Sunday, May 31, 2009
But Vincent Hendriks, the mechanic in the team car who threw the door open at 30 mph, jumped out, grabbed a bike off the roof, and had it in Menchov's hands by the time he got to his feet, is the MVP of the tour. And then to give Denis the push of his life to get back going. Wow.
Menchov is a complete and total badass, not just for racing the way he raced and covering every single attack pretty much single-handedly, but also for jumping right up and losing all of ten seconds in a significant crash. If he ever races like that again, he'll be as much of a badass as his mechanic.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
The thing about race tactics is that as good as they sound on paper, there's no way to know whether or not they'll actually work until you put them into practice. Moreover, the degree to which tactics are executed correctly really has no bearing on how competitors will react to them.
UTRider and I pre-rode the Sundance I-Cup course on Friday after work. There's a road climb followed by a short section of double track, after which the course is pretty much all singletrack until it reconnects with the road climb about six miles later.
I figured if I could take second wheel into the singletrack, I could hold the leader's wheel and then make my move on the road climb (I have to admit that it seems weird to talk about making up ground on the climbs, but strange as it seems that's the way it is). What I didn't account for was the possibility of the race leader--in this case Rob from team Skull Candy, who finished second at the Draper race Monday--absolutely cleaning my clock on the single track.
I could have passed Rob on the climb, but opted to save the energy. Bad idea. Once we rounded the first switchback, I hardly saw him again.
My teammate Ken caught me just before the final descent of the first lap, and I knew he had a better chance of catching Rob on the down than I did, so I wished him luck and hoped I could make up ground on the climb.
I did indeed make up ground on the climb, finishing at the same time as Ken. But no sign of Rob. Ken led onto the singletrack, and I resigned myself to trying to hold third place.
At the I-Cup awards, the fourth place racer in each category gets the "tweety chair," an actual child's folding chair with Tweety Bird on the backrest, and the first position off the actual podium. Tweety chair is a great result and something to be pleased with. Unless you've been in a better position right up to the point when you blow up on the final climb. With another rider chasing me from not afar off for most of the second lap, it was the thought of being on the podium rather than the tweety chair that kept me motivated to continue suffering all the way to the line.
I executed the race plan just as I wanted to and was stoked to take third. But I can't help wondering what could have been had I taken the hole shot. Oh well, it's a fun course in a beautiful location. Which is almost enough to make you forget you're at Sundance.
Friday, May 29, 2009
I realize that a lot of you are happily married. I’m glad for that. But this is my blog, so I get to say nice things about my wife. It’s probably best for all of us that I don’t say nice things about yours.
I would likely not be so happily married had I married probably anyone else in the world. Because my wife is quite frankly the most patient, tolerant, supportive, forgiving, and kind person you will ever meet.
Many wives barely tolerate their husbands’ hobbies, and the discussions around time and money spent on them are akin to nuclear negotiations with North Korea. Rachel seems to embrace mine.
Last week when I was riding Alpine Loop and Rick noticed my frame wobble, he sent an email to Rachel to tell her about it. Of course I was complicit by providing her email address. I thought Rick was just planting a seed, but turns out he closed the deal.
She didn’t want to let me ride that bike down the hill this morning, and last night when we were talking over the options for new frames, her only suggestion was to make sure and get the one I really want, so I’m never wishing I had something else.
This morning I asked her how she felt about me racing the Sundance ICUP race on Saturday, which will be my fifth race in eleven days. Her response was “it sounds fun—I think you should.”
Sometimes I’m left scratching my head and wondering why on earth she puts up with me. But she doesn’t just put up with me, she seems to take genuine pleasure in doing whatever she can to be nice to me. My brother asked me what it’s like having a personal assistant. It’s pretty amazing, actually. Or rather, she’s pretty amazing.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
UTRider convinced me to join him and Kris at the inaugural Full Throttle midweek race last night. It was an easy decision to skip DMV, as my road bike is at Racer’s being checked for a cause of the speed wobble problem. Good thing I skipped DMV, too, as a couple guys got tangled on the last lap and suffered badly.
At DMV, Steve managed to get 2nd place, behind Chad from Bicycle Center. Sam avoided the carnage for a 3rd place finish in his first attempt on that course. Trying to hang with those guys provides good motivation to train hard and eat right.
As for my race, I figured since it was mostly singletrack that it was important to go out fast and get the hole shot. I did and managed to hold the lead for about half of the first lap. I kept it in the big ring too long, burned up my legs and got passed about halfway up the climb. I never saw the guy again until I crossed the finish line.
The descent was challenging but fun. I saw Bob as I came around one corner. He claimed he was “just resting” but the scrapes and bumps obvious after the race suggested otherwise.
On lap two, I continued to suffer from my overly aggressive start—and from Monday for that matter—and got passed by two more racers. I never lost sight of them but never had the legs to catch back on and had to settle for fourth.
Afterwards, UTRider asked me whether I prefer racing on the road or the MTB. It’s hard to say. On the mountain bike, the guy who pushes the hardest wins. On the road bike, the guy who pushes the least during the race and has the freshest legs at the end usually wins. I guess when the hard effort is rewarded, I prefer the MTB. But last night, I really wanted someplace to hide.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
But since Monday was the annual Stan Crane Memorial Intermountain Cup race that pretty much takes place in my backyard, I basically had no excuse not to race, as long as it actually happened. It rained much of Sunday and into the night, which threatened to cancel the entire event.
A one hour delay to the start time turned into two and almost three. The course was completely changed, but eventually we were off. I was actually happy about the course change, as it put us on fire road for the big climb, which wasn't as steep as Clark's, and I thought the pitch and duration would be right in my wheelhouse. It also meant I wouldn't have to go out as hard and would still have opportunities to pass.
While still on the singletrack, though, I tried to make a pass while adjacent to some barriers. As I tried to go around, I clipped my handlebar on the barrier and crashed hard. I smashed my right quadriceps right above the knee and wasn't sure I could even pedal. I thought I'd already lost too much time and thought about withdrawing altogether but didn't. When I got back on, grass was jammed in my cassette and every pedal stroke hurt. I had to stop again to clean the grass out. I got back on again and figured the bruised muscle would loosen up if I kept pedaling.
There was a fast descent on a fire road right before the big climb, so I put it in the big ring and went for all I was worth. As I rounded the corner onto the climb, I could see the race leaders ahead and kept after it.
Once at the top, I lost more time on the descent, as I was stuck behind a slower rider and couldn't find a way around. When I did finally get a chance to go around, I found that the rough trail had knocked my chain off. I had to stop to put it back on and was once again discouraged about my chances.
On the fire road descent of the second lap, I was able to make up a lot of time. My legs were feeling strong, so I pushed hard on the climb. This time I descended in the big ring to keep my chain tight enough not to come off in the rough sections.
Back at the start/finish area, Rachel didn't realize with the course changed and shortened that we were doing three laps instead of two, so she wasn't there with a fresh bottle. I still had some water, but was feeling like I needed Carbo Rocket.
As we started the final lap, I could tell my competitors had used a lot of energy, so I kept it in the big ring and pushed hard up the singletrack. By the time we got to the doubletrack climb, I still felt strong, so I kept pounding and then tried to descend fast but clean so I didn't crash out.
I made the final climb, crossed the finish line, and found Rachel. "How'd you do?" She asked. With all the start waves, she couldn't tell where I stood.
And it felt awesome. In fact, it still does.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
To nobody's surprise, the race started fast. Everybody was on the gas, bombing the first downhill, and then out of the saddle and sprinting on the up. I just stayed in the pack, close to the front, figuring it wouldn't take long for a gap to form.
I was wrong. The field was stronger than at any other race I've done, and through four laps, we had lost people off the back, but there was no break where a lead group had left everyone else behind.
As we were coming up the hill at the start/finish area, once again everyone was out of the saddle and pulling hard. The racer just ahead and to the side of me was all over the place pulling on his bars when he must have touched a wheel, and just like that he was down. His bike slid to the side and right in front of me. I pulled up a little, ran over both of his wheels, but managed to stay upright. Steve was on the other side of him, and said the guy reached out and touched his shoulder trying to keep his balance.
I thought for sure it would cause a big pileup, but only one other rider went down and thankfully both managed to get back on their bikes and keep racing.
After the crash, things slowed a bit, but when they called "five laps to go," the accelerations began. I stayed near the front and was just behind two guys from Spin Cycle when I noticed a third Spin rider off the front. I went around and got on his wheel. Chad from Bicycle Center (who took second Wednesday at DMV) was soon with us, followed quickly by Steve. The four of us managed to get a bit of a gap, but we left the Spin Cycle rider on the front to do the work.
The four of us were on the front as we came up the hill to the start/finish area, but the rest of the field was right behind, and I knew it wasn't going to stick.
I also, knew, however, that my four-year-old son was watching, so I led up the hill and across the start/finish area. As far as he was concerned, I had won the race. I learned afterwards that he told everyone "my dad's in first place, and I'm even faster than he is!"
The best part of having a Tifosi consisting in its entirety of three kids and a loving wife is that they're willing to call just about anything a victory and take great pride in even the smallest success. It's sort of like the French watching their countrymen in Le Tour: "well Voeckler didn't get the stage win or the points jersey, but he led over the Category 4 Col de le Dépôt d'Ordure, so let's pop the bubbly in celebration!"
Once back together, I figured I'd sit in the pack and wait for the bell lap to try for the win. With Spin as organized as they were and such a large group, I knew I didn't stand a chance of winning a bunch sprint. I figured my best shot was to go at the top of the second last climb when everyone was gassed from the climb and needed to recover.
I went hard for about 200 meters and figured if I made it to the hill I might be OK. Steve went with me and took a turn on the front. A glance back revealed that the pack was coming hard, so I slowed and tried to block a bit and hoped Steve could hang on. He couldn't. He got caught right at the base of the final hill, and a very well-organized Spin Cycle team took the win.
After the race, my dad had planned a 75 mile tour passing the homes of nearly everyone in the family. My dad, mom, brother Adam, Steve, and I left pretty much immediately after the race. It was Adam's first ride of the year, and between the start and the "aid station" at my sister's house in Cedar Hills, he consumed both of his water bottles, one of mine, one of my mom's, and one of my dad's. And somehow he still ended up doubled over with both quads cramping five miles from her house. I don't recommend starting the season with a 75 miler, but he ended up finishing just fine.
Steve and I spent nearly the entire ride rehashing the race and what we could have done differently. Ultimately, the only thing we could think of was not going with the Spin Cycle break, as it was most likely a feint intended only to draw out and tire some contenders. But as for the final move, we didn't like our chances in a sprint and couldn't think of better timing to go on a break.
I still ended up 17th or something in the sprint, so maybe had I not gone on a break, I could have posted a decent result. But I wanted the win. And you really can't win without taking the risk of losing.
Friday, May 22, 2009
My brother is on fire. 20:11 up Suncrest on Sunday, winning the crit on Wednesday, and today he won the most important and prestigious race of all: the sprint to the top of the Alpine Loop group ride. He nosed out Sam, while Jon, Rick, Aaron, and I didn’t even contest it because we knew when those two took off that we were done. In fairness, Rick was carrying his work clothes in a messenger bag, Jon had been the hammer all the way up the hill, and Aaron has been sick all week, but still.
No sooner do I say that neither of us has had the upper hand three times in a row than he doesn’t just edge me out, but absolutely smokes me three times in a row. I’m getting very scared that his run of good form is going to become a permanent advantage.
I’m also making no progress in terms of not being scared when descending. On the way down the South side of Suncrest this morning, I got some wobbles at a little over 40 mph. I tried everything I know to do—putting my knee on the top tube, lifting my butt off the saddle, staying in the drops—none of it helped.
Then, descending AF canyon, I was opening it up more than I’ve ever dared before, hit about 46 or 47 mph coming down the last steep straightaway, and just as I was thinking “this is awesome—I’m going fast without wobbling”—again I started wobbling, bad, all over the road.
My frame is wonderfully light—less than 950 grams. But it’s not super stiff. That never seemed to matter too much before, and actually made for a more comfortable ride. But living as I do now at the top of a mountain where the only way down is a grade of between 8 and 12%, this is a problem I’ve got to solve or I’m going to end up spread across the pavement one of these days.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Last night at the DMV crit I got there early enough that I ended up doing some warm up laps with the A flight. This was a completely new experience for me, but I made the most of it and even led a lap or two.
I had no idea I could make it up the West Valley Wall that fast. In the end I finished with the pack but was out of contention for the sprint. No big surprise there given that I weigh significantly more than the real contenders who were just flying up that final climb. Still, I was pretty amazed at what I could do in that environment, though I doubt I’ll be in the A flight again anytime soon.
When the C flight rolled out—back where I really belong—I still felt good, but luck was not with me. After the very first lap, I was flat yet again.
After a quick tube change, I jumped back in as the group came around, but I was unsure whether my result would count since the official had said when I pulled out that there was no free lap.
Best bet at this point was to help Steve get a good result. He was riding strong, and the course suits him. He corners so well. I know I have it in me to corner like that, but the confidence just isn’t there when it counts and inevitably the brakes get touched, even just a little bit.
With three laps to go, four riders remained in the C flight. We traded positions as we went, and on the second last lap, I pulled into the front. I led up the hill, around the parking lot at the top, and back down. Then on the second corner, Steve flew past me. I did my best to block to allow a gap to open up. One other racer managed to get by, so I sped up again and raced for the finish.
Steve had enough of a gap that nobody could catch him and got the win. I ended up in third.
And that’s pretty much how the evening went down—from the perspective of my rear wheel, at least. In reality, there’s no way they’d let me jump in the A flight, especially not as a warmup. But partway through, the Samurai had a flat, so I gave him my wheel so he could finish. I noticed that not only is Jared about 15% lighter than I am, his wheels weigh about 40% less than mine do. I’m getting a case of upgradeitis that’s making me want to spend what I did on my entire bike just on a new set of wheels.
All in all, I’m mostly happy with the night. When we checked in with the official to report results, I told him I got third but had taken a lap with a flat. He said “that doesn’t matter” and still gave me credit for third. Had I known that would be the case, I’d maybe have been a bit more selfish on that final lap and certainly chased hard for second. Either way, it was nice to see Steve take the win. He rode strong throughout and certainly deserved it. In his first attempt at the DMV course, no less.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
As I mentioned yesterday, while my brother was home busting his butt on Suncrest, I was in Moab, hanging out with a guy who knocks people out for a living, the Psycho Rider, a bean counter, and two sleazy divorce lawyers. Or in other words, some of my friends from Boise.
I’ve gone to Moab with these guys every spring since 2005. When I lived in Boise, it was a big deal, and we’d take a week off of work for the trip. Actually, they still do. But since I live 3.5 hours from Moab, it’s someplace I can go for a weekend. I met up with them for a short night ride on Friday and a ride on Saturday then came home. And still didn’t feel as though my drive time to recreation time ratio was out of whack.*
* Way back when I lived in Indiana and was miles and miles from anything fun to do, I determined that if one-way drive time is <= recreation time, it was a worthwhile tradeoff. We routinely drove to Chicago for baseball games or just to go to dinner, and I often drove to Northern Michigan to fly fish. Living in Utah has really thrown that off, because there’s lots to do within an hour’s drive, and pretty much anywhere in the state is accessible within four hours.
I would say this trip to Moab was colored more by Alex than anyone else. Since I began reading his blog, I’ve taken much more notice of the natural world when I ride. And while I don’t pretend to understand anything that’s going on around me, it’s still fun to observe. One of the sleazy divorce lawyers also studied geology and can talk intelligently about rocks, which is also cool in Moab for, um, obvious reasons.
Given Alex’s influence, I thought it fitting to start with this photo of my friend Steve (not to be confused with my brother, Steve, or Dug’s brother, Steve, or my friend Steve’s neighbor, Steve, who came with us last year, as did my brother, Steve). You’re welcome.
Is there any better place in the world to put a ribbon of singletrack than Moab?
I love riding the rocky step-ups. Yours truly on round two of this move so I could do it for the camera.
Going to Moab in the fall is nice because you’ve had a full season to build fitness. But you miss the one time of the year that the desert is really alive. The best solution? Go spring and fall.
Anyone know why some cactus flowers are yellow…
…while others are pink? Because other than that, the two look identical. At least to someone like me who doesn’t know much about identifying plants.
This green and yellow lizard was easy to spot against the red rock. He was not, however, easy to convince to hold still for a photo. Thanks to a 12x optical zoom and cropping in Picasa, it looks like I got a lot closer to him than I ever did. Wish there was something in the photo to show scale, because he was over a foot long. Unless he is actually a she.
I would describe this shrubbery as a Piney Looking Thing. I’m sure it has a real name though. And probably isn’t a pine, either.
If you’ve just been scrolling through hoping to spot naked women like Psycho Rider did at the trailhead for this very trail a few years ago, I’m sorry to disappoint. But I would like to share with you the extent of my botanical knowledge: this tree is a Colorado Piñon.
And here are its needles, below. They’re in pairs, unlike the Singleleaf Piñon, which also grows in Utah. I still have not decided which to plant in my yard, but last night made some progress towards doing so, as I ripped out some of the scrawny, mostly dead trees. I don’t know how they were alive, as one of them came out about as easy as pulling a dandelion and had no roots other than the root ball from when it was planted six years ago.
If you haven’t ridden the Baby Steps trail, I highly recommend it. It’s one of my new favorites. Very similar to Sovereign trail in that it’s technical enough to be interesting, but not like Porcupine Rim where you feel like you’re going to shake your derailleur clean off if you aren’t on a freeride bike.
And for those still hoping I’ll fill you in on the naked lady reference, Baby Steps shares a trailhead with Klondike Bluffs. Years ago, Psycho Rider and his friend Mike arrived at the trailhead just as a couple of fit, attractive young ladies were finishing their ride.
Apparently these women had no better place to change clothes than the parking lot, so they disrobed and changed right there, in full view. Needless to say, it was somewhat distracting. When they started the ride, Mike said “hey, look at my socks.” He had on one black and one white but somehow failed to notice this detail while putting them on.
Matching socks or not, Moab is always worth the drive. The only reason not to go more often is that the alternatives, such as St. George or skiing or riding in the Wasatch, are an embarrassment of riches.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
In 2005, Dave Zabriskie won the first stage of the Tour de France and held the jersey until crashing during the team time trial in stage four. In a flat stage eight, high winds fractured the peleton and Zabriskie was caught out alone and finished last. He abandoned the next day.
Anyone who doesn’t think external factors affect a ride hasn’t spent much time on a bike.
Sometimes, however, we [and by “we” I mean “I”] think we’re immune to the elements or they really won’t make much difference. For example, Steve and I did the Suncrest Time Trial a week ago Monday into a strong headwind. I knew it slowed us down but didn’t realize how much until Sunday when I got the following text: “While you are away playing [I was in Moab over the weekend—more on this later] I am home busting my butt on Suncrest. 20:11”
Without the headwind, Steve took two minutes off his time. Since I was faster than him the first time and can’t let him have the upper hand for long, I had to try it again.
I rode home from work yesterday and figured if UTRider took most of the pulls (which he did), and I didn’t push the pace too hard, I’d be nice and warmed up to TT the climb. I ignored the fact that the thermometer on my computer showed 99 degrees. I figured the heat wouldn’t make nearly the difference the wind did.
To a certain degree, I was right. I was faster for the first half of the climb. And then the heat got to me and I completely blew up. I wanted to quit. But since I’ve railed on people stopping to rest, I couldn’t do that. I did, however, look forward to the clock reaching 22 minutes, because then my best time would already be passed and there would be no point in pushing it to the top.
Two hours after I got home, I was still shaking a bit and not all together. I was a little nervous about pedaling in this morning, but figured I’d take it easy and have a nice recovery ride. Which I did. I averaged 23 mph for the first 17 miles before being slowed down by stoplights and traffic as I neared downtown. I don’t think my heart rate got above 140, either. I just had a nice, stout tailwind.
I’m waiting until it’s blowing the other direction before doing Suncrest again.
Friday, May 15, 2009
My brother Steve and I are like interchangeable parts on the bicycle. He rides one frame size larger, but other than that, we're pretty much identical. At Hell of the North, he had a flat and finished 18th, while I finished 10th. At Antelope Island, I had a flat and finished 17th, and he finished 10th.
Even on training rides, when we climb, we usually end up racing to the top. If he wins one, I’ll usually take the next. I don’t think either of us has ever taken three in a row.
Which is not to say that we’re great climbers. We’re both the kind of riders one would euphemistically describe as “all-arounders.” Which means we’re not very good at anything. Not great climbers, not contending the bunch sprints, and not strong enough to TT or stay off the front in a solo effort. Just good enough at each discipline to be frustrated as the specialists blow past us.
We were excited, however, to try the UVU criterium course last night, because we thought it played well to our lack of strengths. It’s in a parking lot that’s on a consistent 2.5% pitch, so you’re either going slightly up or down all the time. Not enough of a hill for the pure climbers to hurt us. Not flat enough for the big guys with big motors to last the duration.
Unfortunately, it really exposed one of my weaknesses as a road racer: cornering. I started out riding mountain bikes. If you lean a MTB over too far, the knobs will eventually fold over and the dirt will eventually give way. So you learn not to lean too far. Road bikes can safely lean much further (like 45 degrees max lean) before breaking free, but psychologically I can’t get past the limitations of a mountain bike enough to really corner the road machine to its true potential. Having seen some nasty crashes while watching crits doesn’t help much either.
After the first neutral lap, the big motor from the UVU Cycling Team dropped the hammer. I had the legs to stay with him, but as he carved through the corners, I let a small gap open between us. He had one teammate and my brother Steve right on his wheel. I worked hard to bridge and was nearly back on when I felt something squishy as I went around a corner. My rear tire had punctured.
I pedaled through to the start/finish area and started changing my tube. I would be allowed to get back in the race, but just for training purposes and couldn’t contest the sprint or have a placing that would actually count.
I was really wishing for a spare wheel (which would have been easy enough to bring along) or a domestique who could sacrifice his own race to give me a wheel. And then it hit me. All-arounders, like Steve and me, are usually the domestiques, not the other way around.
This was only the fourth flat tire I’ve had on my road bike in the last three years. I would trade higher frequency for better timing. The last one was during the Antelope Island road race. The one before that was 65 miles into a 150 mile solo ride and wasn’t just a flat, but a catastrophic cut of the tire that ultimately led to a long drive home.
Eventually I got the tire fixed and re-entered the course a few lengths behind Steve and the second UVU guy. The big guy had fallen off, so Steve and the teammate were alone on the front. I soloed for all I was worth, but with the two of them working together, I couldn’t get back on. I kept soloing for the rest of the race, but in the final laps gave up on trying to hold off the chase group behind me since it didn’t count anyway.
Steve raced well and was guaranteed either first or second, as they had nearly a full lap on the field. As they made their way through the last lap, Steve started making a move but cut a corner too close and clipped a curb with his rear wheel. It didn’t put him down but was enough of a disruption to cost him the victory.
The irony of the day is that before we started, Steve noticed a small cut in his rear tire and was worried throughout that it might puncture. He was using Continental GP4000 tires and finished with no problems. I, on the other hand was using Michelin Pro Race 3’s and was the one who ended up with a flat. You can bet my next set of tires will be Continentals, especially since they’re the tire sponsor for Team Revolution/Peak Fasteners.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
The other day, Pat called me to ask if I was racing the crit at RMR. For the first time in several weeks, the answer was no.
“Oh,” he said, “I won’t be there either, but I have a friend who’s going who wanted to go on a break and was looking for someone to go with him.”
Apparently I’ve developed a reputation. And as much as I’d like that reputation to be as the Jens Voigt of the Cat. 5 peleton, I’m probably more like the Thomas Voeckler, who goes just as often as St. Jens, but never lasts nearly as long. Except for that one burst in the 2004 Tour, but that part hasn’t happened to me yet.
I’m planning on racing the UVU crit tonight. I told myself I’d just stay in the pack and save it for the end. But if a break goes in front of me, I know what my response will be. And if I go with the break, I’ll certainly end up on the front. And probably spit out the back as a result.
Perhaps someday I’ll learn. But if it ever actually works, probably not.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Like so many other cycling fans, I was thrilled to find out that Universal Sports struck a last minute deal to cover the Giro d’Italia. I don’t have a huge television or anything, but there are three or four shows I watch faithfully. They’re all taking a back seat to Giro coverage for the next three weeks.
Last night we got home kind of late. Which meant limited time to eat dinner, get the kids ready for bed, and watch the Giro. So we had a first for our family—we ate dinner at the coffee table in the basement. In front of the TV. The kids put their pajamas on from the same location.
I would say that Rachel was doing me a huge favor, but she was every bit as into it as I was. How could she not be? Yet another breakaway from Jens Voigt. After he got caught in the final three kilometers, Juan Mauricio Soler took a flier, sprinting solo up the hill. It looked like it was going to stick, but the chase group slowly clawed its way back before Danilo Di Luca sprinted for the win.
And it’s only stage four.
The Giro is way better than Le Tour. So far we’ve had a team time trial, two flat stages featuring closing circuits and bunch sprints twisting through ridiculously narrow and winding village streets, and now we’re already in the mountains. Not just any mountains, but the Dolomites. Plus Parmigiano Reggiano—the real stuff—buys advertising space on the roadside barricades. How cool is that?
Years ago, I saw a T-shirt at a street market in Florence that went like this:
Heaven is where the police are British, the cooks are French, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian, and it’s all organized by the Swiss.
Hell is where the police are German, the cooks are British, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and it’s all organized by the Italians.
Which indirectly explains why the Giro is better than the Tour. The Tour follows a recipe. And the recipe is refined but predictable. The Giro, on the other hand, is innovative, improvisational (they just changed the route a few days ago), and perhaps a bit impulsive. Like a good lover.
We’ve still got another 17 glorious days of racing. I suspect that should be enough time for Sam and me to successfully lobby The Church of the Big Ring to canonize Brother Jens as the Patron Saint of Entertainingly Bad Tactics. I will pray to him before every race if we’re successful.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
When I was in grad school, I took a class called “Advanced Financial Statement Analysis” from a professor who referred to himself as Dr. Dave. Dr. Dave wore his graying hair in a mullet and had a 1980’s porn star mustache. During one of the first class periods, he told us that sometimes he gets up in the morning, looks in the mirror, and says to himself “Dr. Dave, you good-looking son of a b!+ch, don’t you ever die!”
Dr. Dave was a great professor both for the educational quality of his lectures (if you have the audacity to call your class “Advanced Financial Statement Analysis” you ought to be able to back it up, which he could) as well as for the entertainment value of the classes.
You see, Dr. Dave had some quirky mannerisms, such as flipping his hair back or fidgeting with the chalk in a certain way. And he would exhibit these quirks often and consistently enough that one could predict with a certain degree of precision their frequency.
So my friend Bryan and I began entertaining ourselves in class by setting an over/under number on one of these quirks and then placing a $1.00 bet. The person who set the number let the other choose which side of the bet to take. Whether giving or collecting the dollar at the end of class, keeping score was a source of good, wholesome entertainment.
Some years later, Bryan actually uses his financial statement analysis skills. I, on the other hand, have taught my kids to gamble.
We live at the top of one of the most popular hills for cyclists in the Salt Lake Valley. So at nearly any daylight hour of any day, but especially on weekends, when I’m most likely to be carting the kids around, there will be someone riding up or down the hill. I set an over/under number for how many cyclists we’ll see, and the kids choose which side of the bet they want to take.
It makes for great entertainment, though nothing is at stake save bragging rights. Our 10-year-old is even beginning to understand the concept of house advantage.
Even though she can’t count, our two-year-old gets in on the action, too. Although she chooses “under” every time. I’m not sure if that’s because she understands house advantage better than any of us, or because she can’t say the word “over.”
Monday, May 11, 2009
Every race I’ve attended this year has been marked by a single constant. No, I’m not talking about my ineptitude with basic road racing tactics. I’m referring to the presence in the parking lot of a late-model vehicle sporting Canyon Bicycles logos. At the road races, there’s often more than one vehicle, one of them being a huge team bus. Along with a team tent and other niceties.
I’ve known enough bike shop owners to know it’s a business you get into because you love it and not because you expect to make a fortune. So I’ve often wondered where Canyon gets the money to pour into their cycling team when, last I checked, sponsoring a cycling team wasn’t the best return on investment.
The answer came to me the other day as I was driving down the hill from my house. At the side of the road was a middle-aged guy with all the trappings of financial success: neat-looking hair, high-end helmet, cycling kit purchased somewhere besides Performance Bike. Oh, and a brand-new S-Works Tarmac. His bike had no flat tires or other mechanical problems. He was just leaning against the guard rail. Resting.
Now according to analytic cycling, if I were to trade my enthusiast-level, approximately 18 pound road bike for a Pro Tour model that weighs the UCI minimum 14.96 pounds—such as, for instance, that S-Works that was stopped on the side of the road—I could go about 22 seconds faster riding up the North side of Suncrest.
In other words, I could spend between $4,000 and $6,000 on bike upgrades and net 22 seconds. Or I could eat healthier and drop ten pounds and gain about a minute. Either way, nothing is at stake save bragging rights.
I don’t know about you, but If I’d dropped eight large on a bicycle and still couldn’t pedal it up a hill without stopping, I don’t think I could come up with much to brag about.
If you’ve ever been to Canyon Bicycles, the funding source for the team bus is obvious: they’ve got row after row of Cervelos right as you walk in the door. After that is the row of Tarmacs, followed by another row of Madones. They must have four or five orthodontists a week come in and buy one of those to justify that much inventory. I just wonder how many of them are being pedaled by someone who can actually do something with them.
Maybe someday I’ll be able to afford way more bike than I need, too.
P.S. I’m not opposed to buying high-end stuff if it offers a performance benefit consistent with the incremental cost. Which is why I’m hoping you’ll weigh in on my sunglasses dilemma. I’ve had a pair of Smiths for a few years and they’re starting to get scratched up. Do I replace them with something high-end such as Giro or Oakley, or do I save my pennies and get Ryders? I’ve been loyal to Smith for about ten years now—should I continue to be?
If you’re a loyal customer/employee/sponsored athlete from an eyewear company, why should I choose your product? Or [warning: gratuitous self-promotion ahead] better yet, anyone want to hook me up with product in exchange for reviews and maybe even a link from my blog (assuming I like it)?
Friday, May 8, 2009
No skinning here—just boot from the road until there’s nothing but sky above you.
On the way up, we were afforded a nice view of Scotties and the White Pine area beyond. The skiing up there still looks good, at least from a distance.
About 1,000 feet up, after hiking most of that way through rock-hard, refrozen avalanche debris, we started wondering whether we could get down on skis. We could see this exposed rock right above us and knew we’d at least have to downclimb that section.
To this point, we’d been using the coarse debris as hand and foot holds while we climbed. Yeah, we were brilliant and left the crampons and ice axes in the garage. Who knew it was going to get down to 23 degrees last night and refreeze this solid?
Anyway, just below the rock, there was a smooth, scoured section where the only way to get purchase was to kick our boots into the ice. Each kick yielded about three millimeters. Four kicks got you a half inch, which seemed to be just enough to hold you in place. Unless, like me, you decided to reuse the footholds Dug and Rob had used.
As I made a step, I had the thought “if you slip here, you may not stop for a while.” The next thing I knew, I was sliding. After a few feet, I slowed slightly, grabbed for a chunk of ice, and thought I might be done. I wasn’t. I kept sliding. Faster. I started getting scared and hardly noticed that I was careening off of ice chunks as I went, smashing my elbows, knees, and ribs in the process. Once more I slowed a bit, reached for another ice chunk, and this time was able to stop.
I slid from where Dug is standing in the photo above to where that photo was taken. Good thing I stopped, because as you can see in the photo below, I still had a bit further I could have slid, with a big granite wall at the end of my luge run.
Rob was up above and scouted around a bit only to report that everything above him was scoured and bulletproof. No way to get up without crampons, and even if we did, we probably wouldn’t want to ski down. There was no way we could safely ski the refrozen avalanche debris, so we climbed back down to the apron, where we finally put our skis on so we could make a few turns before getting back to the car.
Here’s Rob pretending like bulletproof snow embedded with rocks is fun to ski:
Back at the car, Dug sensed I was in a bit of pain and suggested I might have some bruises. I brushed him off—“I don’t bruise easily. No bruises at all from the spill I took riding Sovereign a couple weeks ago.”
When I got to the office and changed my clothes, one look at my arm revealed I was quite wrong about the bruising. My thigh had another one like this, almost as large, with more still on my chest.
Dug, perhaps understating things slightly, said “Dude. It was crazy….That could have been a bit disastrous.” I’m not sure what “a bit disastrous” means, but I think he’s right. Glad we made the call to bail out when we did.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Bike races have a tendency to be sausage parties. Sure you get a handful of women showing up, but for the most part, it’s a bunch of guys.
As a result, the women that do show up tend to receive a lot of attention, at least from the unmarried racers (I think). While I was stretching out before the DMV crit last night, I got a good chuckle as the prettiest girl present would have another guy start chatting her up every two to three minutes.
Apparently none of these guys remember A Beautiful Mind and that John Nash came up with the concept of a Nash equilibrium in just such a situation. Instead of chatting her up, they’d have been better off ignoring her and talking with her teammates. Incidentally, what is it about the Ski Utah team that attracts so many women? Chances are better than not that if there’s a woman at one of the road races, she’ll be in Ski Utah kit.
As we lined up to start the race, I realized that DMV must have a reputation as a tough course. Whereas Tuesday night there were probably close to 100 racers in the C Flight at RMR, at DMV we had a grand total of seven. Unfortunately, these six other guys had all self-selected to come to this course, presumably because they liked their chances.
One of these days, I am going to learn something about race strategy and tactics. Within just a few laps, three of us had a nice gap opened up on the remaining four, and a racer from Bingham’s had been on the front the whole time. He was obviously the strongest rider, and I should have let him continue doing the work and continued sitting in, knowing the gap would likely only widen. Instead, I suggested that the three of us work together to get further away, got on the front, and pulled all the way to the “West Valley Wall.”
My legs were already burning when we got to the climb, but I continued to push it all the way up in order to stay with the other two. I was hurting at the top and had to slow, but fortunately, the other two needed to as well.
We had another racer bridge to us, and then shortly after that, I got dropped on the climb. It took me a few more laps, but I was able to get back on. But the solo effort cost me, and I was soon off again. Back on one more time before I was detached for good.
I finished fourth, which nominally is my best result of the year, but considering the field size, it’s smack in the middle of the pack. Unless you count all the B flight racers that we either passed or who dropped out entirely.
For what it’s worth, there was no yelling, grumbling, or animosity during or afterwards. The C flighters were all smiles as we congratulated each other on a good race. I like this course. This was also start number 10 for me, so I’m now eligible to upgrade to Cat. 4. I may sit on that for a while, though, at least until I try out the UVU course next week.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Last night’s crit was yet another disappointment for me. Actually, it started off quite well, as I was able to slip on the team kit with no discomfort and minimal stretching (I’m now actually a bit nervous it will be too big if I get my weight where I want it to be).
The pace was fast on the first few laps, but sustainable. Not something I could get away from though, as my heart rate was pegged. As we progressed and the field got tired, things slowed slightly. I tried making a move but got nowhere, so I sat back in.
With three laps to go, I got myself in position 4-5 riders off the front and thought I’d be in a good spot for the sprint. Somehow, though, other riders kept crowding me out. I ended up in no position to contend and finished with the main bunch but back far enough that it didn’t matter.
Steve, on the other hand, stayed right near the front throughout and ended up eighth out of a very large field. Afterwards, I asked him how he always manages to maintain a good position. “You just need to be a dick and not let anyone in.”
As a side note, I’ve noticed over the last few weeks I’ve been doing these races that the C flight has not only gotten larger, but more competitive. Last night’s pace would have fractured the field early in the year, and the sprint would have been down to about seven or eight racers. Instead, the field never broke up and there were at least 20 people who could have won the sprint.
Now I’m not the nicest guy in the world, but I do believe that the only thing in life that really matters is how we treat other people. I guess I need to watch out for number one a little more in the peloton.
The problem I have is that so many of us (and by us, I include myself) take sports so seriously. Sure it’s nice to post a good result, but at the end of the day, it’s still the C flight of a weekly race. And if you win, you and maybe three of your friends are the only ones who will care. Well, a handful of others may also care, but it won’t be in a good way, because they are fellow competitors who are pissed it was you and not them.
People come out to race because they feel like they’re fast enough that they want to see how they measure up. But there are ways of doing it that don’t involve foul language and animosity towards the other competitors.
As a sports fan and a competitor, I love to win. I love to see my team win. My brother defines a true fan as someone who believes when his team wins, they couldn’t have done it without you, and when they lose, it was somehow your fault. So of course, I’m always disappointed when I or my team loses. But let’s not take the wins and losses so seriously that we put lives and health in jeopardy, or worse, take our own, as one Arsenal fan did yesterday after the Champions League semifinal loss to Manchester United.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Imagine you’re a woman. I say imagine, but if you’re one of the five or six women who read this blog, you can skip the imagine part. Now imagine that it’s February, and you’re planning a beach vacation for the summer.
To prepare for the beach vacation, you go out and buy a size 6 bikini*. Except you don’t try it on because, um, you aren’t a size 6 and don’t want to irreparably damage the suit. And you aren’t a size 6 because you’ve spent December and January eating chocolate chip cookies and pecan pie. To the point that when you purchase said bikini, the clerk asks if you want it gift wrapped.
But you fully expect that by the time the vacation rolls around in the summer, you won’t just be able to cram your gigantic butt into the bikini, but actually wear it well.
Anybody know anyone who would do something like that?
Just curious, because I got my new team kit today. When I ordered it in February, Ty at Revolution took one look at my order form and then another look at me and didn’t say anything, but I could more or less tell what he was thinking.
If you see me at the crit tonight, and I’m not in Revolution team colors, you know why.
*For those disappointed that I did not include photos with this post, please realize that a gratuitous increase in traffic from featuring such a photo was not worth offending my dear wife. I’m sure you understand.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Before the ride begins, there's always the internal debate of what to bring. In this case that meant every stitch of clothing I had with me, and I knew I'd still be cold. Ordinarily, I wouldn't bring a tube or tools with me for an event like this, because if you flat you're pretty much done. But it was ten miles from the finish back to the start area, a far longer distance than I wanted to walk, so I put the seat bag on just in case. I also dropped my tire pressure 5 psi in order to improve traction on the wet road.
We knew they had split the Cat 5 field because demand was so high (in this weather/economy, no less), but what we weren't prepared for was that the split put us in different start waves. You'd think the organizers would realize two guys with the same last name signed up for the same division might want to race together, but apparently not. I won't complain too much, though, because putting on a race is a pretty thankless job. The only thing worse I can think of is putting on a triathlon and having to put up with a bunch of people who don't even know how to lube their own chains.
As we started across the causeway, nobody was in the mood to race. It was neutral for the first 500 meters or so, but even after we reached the designated spot for open racing, the pace stayed about 18 mph. This is a far cry from your typical Cat 5 race, where it's short on tactics and long on keeping the hammer down for the duration.
Once on the island, it didn't change much. The road has lots of turns, and between the rain and the sand, we were all skittish about going down and didn't want to push it.
My strategy for the race, in order of importance, was:
- Keep rubber side down
- Stay on the front
- Go with the first break
I was right. On the first of three laps around the North end of the island, a couple of people made moves, but they didn't last. Being on the front was, however, key to picking a clean line. The laps finish with a moderate descent that ends with a tight left turn. I don't think any of us realized the degree to which the water would decrease our ability to brake, and we all went into the corner hotter than we wanted to. We were fortunate to stay upright.
On lap two, we had more confidence through the corners, but the standing water on the road was also getting deeper, up to six inches in places. One rider made a move, and he looked strong enough to make it stick if he had some help. I bridged, and eight or nine others followed me. We were soon well away from the rest of the field.
Just before the completion of each lap, there was an intersection with the road that goes to the South end of the island. After our third lap, we were to turn on that road, follow it to the end, U-turn, and then the finish would be shortly before arriving back at the intersection.
Apparently the Cat 4s were bad at counting laps. They were a lap ahead of us and should have turned down that road on our second lap. One of them failed to turn, and upon realizing his error, did the stupidest thing I have ever seen done in a race: without looking, he made a hard left to U-turn, right into our break that was bearing down on him at 30 mph. I thought it was going to get really ugly, but we were luckily all able to swerve around him without hitting each other. Fortunately there was no oncoming vehicle traffic, as we had no choice but to cross the center line.
I found out later that the lead break of Cat 4s also failed to count laps, but instead of trying to wreck the oncoming traffic, they completed the full lap and finished well behind the rest of the field. Oops.
As we descended towards the hard left at the end of the lap, we knew to keep it better under control. Which was a good thing, as there was now standing water in the apex of the turn. As I rounded the corner, I felt my front tire wash out. I counter-steered slightly and was just able to stay upright, but as I accelerated out of the corner, I could feel that my front wheel was soft.
My tire was flat--my race was done. With 20 or so miles of racing remaining, I figured I may as well fix it and finish the course. I'd at least get a workout. As I started removing my tire, one of the race volunteers ran towards me with a floor pump. I stood there glancing occasionally at my watch as he changed my tire. One minute passed, then two, then three. Then the rest of the field went by. All I would have needed was to avoid blowing up to guarantee a top-ten finish. And I thought I had the legs to do better than that. Crap.
I waited another minute, then two, then the tire was back on and I was on my way. The rock on Antelope Island is crystalline and fragmented--wonder if that piece would have embedded itself in my tire had I not been running lower pressure. Oh well.
At this point I was only racing for pride, and to stay warm, and to hopefully catch and pass a few stragglers to avoid finishing DFL. Nevertheless I gave it all I was worth. Unfortunately my solo effort and the wind and probably RAWROD cost me. With 10K to go, I was thoroughly spent. I couldn't get my heart rate over 150. Fortunately the field was so strung out that as long as I kept pedaling, nobody was going to pass me.
I finished and waited in the cold for Steve's group to arrive. He had been in the lead break when I saw him after I turned around. But on the final climb, RAWROD caught up with him, too, and he had to settle for tenth.
My friends Eric and Rob had come down from Boise and stayed with us so they could do the Cat 3 race later in the day. It was one of those days for them too. They lost the leaders on one of the climbs and just couldn't get back on. Then Eric punctured right as the support truck with his spare wheel passed him and had a forced DNF. Wish conditions and outcomes would have been better, but it was great having them visit.
After the race, of course we were starved. It seemed only fitting to order some frites at the drive through and ask for a side of mayonnaise to dip them in. If they served warm Belgian beer, I would have probably ordered some of that too. Seems as if there's not much that doesn't taste better with mayonnaise, at least at first. But after one or two I was more inclined towards the almost-Belgian Utah hybrid of fry sauce. What could have been more appropriate?
Friday, May 1, 2009
I’ve known one or two cyclists or runners that carry a Kleenex in their pocket so that, as inevitably happens, when they need to blow their nose during a workout, they can politely pause, take out a tissue, address their business, and then dispose of the tissue or put it back in their pocket.
The rest of us are left with little alternative but the good old-fashioned farmer blow. You know what I’m talking about—blowing your nose with no tissue and hoping it doesn’t hit anything. Which can be challenging at 25 mph. Incidentally, I don’t know why this is called a farmer blow, because all the farmers I’ve ever known carry a red bandana handkerchief in their pocket and use that.
Anyway, the obvious downside to this approach is a case of poor aim or insufficient propulsion to clear the orifice. Which is why you should never shake hands with me when I’m wearing cycling gloves. Unless you’re also wearing yours since that pretty much cancels it out.
I’ve heard that cycling shorts are typically black because if you get grease on your hands and wipe them off on your shorts, it doesn’t show. Maybe they should also have a yellow-green panel on the side as kind of a designated wiping place for when the cycling glove has to clear the debris that your respiratory system couldn’t.
The worst situation, of course, is when you think the debris went free and clear but it didn’t. And then ten minutes later you look down at your own shoulder, and there’s a little passenger sitting there. Not that a good flick won’t take care of it, but certainly could be cause for embarrassment in the interim.