  I attacked about 4 laps into our race, got a gap of about 50 meters and stayed at that distance with the hope of someone else trying to bridge up and join me.  Nobody tried to join and I got burnt out riding in the wind for a lap and fell back to the group.  I finished in the field and one of my teammates actually finished second in the race.

Lastly, I am one week into my off-season but in a few short weeks I will be back on the bike and starting the long slow training rides in order to build up my fitness for next season.  During the winter is also the time when I get to do travel training rides and I know we have some epic rides lined up.  Marin county, Santa Rosa, palo alto to the coast, and mount Hamilton are all on the docket.  Even better is that I ordered the new iPhone 5 and will be using it to take pictures of the places I go.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Huge Slice of Humble Pie

After getting back from Memphis I went on a few warm-up rides for my 4th race in 5 weekends, the Mt. Hamilton Road Race.  Mt. Hamilton is the largest of the 3 long Bay Area climbs (Mt. Diablo and Mt. Tamalpais are the other 2 long climbs).  This race was also one of the very few point to point road races.  By this I mean that we start and finish in vastly different areas as this race started in San Jose and ended 63 miles away in Livermore.  As this was the case I carpooled with a teammate to the start location and we dropped off a car at the finish line so that we didn't have to ride back after we finished the race.

The race starts with the first 19 miles mostly uphill to the top of Mt. Hamilton (it is really 3 different climbs with small gaps in between each) and from the top of Mt. Hamilton you descend the back side of the mountain where there are a few smaller climbs before the mostly downhill finish into Livermore.  That may not sound that bad but I can assure that it is.  Our race started with a neutral roll-out before the police motorcycle pulled away and the racing started in earnest.  The pace immediately quickened as the best climbers put the pressure on the field.  I quickly realized that I would be in some trouble if I couldn't stay with the field to the top of Mt. Hamilton.

Talking with my teammate before this race it seemed that the best strategy was to make sure that you get to the bottom of Mt. Hamilton with at least a few other riders as it would be a very long ride to the finish line without anyone else to help with the workload in the wind.  The following thoughts crossed my mind as I watched the main field charge away up the road and out of sight after only the first 30 minutes of racing.  My first thought was pure frustration mixed with a few choice words for the riders who were setting such a high pace so early in the race.  The second thought was whether I was going to stick this race out and finish it or head back to the car as it was considerably closer than it would be for many hours.  Luckily the turnaround impulse didn't last very long as I had already made a commitment to finish every race that I started this year.  The last thought was that I now needed to figure out how to start the long process of finishing this race with as much dignity as possible.

I now had 55+ miles to go and still a bunch of climbing before I even reached the top of Mt. Hamilton. Luckily I had realized quite early that I wasn't going to be strong enough to stay with the real climbers in the field and therefore I had backed off to a pace that I could maintain.  As riders from the main field blew up from the hard effort I began to catch them and convince them to stay together to make our last 50 miles as efficient and fast as possible.  My group that had originally started with about 3 riders now grew to about a dozen as we started the last push to the top of Mt. Hamilton.

A quick note about riding in a group and pacing.  One of the lessons that you learn from riding in a group is how to properly pace your effort when you are riding at the front of a field.  Riders usually take turns at the front of the field and everyone has the natural tendency to ride faster once they get to the front.  This can cause major problems for the rest of the group as everyone speeds up to catch the excited rider on the front and can cause the feeling of doing interval training (not good in a long race).  Our group had a few excited riders during our climb and I had done my best to verbally calm down these guys as it would be easiest to maintain a pace up the climb instead of constant accelerations.  We had one rider in our pack who just couldn't help himself and every time he would go to the front he would increase the pace and it was causing problems for the rest of the group.  I started to pick up on this and each time he went to the front I would speed up and go in front of him and slow down to our normal pace, effectively blocking him and allowing everyone else to catch up.  He eventually went off the front and not surprising our constant pace eventually caught his over-zealous acceleration (tortoise and the hare anyone).  One last note about this, I wouldn't normally care about pacemaking in the group as this is a race and I am all for using any advantage within the rules to beat your opponents but in the scenario we were in it was quite obviously better for our group to keep as many members as possible and to stay consistent with the pace (we still had too much of the course left to start racing each other).

We crested the top of Mt. Hamilton with a group of about 15 and began the very sketchy descent of the backside.  I had spent most of the climb on the front setting the pace and I definitely wanted to be in the front on the descent as I am typically faster than others at descending and I didn't want anyone getting in the way or causing problems.  I took the descent pretty easy as I knew there were some very tight turns and it was pretty steep.  After seeing a downed rider getting medical attention and blood covering his face I knew that it wasn't worth it to race down the descent.  By the bottom I had still caught a group in front of me and dropped all of my original group.  We formed up and began the pacemaking but it became apparent once more that I wasn't going to be able to hold the pace.  I dropped off the back of this pack and waited to be joined by the next pack.

I still had over 30 miles to go and I wasn't feeling very hot about my chances.  The next pack that I was waiting for never really formed up and I learned later at the finish that after I had left the group on the descent they stopped communicating and the group quickly broke up as they began racing each other.  I was passed by many other riders from different fields (and probably my own) on the lonely road to the finish as I rode solo for the rest of the race.  With a few miles to go I decided that I should give it my all to finish as strong as possible.

By this time I need to explain another unique phenomenon of road races.  We start staggered with about a 10 minute gap between each field (generally the faster fields start early to reduce overlap).  Inevitably the fields start to catch others on the road but the rules state that you aren't allowed to draft off of riders in other fields (essentially you should only race those in your field and don't gain an advantage from others in a different field).  This can be hard to do with so many riders scattered across a 63 mile course but it is basically up to each rider to follow this rule.  As I was pushing hard to finish strong I passed a rider in a different field and he decided that he was going to hitch a ride on my back wheel to the finish line.

Not only was I tired and in pain but I was now getting angry as another rider was going to try and gain an advantage off of me.  The course started to descend gently towards the finish line and I was fuming when I realized I was dragging someone with me.  I started hammering the pace out of every corner and carrying huge speed thru each corner; I wasn't going to let anyone follow me to the finish line.  After about 2 minutes of really hard riding I had dropped the other rider and finished the race on my own terms.  I certainly didn't need to drop the other rider as we weren't racing for anything but I was angry and wasn't going to let it happen (I used the excuse in my head that at least I was racing for dignity).

After 3 hours and 40 minutes of constant riding I finished the race and as I tried to lift my leg over the top tube and get off the bike my right quad cramped up on me (insult to injury).  I had consumed 3 water bottles (picked one up on the course), 3 gel packs and 2 honey waffles.  I finished in 43rd place out of 57 total.  The official verdict is that I was crushed and completely unprepared to race 63 miles with that much climbing.  I gutted it out to the finish line but unless I improve my stamina I will never be competitive in road races and will get stuck racing crits around industrial complexes. (back to the drawing board when it comes to my training regimen)

After the race we went to my teammates house, showered up and picked up my truck from the start line.  I then went and packed up my motorcycle as I was headed up to Thunderhill Raceway for two days at the racetrack (more on this in my next blog post).  Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Berkeley Hills Road Race + Memphis

Still have a few race reports to catch up on and some travel that I have done recently.  Going all the way back to mid-May I raced in the Berkeley Hills Road Race only a week after the Cat's Hill crit.  The race takes place just in the hills above Berkeley, CA around the San Pablo Dam.  The race is mostly flat with three climbs at the very end of the lap known locally as the Three Bears (Mama, Papa, and Baby if anyone is counting).  My race was 50 miles and it ended at the top of Papa Bear at the end of the second lap.  As a side note, Papa Bear is the longest of the climbs and the most consistent.

I arrived at the race early and got in a decent warm-up before we started.  It was a little bit foggy but we all knew that it would probably burn off during the race and heat up.  The race started pretty mellow with a few people trying to attack and establish a break on the first lap but they weren't very committed to it and eventually they came back to field.  Halfway thru the first lap I took the front of the field as nobody else wanted to ride on the front.  The race stayed pretty calm over the climbs and for the next 2 laps until we arrived at the start of the last lap.

At this point the whole field was together and everyone started fighting for position.  I was almost taken out by a Berkeley Bike Club rider who cut me off in the middle of the pack.  The rider next to me just looked at me and we both shook our heads.  It was very obvious that for the rest of the lap people would be fighting for position and where the beginning of the lap is on wide roads, the end of each lap moves onto tighter roads where it becomes very hard to move up.

My goal for this race was to stay with the main field as the previous road race that I had done was the Wente Road Race and I was dropped with one lap to go.  At this point in the race I was pretty confident that I wouldn't get dropped until the last climb when everyone would start attacking.  The fighting for position increased as we approached the spot where the road narrowed and there was a crash next to me when two riders came together.  I was already drifting towards the back of the field due to the increased pace but this just confirmed that it would be getting very hectic for the last 5 miles.

Sure enough there was a second crash that took out about 6 riders but because I had given myself some space at the back I just rode around it and moved up about 10 positions.  We now reached the last two climbs of the day and the last 3 miles of racing.  I hung on to field on the first climb but I knew that there would be a few riders who would get away on the last climb up to the finish line.  I also knew that there would be a lot of riders attacking to early and they would end up blowing up before the finish line.  On the last climb I kept repeating to myself to be patient and finish strong.  I was towards the back of the field at the bottom of the climb but as we continued our way up to the finish I was starting to drag back more riders that had attacked too early.  I was exhausted at the finish but happy that I had timed it correctly.  I finished in 28th place which put me inside the top half of the field.

Berkeley Hills Bike Race Results

The following weekend I had my first vacation of the year as I went to Memphis to visit my sister, brother-in-law, and my two nephews.  My parents also came down to visit as it was Graham's (youngest nephew) first birthday.  I took the red-eye on Thursday evening and arrived Friday morning in Memphis.  Kim picked me up from the airport with both Benjamin and Graham in the car.  Benjamin was very excited to see me and you could tell as he kept interrupting Kim and I whenever we would try and talk.

Benjo playing with the pinwheel that my parents brought for him.  Kim putting together a gift for Graham.
After a few hours of playing with Benjamin we grabbed lunch where the cashier at the sandwich shop confused Kim and I as husband/wife.  My parents arrived in the early afternoon and shortly afterwards Blair came home from work for the day.  Kim had called me earlier in the week to see if I would like to go to a barbecue contest in Memphis with Blair, and of course I wanted to go.  My dad, Blair, and I hopped in the car and headed down to the barbecue festival.  To say this was awesome would be a huge understatement.  Blair had a connection from his work and therefore we had free access to one of the 150+ vendors in the contest.  Let me elaborate a little bit.  The contest was set on the banks of the Mississippi river and most of the contestants are teams of people with a love of barbecue (there are restaurants that compete as well).  They build 3-story tall scaffolding rigs where they serve their delicious barbecue to anyone lucky enough to be given a wristband (you can't buy these from what I understand).

After arriving at the event we went over to the team location, grabbed a beer (free), and went to the top of the scaffolding house to chat while we waited for the barbecue to be served.  After a few minutes they announced that the food was ready and we went down to grab food from the feast before us.  Smoked chicken, smoked pork, smoked bacon, wet ribs, macaroni & cheese, and some very awesome baked beans were piled onto the plate and brought back up to the rooftop to watch the sun set and stuff ourselves.  The food/drink were free and I can't say I have had barbecue as good as this in a long time, if ever.
The birthday boy.

Saturday was spent prepping for the Graham's birthday party and at one point my dad and I took Benjamin with us over to the local Harley Davidson dealer to check out the motorcycles (he loves motorcycles).  I think we sat on every motorcycle in the place as we chased Benjamin around the store. After we got back we finished up the prep work and soon Blair's family and their friends started showing up for the party.  It had been a couple of years since I was in Memphis so it was great getting to see some of the faces from a few years back.  Sunday went pretty quickly as I was leaving to head home just after noon.  The visit to Memphis was great and I am sure that Kelsey and I will be going back to visit in the future.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

My Ride with the Pro's

Lots to catch up on from the last few weeks of riding, racing, and travelling but I needed to start this post with one of the most awesome rides I have had all year.  On a random Tuesday morning about a month ago I received an email from one of my teammates asking if anyone would want to host a few pro's on a bike ride that evening.  I immediately knew that I had to join, I mean how often do you get asked to host some of the best in the world at something that you like to do.

We met later that evening at our usual spot in Danville and after a few minutes the 2 pro's from the United Healthcare Cycling Team arrived.  Boy Van Poppel and Jay Thomson (the pro's) were in town for a sponsor event prior to the Tour of California and were looking to go on a ride but didn't really know the area.  Luckily, one of my teammates is friends with their team manager and we were asked to host them for the evening.  About 10 of my teammates had showed up and we decided on a ride up Mt. Diablo to showcase our local terrain.

We rolled out and after about 20 minutes of riding I was positioned next to Boy Van Poppel, a young Belgian with a pretty good sprint.  He had recently finished well on a couple of the stages at the Tour of Turkey and he went about describing how hectic the last 3km of the race was with crashes and turns wreaking havoc on the field.  He is conversational in English but it was apparent that some of the slang is still lost on him.  He also has a moderately thick accent that takes a little bit getting used to.
Jay Thomson on the left and Boy Van Poppel on the right.  I am sort of in the background.
We reached Mt. Diablo and the paced picked up for a few people but most people were more interested in cruising with the pro's as it was their rest day and they were taking it easy.  On the bottom part of Mt. Diablo we rode by a rattlesnake, the first that I had ever seen on Diablo and I got a little bit too close because it hissed at me to get away.  Boy had brought a camera and snapped a few pictures as this type of scenery wasn't native to his home country of Belgium.  He also took a few pictures of some large condor's that were flying overhead, all the while riding up Diablo at a pace I struggle to maintain on most rides.  It was actually quite comical to see him riding uphill, no hands on the bars, head pointing straight up at the sky and snapping pictures.  He was far more fascinated by the diverse wildlife than our company.

Once we reached the Junction we took a few more pictures of the group and I had the chance to catch up with Jay Thomson.  He is from South Africa and is a few years older than Boy.  He typifies the life of most professional cyclists in that he spends a vast majority of his time dragging races forward, he is the kind of guy with a "big engine" and can maintain a high pace for a very long period of time but will only win a race on very rare occasions.  He is the sacrificial lamb of the team.  Altogether they were both very nice and willing to answer all of my questions about the lives of professional cyclists.

We continued our journey further up Diablo as the light started to fade with Boy snapping more photos at every opportunity.  It often times gets lost on me that I do live in an amazing area of the country and that many of the pro's are now younger than me (including both Boy and Jay) and that most of the US is new to them.  After a cool descent down Diablo, we had a dinner prepared at one of my teammates houses.  I rode home first to shower and get out of my cycling kit.

Dinner was delicious and the topic of conversation soon turned to cycling and everyone's war stories of crashes and broken bones.  Jay took the cake as he was plowed into by a car and had spine damage that will haunt him for the rest of his life.  He lives half the year in South Africa during our cold months and spends his summers in either Europe or California.  In the summer it gets so hot in South Africa that he wakes up at 5AM to get his 6 hour training rides in before noon.  The quantity of time that they spend on the bike is just staggering but I guess if that is your job you probably would spend 6 hours on the bike everyday.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Cat's Hill Classic

After a week of training I was back at it this morning for the Cat's Hill Classic in Los Gatos, CA (los gatos is spanish for "cats").  I wasn't really looking forward to this race due to my poor performance in the Wente Road Race last weekend but since I had signed up a few weeks prior I wasn't going to skip it.
A view from the top of Cat's Hill.  At 23% it is very steep and will sap the life out of your legs in no time.  Note the telephone poles in the background to get a reference for the height of the hill.
The Cat's Hill Classic is a staple of the Northern California race circuit and has quite a bit of history as well.  The race has been going since the 1970's and one of the most famous races was in 1978 when a young blond kid from Reno, NV (Greg LeMond, future 3-time winner of the Tour De France) won the race.  The course is about 1 mile long and consists of 5 right-hand turns and 1 left-hand turn.  In the middle of the lap is the "cat's hill" which is about 1 block long and 23% of gradient (for my PA readers, the Manayunk Wall is 17% gradient).  My Cat. 4 race was 16 laps of the course and just as many times over this climb.
On the climb and early in the race.  I am in the middle of the photo.
Kelsey and I woke up early for my race as we had about an hour drive to Los Gatos and my race started at 9:20AM.  We arrived by 8:00AM, picked up my race number, set up my bike on the trainer, and Kelsey walked around the corner to grab a cup of coffee.  My warmup consisted of 30 minutes on the trainer as I was told that you need to be warmed up in order to tackle the climb at race pace right after the start.  In talking with some of my teammates they also mentioned that you need to shift before the hill, use a high cadence to climb whenever possible, and that the hill is the most important part of the course and will almost always determine the winner.
At the start of Cat's Hill, somewhere around half way into the race.
We lined up at the start and I finally got my first glimpse of Cat's hill thru a cross street and it looks quite intimidating.  It looks like a wall of asphalt and I was pretty nervous to get over it for the first time and settle into the race.  We started as a field of about 50 and once we turned left onto the Cat's hill there were a few people who immediately dropped there chain and I had to dodge at least one other rider who just wasn't fast enough to stay with the field.  The next few laps were also pretty nervous as the field is fighting for position before the climb and speeding down the backside on really bad pavement after the climb.  I distinctly remember trying to count the number of laps we had left but it was all too confusing and I realized that it would take forever if I was counting each lap.
The next thing I remember was hearing that we had 7 laps to go and that the field was all of sudden down about 20 riders.  I was doing a good job of conserving as much energy as possible and I just waiting for the pace to pick up as the number of laps dwindled.  With 2 laps to go the fireworks started to happen at the front of the race and everyone was left chasing to hang on.  I put in a huge effort to close the gap with the field on my 15th time over the climb but as we made our way down towards the finish line it had become clear that the gap was just a little too big to close.  I was now in a race with 2 others for what seemed like 30th place but I managed to put in 1 more good effort up the climb to gap my 2 competitors and almost caught the remainder of the field by the end of the lap.
By the end I had finished in 24th place but I was felt good about how I rode and how I had reacted to the repeated hard efforts that this course required.  This race was definitely one that I thoroughly enjoyed and one that I think I could do much better in with just a few tweaks to my game plan.  I was kind of kicking myself after the race as I knew I could have went harder and been right in the mix unlike last week when I was crushed and didn't really have much of a shot to do any better.
Just after the race.  This is about the 5th picture that Kelsey was trying to take and I  wasn't having any of it.
Tomorrow, Kelsey and I head up to Sonoma to watch the motorcycle races and next weekend I have another hilly road race to contend with.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Wente Road Race

So it has been about two weeks since my last post and I apologize for the delay.  I have been riding quite frequently and I can tell that I am getting stronger.  My training is taking on a more serious characteristic as I have 4 races scheduled in a 5 week span and the 1 weekend I won't be racing I will be heading to Memphis to visit my sister, brother-in-law, 2 nephews, and parents.

I won't bore you with the details of my training in this post but there have been some interesting rides that I have been training on (i.e. the House of Pain ride).  Instead, you get the first race report in over a month.

The Wente Road Race is a fairly popular race for the bay area and because it has a decent amount of true climbing, all of the skinniest riders show up.  I was feeling very confident heading into the race and thought that I had a decent chance at finishing well in the race.  Two weeks before the race we had even ridden down and scouted the course so that there wouldn't be any surprises on race day.

I showed up early for my 11:45 race and had plenty of time to get in a 20 minute warm-up on the trainer and drink lots of fluids as the race was going to be pretty warm.  Our race was 50 miles long and we scheduled to ride 3 and a quarter laps of the course.  From the map above you will see that the finish line is after the start line so we end up going up the initial climb (on Carroll Rd.) 4 times by the end of the race.  Other than the initial climb on Carroll Rd. there are about 3 other areas where the road heads uphill although not as steeply.

I got to the race early and warmed up for about 20 minutes on the trainer.  We were the first race of the second wave and the field was rather large at about 70 riders.  We rolled out and once we hit the first time up Carroll Rd. the pace quickened violently.  I stayed in the pack but I was definitely hurting by the top.  The pace settled slightly for the rest of the lap but it was significantly faster than my last race.  I moved up the field prior to our second time up Carroll Rd. to ensure that I had more space to fall back and to stay in contact with the main field.

Just after the second time up Carroll Rd. we had to have dropped another 20 riders from our field because it was noticeably smaller than the previous lap.  The problem was that after the initial climb the pace picked up for the remainder of this lap.  I was really struggling to stay with the field by the end of the second lap, the consistently high pace was taking its toll on me and we had been going hard for about 80 minutes.  By the beginning of the third time up Carroll Rd. I was well aware that I was cooked and wouldn't be able to hang on much longer.  I watched as the field slowly pulled away and I was unable to react.
The lonesome last lap of the Wente Road Race. 
After feeling so good before the race I was now in the unenviable position of having to race the last 15 miles on my own.  At the beginning of the last lap I made the commitment to finish the race even if I was completely out of the running.  I crossed the finish line without much fanfare (41st place out of 70) and immediately turned around to head to the car.

I was pretty bummed for the rest of the weekend as I was now made aware of how far I have to go before I can be competitive in my field.  On Monday I did head up Mt. Diablo to see if my fitness had improved after such a hard day on Saturday.  I am happy to report that I set a new fastest time to the junction and I did it without the help of any other riders (and my power output went up as well).

Below are a few pictures from earlier this year that I found on photographers website.  I have a race this Saturday and then Kelsey and I will be going to the AMA motorcycle races on Sunday.
On the climb during the Bariani Road Race.
A shot from the Cherry Pie Criterium.
P.S. - Movie of the month: Pirate Radio.  Philip Seymour Hoffman is officially my favorite actor and as I was going thru his movies I ran across this little gem that I definitely would recommend.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Just Training

It has been almost 10 days since my last update and unfortunately I don't have too much to report.  I have been training but I have been traveling for work and haven't had a good chance to be consistent with my riding.  I still get in at least 3 rides a week but I would prefer that number to jump to around 5 for the next few weeks.

The Cobbled Classics have just finished and Tom Boonen (front) crushed the competition.  The Ardennes (hilly) Classics are next. I will be one of the few getting up at 6:00AM tomorrow to watch Brabantse Pijl.

I have finally figured out my race schedule for the next two months.  I signed up for 3 hilly road races and 1 crit with a short but very steep climb (23%).  The hope is that these races will begin to play into my hands as someone who trains quite a bit on his climbing/descending skills.  I still have a few more weeks to build on my fitness before the first race but I am looking forward to getting back in the peloton and racing.

I will be back on the (original) bike soon!

It also looks like I will be returning to the motorcycle race track at the end of May.  It has been almost a year since my last days at the track and I am starting to really get the itch.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Chase

Not too much to report on in the last week.  I have been training more and more as the weather starts to warm up and the days get longer and longer.  I have previously reported on my increased level of fitness and it seems to be that I am getting stronger with each week.

Over the last week I had the chance to try a new tactic while training with the team; chasing.  At the bottom of every climb I would drop to the back of the pack and soft pedal for about a minute as everyone else started up the road.  The goal was catch as many people as possible by the top of the climb.  Chasing plays mind games with you because you know you can catch certain people and you are always tempted to overextend yourself.  It was good practice to learn your limits and stay within yourself while at the same time riding at your limit.  The video below is a great example of the chase.

Marco Pantani at the 1999 Giro d'Italia.  He gets a flat, has a wheel change and then joins his teammates for an assault on the field and the climb.  Notice his very unique climbing style with his hands in the drops, it almost looks like he is sprinting up the climb.

3 songs for this week:
The Beatles - She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
Mayer Hawthorne - No Strings
Ray LaMontagne - Repo Man

Saturday, March 24, 2012

On the Rivet

This last Thursday evening was the second Hammerfest and the weather was much nicer so about a dozen local riders showed up.  I was feeling pretty good as I have had the chance to ride Mt. Diablo more frequently and was looking to test my fitness against the established locals.  The pace started very high as the faster riders began to separate themselves from the rest.  I dropped back and settled into a good pace with another ride, trading turns at the front as we moved up the bottom of the climb.  By the pay gate I was 1 minute ahead of my personal best time and certainly "on the rivet"(see definition below).

1.on the rivet36 up2 down
Extreme physical exertion to the point of almost giving up. Derived from bike racing in the olden days when bike seats had rivets, and in an effort not to get dropped one would slide forward on the saddle to exert maximum pressure on the pedals.
The pace was kept very high as we continued to trade turns but the pace was starting to take its toll on me and I was less frequently able to take my turn at the front.  Heading up the last mile to the Junction, I was starting to crack and with about a half mile to go, I had to let my partner go as the gradient was taking its toll on me.  I made one final push and arrived at to the Junction in 26:00 a full 1:30 faster than I have ever made it to the Junction.  I was completely spent from my effort and it took a few minutes to fully recover and catch my breath.

Once everyone made it to the Junction we started the descent and I was happy to see that the pace was high even on the descent.  I have always thought that I was a good descender and I had the chance to really test out my skills in this group.  On the bottom half of the descent I had moved to the front and kept the pace very high and after a couple of minutes I looked back to find that I had ridden all but one rider off of my wheel.  Upon returning home I checked my data for the ride and found that I had improved my threshold power yet again to 280 watts (from 272 watts).  I still have a bit to go until I get to my goal of 300 watts but the improvements are starting to come.

The weather looks cruddy this weekend but a couple of rain rides will be a good recovery.

Rain, Hail, and Olive Oil

So I have been slacking a bit and haven't updated everyone on my race on Sunday.  I was lucky enough to have an 11:00AM start time on Sunday so I didn't have to worry about getting up early.  The race is called Bariani Road Race after the olive oil company that plays host to the start/finish line.  This was my first Cat. 4 race and we were scheduled for 50 miles of racing.

I didn't get to the race early enough to get a proper warm-up but as luck would have it, the pace wasn't really that high so I was able to warm up during the opening laps.  The course was a 10 mile lap of rolling hills with 1 short climb of about 800 meters in length.  Due to the local rules, we were only allowed to race on 1 side of the road and with a field of about 50 starting, that meant that the road was pretty cramped.  The first few laps were a pretty easy pace and it was obvious that nobody was interested in creating a breakaway and that the field would come down to a bunch sprint.

I spent the better part of the first four laps at the back of the field with the plan of moving up towards the front as the final climb approached with about 2 miles until the finish line.  At the back side of the course on lap 4 it started to rain on us and that only lasted for about 5 minutes but it was enough time to get everyone soaked.  On lap 5 we got to the back side of the course and this time it didn't just rain but it started to hail.  We were moving at around 25 miles per hour and at that speed the hail becomes very painful as it hits you.

No, this isn't me but it definitely felt like this for the last 15 minutes of the race.   This is actually Bernard Hinault in the 1980 Liege-Bastogne-Liege race.  By the end of the race only 21 finished out of 174 starters and Hinault was nearly frostbitten from the experience.

After the hail we only had about 5 miles to go and I proceeded to move up in the pack to be positioned to attack on the climb.  I almost crashed as I was pushed into some deep gravel and had both wheels start to dig in and slide but I saved it and kept moving up in the tight single lane that we were forced to ride in.  At the bottom of the climb I was towards the front of the pack but there were still about 20 riders in front of me.  I did my best to attack on the climb but was essentially boxed in as there just isn't enough space to moved up at times.

At the top of the climb I had passed about 5 riders and was about 15th wheel and this is about the time where I realized why Cat. 4 races will be harder.  From the top the speed only increased as everyone was starting to line up for the sprint finish.  From this point on the speed stayed around 30 miles per hour and it became increasingly difficult to move up in the field due to the speed.  I tried following another rider who was attempting to move forward but his efforts were short-lived and we were eventually passed by another 5 riders.  This spelled the end of my race as I was now too far back in the pack with only a few hundred yards to go.

I officially finished in 26th place and afterwards rode straight to my car as I needed to get my rain soaked kit off as soon as possible.  It took me about 3 minutes to get my gloves off as my hands weren't working properly due to the cold.  After loading up the truck I turned the heat on and thawed out on the ride home.  No races for a couple of weeks so it will just be training in the meantime.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Winter in NorCal/ First Hammerfest of the Year

Some would call this a disappointing week but I am trying to look on the bright side.  I travelled to Washington on Sunday to visit family and due to a busy schedule I didn't get the chance to ride until Thursday evening, the first Hammerfest of the year.

One of the great things about living in a bike friendly area is that we have local "races" every week once daylight savings extends the sunset past 7PM.  Our local race is lovingly known as "Hammerfest" and it happens every Thursday evening on Mt. Diablo.  This Thursday was the first of the year and I was very much looking forward to it as I thought I was starting to get fast enough to hang with the bunch.  The weather has been pretty poor all week in NorCal and the rain seemed to have scared away the majority of the locals as only 6 showed up for the first Hammerfest of the year.  I thought this would be a good opportunity to show my increased level of fitness but as fate would have it I was definitely the slowest of the group to show up.  The main group moved quickly up Diablo and they were definitely waiting for me to catch up at most points.

Pulled this little wonder out of my rear tire today.  Surprisingly, I don't think it actually punctured the tire. 
I spent the earlier part of today warming up for my race tomorrow (50 miles).  My warmup was on Diablo and I felt pretty good about my fitness level.  I pulled the above staple out of my tire at the end of my ride, I don't think it actually caused a puncture.  I am expecting tomorrow to be a pretty brutal day.  My first Cat. 4 race, rain, wind, and hills await me.  I have concluded that I will finish the race even if I get dropped by the field but the goal is really to hang around for as long as I can.  Wish me luck, a race report will follow tomorrow.

P.S. The pros just finished the longest race of the year (Milan - San Remo) just shy of 300 km's.  The race was finished in just short of 7 hours.  Also, the Daytona 200 was today and 2 NorCal kids finished 1st and 3rd.  I have been on the racetrack with both of them and can affirm that they are both very fast on a motorcycle.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Diablo Double

Mt. Diablo with snow on the top.
I was a bachelor today as Kelsey went up to visit her mom and our new niece in Washington (I am heading up there tomorrow morning).  So what would any married man pretending to be a bachelor do?  You guessed it, spend a couple of hours climbing Mt. Diablo in preparation for a race next weekend.

I was kicking around the idea of doing my first ever Diablo Double earlier in the week as I knew that I would be traveling at the beginning of next week and I wouldn't have the chance to train before my first Cat. 4 race next weekend.  I decided on Friday that I needed to do a long ride as my race next weekend is 50 miles and I haven't trained on a long ride in a couple of weeks.  I committed to doing the ride and planned on taking the first ascent at a very comfortable pace and then taking the second ascent as fast as I could.

A graph of the climb.  Elevation on the left with distance on the bottom.  The gradient for each section is above the distance.
I left at 10:30AM and began my first ascent after a quick warmup on the ride over.  I took the ascent as I knew I still had a second one to follow and arrived in 1:13:22.  I felt pretty good about the first ascent considering my personal record to the top was 1:08:40.  After a 25 minute descent to the bottom I turned around and headed back up for my second ascent of the mountain.

I upped the pace from the beginning and after the first quarter I was already 2 minutes ahead of my previous pace.  My plan for the second ascent was to go as consistently fast as possible to the 3 quarter mark of the ascent and then gut it out the last quarter.  By the halfway point I was about 6 minutes ahead of my previous mark and my legs still felt pretty good considering that I was over 2 hours into this ride.  At the 3 quarter mark my legs were getting that rubber feeling and my cadence had started to slow as the gradient is pretty unrelenting at this point.

I pushed as hard as I could until the last 100 meters of the climb.  At this point the rode kicks up to 17% gradient and it really puts you in the red no matter how fast you are going.  I made it to the top in a new personal record of 1:01:01, a solid 7 minutes faster than my previous record.  Some stats from my ride:

Total time - 3 hours 48 minutes
Total calories burned - 2354
Total distance - 51.5 miles
Total ascent - 6,522 feet

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

It Never Gets Easier, You Just Go Faster

I am sure that you have heard the phrase "records are meant to be broken" and on Sunday I had the chance to prove that phrase correct.  Kelsey and I were out late on Saturday night and I decided to skip the team ride on Sunday morning to get some sleep.  Plus the weather was supposed to be awesome on Sunday so I was going to go for another training ride on Mt. Diablo once it warmed up a bit.  After taking it easy on Sunday morning, I started to "kit up" for my big training ride.  I walked outside and the weather was perfect, 75 degrees and sunny without much wind.  This was the first ride in about 3 months that I didn't need to arm/leg warmers or gloves to stay warm.  On the warm-up over to Mt. Diablo I got a call and found out that I would need to cut my training ride short to get home a little sooner.

Truer words have never been spoken.
After this news I quickly decided that I was going to try and beat my personal record (28:35) to the Junction on Mt. Diablo (approximately halfway up Mt. Diablo).  From my experience it is best to try to keep a consistent pace and build on that as I get closer to the Junction.  I started well and increased my speed slowly until the Pay Gate when I just barely beat my best time to that point (14:04).  I knew I was riding well but I had to remind myself to stay consistent as I was still a few miles from the Junction.  I kept building my speed until the finish and by the end I had set a new personal record of 27:37.  The scary part is that the local record is 21:36 so I am still 6 minutes off the pace.  It was a very tough ride and the picture above is of the inside of our team jersey collar and it rings very true: "It Never Gets Easier, You Just Go Faster". 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

It's Always Sunny in Danville

I know that most of the country has had a pretty mild winter but it was 70 degrees and sunny here in Danville and it will most likely be around 75 and sunny tomorrow.  Granted it did rain for two days earlier in the week but who am I to complain.

A view from almost all the way up Mt. Diablo.  We live in the valley just at the bottom of the mountain.
I decided that today I would go for a ride up Mt. Diablo to continue to build the climbing into my legs.  I had a couple of rides during the week at work and was feeling pretty good for this weekend.  I kept a good tempo to the halfway point (The Junction) up Mt. Diablo and actually set my second fastest time to that point (29:20).  I was less than a minute off my best time (28:35) and I didn't feel like I was really struggling or pressing the pace and it was definitely windy.  I rode another quarter of the way up the mountain at a slower pace to the spot you see above (Juniper Point) and called it a day.

New helmet and sunglasses.  Kelsey thinks the sunglasses look ridiculous but they work great.
Planning on going on the team ride tomorrow and it looks to be a tough one.  I am starting to get an understanding of how my body reacts to different training patterns and hopefully this will help in preparing for races later in the year.  I still have a long season ahead of me and I am trying not to peak or burn out too early.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A little bit of history

Let's go back about 2 years.  Kelsey and I had just moved to California and I was very excited about heading over to my first motorcycle track day.  Motorcycle track days are basically practicing for motorcycle road racing and quite possibly the most fun you can legally have.  As the year went on and I became more interested in going faster at the track, I realized that my stamina on the motorcycle was pretty poor (I would make it about 4 laps before my quads would start to shake).  After some reading I found that all good motorcycle racers train their bodies by riding a road bike.  So naturally I went out and picked up a road bike in order to get myself fit for the racetrack.  Another year later and I had a second two wheeled interest and I was ready to join my current cycling team.

Ben Spies - You might notice that he is pointed towards the grass in this picture.  He is actually sliding the rear tire while accelerating out of the turn (hence all of the dark lines on the pavement).

Imbedded into the above story is the fact that I love motorcycle racing.  Bicycle racers are some tough hombres but in my mind motorcycle racers are the bees knees.  They combine physical strength, mental fortitude, and whole boat load of guts to take a two wheel rocketship around a track at speeds that most of us will only reach in an airplane.  

Remember physics class in high school... I think this breaks all of Newton's laws.
I follow at least 3 major motorcycle racing circuits and the best of these is MotoGP.  They ride prototype motorcycles as seen in the pictures above and the best riders in the world all show up for the throwdown.  I have plans to go back to the racetrack later this year in between bicycle races but as that won't happen until at least May I am stuck watching videos like these below to stoke the motorcycle fire.  The top video is of Casey Stoner (the current world champion) and the bottom video is of Ben Spies (the first American to win a race in 5 years).  It's also worth noting that Ben Spies sponsors/races a Texas based cycling team.

On a separate topic, Kelsey and I just finished going the whole month of February without eating any fast food (yes, we love fast food and we know it is bad for us).  For March I have committed to spending a half hour each day working on my spanish speaking skills with the Rosetta Stone program.  

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Snelling Road Race and Beyond

Although I didn't train too much during this week, I felt okay heading into the weekend and my Saturday race.  This would be the first race in which I had a teammate and therefore we would get to enjoy the benefits of team tactics.  I woke up at 4:30AM on Saturday to drive 2 hours to Snelling, CA for the venue of the race.  After picking up my race number I set up my trainer, chatted with a few teammates, and began my warmup.  After a good warmup I lined up for the 50 mile race with my teammate Jason.  Jason could actually race in the 35+ category but was nice enough to switch and join my race so that we could race together.  The course was a 11 mile loop on rolling hills and we were scheduled for 4 laps with a neutral 6 mile rollout from the park where we started.

During the neutral rollout I had the chance to chat with Jason about some tactics for our race.  We discussed that I would try to get into a breakaway and that he would stick with the pack and try to be fresh for the finish if the peloton brought back the breakaway that I was hopefully in.  This is a pretty typical team tactic but it would be both of our first attempts at making it work.  This is about the time when our team tactics went out the window.  I began to feel that the back of my bike was hitting some very solid bumps as we were heading out to the course.  I peaked down at my rear wheel to see that my back tire had gone flat.  Jason saw my wheel at about the same time and we both came to the conclusion that our team tactics were finished.  I pulled over from the field and began the long trek back to my car.

I thumbed a ride from a passing car and was dropped off back at the park.  I went over to a nearby official and asked if I could change my tire and get back out to the race.  He was concerned that the other race officials would not be able to distinguish which lap I was on and he therefore discouraged my re-entry into the race.  I changed the tube in my rear wheel (which had a puncture from one of the 2 pieces of glass  I found in the tire) and decided to ride out the finish line to watch the different races going on.

I watched the finish of the races, packed up my stuff and headed home.  Our team did okay in the races and Jason finished just behind the main field (he was stung by a bee on the forehead with about a quarter mile to go and was forced to take his helmet off to try and get the bee off his head).  After the race I pulled the stinger out of his head as it was still giving him problems.

Sunday was the team ride and it was a little bit smaller this week as many of our teammates raced the day before and probably took the day off.  I felt pretty strong and am doing a pretty good job of staying with the faster guys on the climbs, a sure sign that I am still getting better at this bike riding thing.

Two very exciting pieces of news to mention before I am done.  First, after "competing" in the Snelling Road Race on Saturday I submitted my request for a Category upgrade and was approved on Monday. This means that I am now a Category 4 racer and that I accomplished one of my major goals by getting my upgrade by the end of February.  Now I will have the rest of the year to work on my Category 3 upgrade.  Secondly, when I logged in today to finish this post the numbers show that I have now surpassed 100 page views for this blog.  Thank you all for taking an interest in my life and writing, I am trying my best to make each post interesting and to be consistent with my posting.

I am going to try and keep the next couple of posts shorter but more frequent to see if that works better. I find that it takes me a very long time(2-3 hours) to post a weeks worth of rides/races and I think it might be more interesting to read shorter entries that are more focused.  Luckily I have a short break from racing and will have my first Cat. 4 race on March 18th.  Plenty of time to take my fitness to another level as the fields will now be larger, the races longer, the talent pool will be deeper, and there is money to be won.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Copper Town Circuit Race

Quite a bit to cover this week but let's start at the beginning.  Monday morning I woke up at 4:15AM to catch a 6:10 flight to Kalispell, Montana.  If you have never spent time in Montana, it is quite interesting.  After landing and picking up the rental car I headed to my first meeting in Whitefish and passed one of the most unique billboards I have ever seen.  It was for the Blue Moon nightclub and advertised "Live Entertainment, Happy Hour Specials, World Class Animal Mounts."  You guessed it, they had the best taxidermy in town and wanted everyone to know it.  After 3 days in the cold weather I was definitely looking forward to our warm(er) California winters.

My first real warm-up before a race.  I am slowly learning.

On the way back I had received a phone call from our local bike shop to let me know they were finished with adjusting the brakes on my bike.  I had mentioned in a previous post that the new wheels I had purchased have extra wide rims and I couldn't get the wheels on without the pads rubbing.  Fortunately the bike shop had a few tricks up their sleeve and they fixed the problem.  The drawback was that there still wasn't much room between the rims and the pads and therefore the brakes were very touchy (grabby).  The solution is that I will have to file down the brake pads by about 1-2mm in order to regain some modulation and feel when braking.

Thursday and Friday were both very busy days at work, so much so that I never had a chance to get in a training ride as I normally do.  The result was that I was both frustrated and feeling underprepared for my upcoming race.  Saturday I went for a ride on my new wheels but it could hardly be called training because I stopped constantly to check that everything was okay.  On a side note, the new wheels are really fast, they seem to spin up quicker and maintain that speed much easier.  I am looking forward to using them in a race at some point.

Copperopolis is a tiny town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains and they are host to 2 bike races every year.  The first of those races is the Circuit Race (basically a longer version of a criterium) and the road race comes later in the year.  I had heard that this was a good race from a teammate the week prior and after checking out the drive time and my start time, I knew I couldn't pass on this race.  This would be the first time that I started later in the day and I was excited to sleep in and still have plenty of time before my race.  

Town Hall building of Copperopolis.  The entirety of the town square looks like it was built for a movie set, especially since there wasn't another town for miles.
Kelsey and I left around 10AM for my 1PM race and drove east across the central valley to the Sierra foothills.  The town center of Copperopolis was the setting for our bike race and it was a wonderful location for a bike race.  The course was closed to traffic so we never had to worry about other cars and the pavement was pristine.  The course was approximately 6 miles long with a loop around the town square and then a 3 mile ride to the turnaround (literally a 180 degree turn) and then coming back on the same road as you went out on.  The finish line had been moved out of town this year due to safety reasons and now ended about 2 miles after the turnaround at the far end of the course.

After picking up my race number in the town square I set up my trainer and proceeded to warm up for the first time before a race.  For all of you that don't actually believe me, I have the picture to prove it above.  After a proper warm up I headed over to line up for the race and Kelsey took her place right at the start line (different than the finish line) to take pictures of the race.

The field just before the start of the race.

One of my goals for the year is to learn how to "race smart."  By this I mean that I am trying to learn how to read a race and to plan and react to what may happen.  I am still learning but this week was the first time that I actually planned ahead and executed my plan.

The race started pretty quickly and within the first lap we had settled down and a breakaway of 3 riders had formed.  They gained an advantage of about 100 meters and there was really no concern from the field with another 3 laps to go.  By the end of the first lap I had learned 3 important pieces of information that I would use to my advantage throughout the race.  The first was that there were two sections of turns that caused the field to slow down considerably and thus speed up after exiting those turns.  The key for these turns was to be as close to the front of the race as possible to lessen the amount that you slow down and also the amount that you have to speed up after the turn.  A great analogy that I read in a book describes it this way.  At the beginning of every race, each rider has energy equivalent to a book of matches.  Every time that you are forced to sprint(such as to catch the field after a sharp turn), attack a hill, or spend time in the wind you burn a match.  The key is to save as many matches as possible for the end of the race.  In other words it is much easier to ride at a consistent pace than it is to ride slowly and sprint every 100 meters (kind of like the tortoise and the hare analogy, sort of).

Heading into the town square on the second lap.

The second revelation was that I quickly gained an understanding of the last 1km before the finish line. There was a hill just inside the 1km sign that was just steep enough to slow down the field every time that we went over it.  I planned to use this hill as the springboard for my attack on the last lap.  After this hill was a slight downhill for about 400 meters, followed by a brief rise, and then the last 200 meters were slightly downhill to the finish line.  The third and final revelation was that the wind direction was blowing mainly from the west and for the most part meant that it was a crosswind.

The second lap was spent doing my best to conserve energy by staying out of the wind as much as possible.  This meant that on the way out I always wanted to keep another rider on my right side (the wind side) and on the way back I wanted to keep a rider on my left side.  Sometimes this seemed too easy and other times it seemed like I was about to be run off the road.  By the end of the second lap we had not gained on the 3 man breakaway and the race had settled down without much activity.

On the third lap 1 of the breakaway riders had fallen back and was picked up by the field.  Before the 180 degree turnaround I had moved up to the front of the field and made sure that I stayed there thru the turn.  This meant that I spent about a minute at the front (which I normally would not advise) but I saved quite a bit of energy by not having to sprint to catch up after the turn.  I knew that I would need to be in a similar position on the next and final lap.  Heading into the town square for the last time I made sure I was once again towards the front going thru the turns.  I made a sneaky move on the outside of the field right before town and was able to move quickly thru the town square.  The video above shows how the field will get stretched out in the turns and this will force all of those at the back to sprint to catch up after these turns.  Note: You can probably hear Kelsey in the video realize that she is still filming when she thought she was taking a picture.

I spent the next half lap towards the back as I prepared for the last few hectic minutes of racing.  It was quite obvious that the field was not interested in catching the breakaway and that they weren't coming back to us at any great pace.  This meant that a bunch sprint was definitely in order and that the pace would increase all of the way to the finish line.

Right before the turnaround I moved up the inside of a few riders to make sure that I was towards the front going thru the turn.  After this turn I just did my best to stay out of the wind and tried to be as patient as possible before my attack with just under 1km to go.  At least 2 riders tried to make solo attacks as the km's ticked away but none of them would come close to sticking and when I passed the 1km sign I knew it was time to attack.  The only problem is that I was completely blocked in from having conserved energy in the draft.  After a few seconds I finally saw a gap and forced my way thru into open road and charged up the climb towards the front of the field.

I guess my plan worked almost too well because by the top of the hill I found myself at the front of the field with about 750m to go.  I wasn't sure how many riders had been dropped on the sprint to the top of the hill but I did know that I couldn't make it all the way to the finish line by myself.  I kept a fast but manageable pace for the next 400 meters as I knew that I was now leading out the sprint to the finish line.  With about 300 meters to go and just at the slight rise, someone attacked and I was quickly passed by 4 other riders.  I reacted quickly to increase my speed as the sprint to the finish was in full force.  Inside the last 100 meters I knew that I was beginning to gain on some of those that had passed me and with a final push I had managed to pass 2 of those riders back.

5th place is my best finish and I was very happy with the plan I had put in place and the success of that plan.  I am starting to feel more comfortable during the races and I am starting to understand what it is that I should be doing in order to get myself in a better position to win.  I have 1 race this Saturday and it will be my last race as a Cat. 5.  After completing this next race I will have earned my upgrade and the competition will get tougher.  Until next time.