Thursday, December 30, 2010

Help a brother out

For all the things I love about living in Draper, today isn't the happiest day of my residency. For starters, I need to go get some new shear pins for the auger on my snowblower. Which reminds me that the first one I broke was because I sucked the steel cap over my water main into my snowblower because the city had (has) failed to bolt it down. I thought I was going to die and my snowblower was going to be destroyed.

But the thing that really has my goat is that it's my responsibility to keep the road clear between the edge of where the road is plowed and my mailbox. Which wouldn't be so bad except the guy in the giant snowthrower that they bring in for occasions like today's snowmageddon when just pushing the snow around isn't going to cut it has been down my street three times now, the last time just driving through without even running the auger. This is as close as he got to my mailbox.

Could you maybe give me something more to work with?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays…is what terrorists say

Happy Holidays…
…is what terrorists say.
Merry Christmas from Jack and Avery

So reads the Christmas card being sent by Jack Donaghy and Avery Jessop on 30 Rock. And in a season dominated by “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings,” it’s an unusual sentiment. The fictional Jack and Avery celebrate Christmas, and they don’t care who knows.

I celebrate Christmas. My view of it is somewhat nuanced and complex, though. I don’t believe the 25th is the calendar date on which an eight pound, six-ounce, newborn infant Jesus, with his golden fleece diapers, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant and so cuddly, but still omnipotent, came into this world.

But I do celebrate the message of peace, tolerance, and compassion attributed to Jesus, even if I view the account in Luke 2 as more mythology and allegory than history. Nevertheless, if someone sends me a Christmas card depicting an infant in a manger on a winter night with shepherds and wise men standing watch, I don’t consider it cause to start an argument.

Moreover, if someone doesn’t celebrate Christmas at all but wishes me a happy Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Winter solstice, or anything else, I’m happy to embrace the good in whatever message is associated with that celebration and wish the same upon them in return.

A free and open discussion of one another’s beliefs increases understanding and mutual respect and decreases the narrow-mindedness that leads to hate, bigotry, and violence. The irony is that we may publicly demur from using specific words for the sake of political corectness, while in private (or not) take actions that are in reality far more harmful.

A Christmas or other holiday card for many is the most public statement they make all year. It’s the vehicle for reaching out to distant friends and family to wish them well and to remind them that they are cared for. Such a gesture, regardless of whether the sentiment expressed is consistent with the recipient’s belief system, is no cause for offense. Instead, it’s an opportunity to share the good of whatever belief system we espouse, whether it’s divine or humanistic at its core. And as the recipient of such a message, it may prompt us to learn about others, what they believe, and what motivates them to be better people.

As we read, write, speak, and listen, may we use our words to open minds, to enhance understanding, and to foster mutual respect. And through our actions may we be merciful, comfort those who mourn, and be peacemakers. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What Ricky Bobby can teach us about skiing

For those named Rachel or otherwise averse to coarse, chauvinistic, or misogynistic language, I suggest reading something else.


You're probably wondering what this video has to do with skiing. Not much actually. I just think it's hilarious and was looking for a good reason to post it. There is one line, however, that's applicable. After the prayer is over, Walker says, "Dad, you made that grace your bitch."

And if you want to ski well, you need to do the same thing with your skis that Ricky Bobby does with the grace: you need to make them your bitches. Or at least show them who's in charge.

JunkieBoy and I were skiing at Solitude, his first day of the year, and his first day on new equipment. The skis are 110s, whereas last year he was on 87s. He was struggling to make turns and keep them under control. His confidence wasn't there.

So the next time up the lift, I asked him "do you want to know the secret to skiing well?" He of course answered in the affirmative. So I told him. Except I didn't actually tell him to make his skis his bitches because a) he wouldn't have understood what that meant, and b) anything you tell a first-grader is bound to be repeated at school. (He'll eventually learn the phrase and what it means, but I can wait. And I'm even OK if he doesn't learn it from me.)

Next run, he showed them who was the boss. He skied great, probably as well as he was skiing last year. So on the lift I asked him, "what happens when you show the skis who's in charge?"

"They do what you tell them to."

"And what happens if you don't show them who's boss?"

"They run away from you."

It's as simple as that.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cyclocross Nationals 2010

Not sure what to really talk about in this post, because it’s a race report, but the point of going to nationals, for me at least, wasn’t really to race. I just wanted the experience. I pretty much suck at cross, so I was never going to win.

So why go? Good question. First, it was in Bend, and I had friends going, which meant lodging and travel costs could be shared, so it would be a cheap trip. Second, next two years it’s in Madison, WI. In January. Average low in Madison in January is 5 degrees F. And Madison is three times farther away than Bend. Not happening. The two years after that, it will probably be on the East Coast. Farther to travel, more challenging logistics getting bikes there. This was my chance, so I took it.

I raced, twice in fact. On Wednesday I did the non-championship race. Which is basically a B flight race, as the big dogs don’t bother with it. It was a chance for a decent result. Except that callups were in random order. I started on the last row, 31st called up of 39 racers.

I raced OK, picking off quite a few riders in front of me and was in or near the top ten when I burped a tire. Ordinarily I’d keep riding and hope it didn’t go flat because I had no other choice. But Daren brought one of Tanner’s bikes as a B bike for me. It was a 56, I ride a 52, but it was faster than running with my bike on my shoulder. I came in for a bike change and lost a few places. Steve told me a while back that if I ever considered racing on a tubeless setup again, he would just kick me in the nuts and save me the disappointment. Next year I’m gluing up tubulars for sure. Only brought one racer back after the bike change and ended up 16th. Not embarrassing.

Thursday, Daren’s brother Doug raced in the 60-64 age group. Doug was on the podium last year, so he got a first row callup, and finished eighth.

I had chatted with Doug at the races before the trip but hadn’t spent a great deal of time with him. I will admit to a bit of apprehension about spending a week with a guy who’s my dad’s age and has had some pretty important jobs in the LDS church* (stake president, among other things, for those that are curious). Shouldn’t have worried. Don’t know if he was faking or not, but Doug followed the surefire approach to make me think highly of you: he laughed at my jokes.

*Maybe this wouldn’t have been cause for a potentially awkward situation in the past, but not quite a year ago, we stopped attending the LDS church. The short version of the story is that Noah’s Ark and Jonah and the whale weren’t the only miracle stories my rational mind could no longer accept as fact.

Next we watched Kris Walker win. Again. She is fast. It was also one of the closer races of the week, with Kris getting out to an early lead, being brought almost all the way back by Marilyn Ruseckas (who won this group last year—Kris won 45-49 last year), then accelerating on the last lap for a gap she held to the line. Great stuff.

Following Kris’s race, Daren had his qualifying time trial*, and then we watched Ned “the Lung” Overend put on a clinic en route to another title.

*For age group races, the front row callups were based on last year’s top eight. The rest of the start order was based on a short, one-lap time trial held on a separate course the day before the championship race.

Then we watched the single speed race. Adam Craig lit it up, wearing cutoffs and a BMX lid, no less.

Bo Pitkin made the locals proud with an impressive 11th place finish. I was wishing Rick and Brad could have been there—they would have had a blast.

Friday was my TT, wherein I proved that my time trialing ineptitude knows no bounds. I was 67th out of 87, which meant starting on the tenth row in my championship race. After my TT, we watched Daren race, where he had a season’s worth of bad luck in an hour. I don’t have any pictures because I was in the pits and busy trying to get a pedal fixed after he rolled in on lap two with a spindle and no body attached to his crankarm.

The Rev was also in Daren’s race, but his luck was the good kind, and his fitness was even better. He finished seventh. He had to hurt himself pretty bad to do it, and it was an amazing performance to watch. Locals Tim and Steve Briley and Shane Dunleavy were also in that race. I yelled so much that as of today, a week later, I still have no voice.

Saturday was my main event in the afternoon. 50 meters in, there was a crash in front of me. About 20 guys were piled up in the road, so I hit the brakes and stopped just short. Just in time for the 20 guys behind me to cove over the top of me like a wave. I was in the middle of the pile, literally the last guy to get my bike untangled. I straightened out my bars and passed about five guys running to the pits. Then I got on Tanner’s bike and passed ten more on lap one. Laps two and three, I passed another five or so each time around, but that was all the time I was going to get. The leader was gaining on me, so I got pulled.

Not the way I wanted things to go, but that’s racing. I would have liked to have had a fair shot of at least racing to not get pulled, and I think maybe I could have done it without the crash, but by no means did it ruin my week. I was racing for fun, and the three laps I was out there driving through 10cm of mud were a riot.
Rico was up right after me, and he was racing to win, with a legitimate shot of doing it. He led lap one, and we got very excited. But he just didn’t have enough to hold it longer than that. With all the mud on the course, there was no place to recover.

With the racing out of the way, Sunday was for fun. We got to check out the pros’ bikes, watch them warm up, and generally act like little kids. We bumped into Chris Horner sitting on the side of the road, playing with his kids. I won’t go into the race detail, because you can read about it elsewhere. I had one of the best seats in the house, though, as I was in the pits for Eric during the elite race—right next to the Cannondale guys—and got up close and personal with the contenders as they came through. Way cool.



To paraphrase Alex, the only thing any of us really has is time. The secret of life is figuring out what to do with it. Regardless of how the racing turned out, taking a week to go to cyclocross nationals was time well spent. Even if it did mean doing some pretty nasty laundry when I got home.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vote for justice

Just got back from Cyclocross Nationals yesterday. Raced lousy but had a great time. I’ll pull together a report shortly. Until then, here’s a thought-provoking video appropriate for this season when we celebrate compassion, mercy, and peace.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On personal morality and the existentialism of cyclocross racing

A couple weeks ago, I got a new issue of VeloNews in the mail. Being the cycling nerd that I am, I usually read every issue cover-to-cover, including the reader letters. One reader letter that stood out was written in response to an article about giving Floyd Landis a feed bag at Tour of Battenkill earlier this year. The writer felt some angst about feeding an admitted doper. The reader letter read as follows:
Concerning Andrew J. Bernstein and his conflicted feelings surrounding the feeding of Floyd Landis--I had the privilege of standing roadside during this year's Cascade Cycling Classic, where I cheered for a post-confessional Floyd Landis. I have never been a doper. I have never tried marijuana, nor do I wear high waters and ride a fixed gear. I don't drink coffee like so many road buddies who don't consider caffeine a performance-enhancing drug. I have never tried beer and don't understand why so many cyclocross riders think it helps their performance. I try not to judge those people. There are so many things we could get hung up on regarding others, so lighten up and hand a guy his lunch.

-James Ford >>Eugene, OR

I respect the sentiment of the letter. Floyd served his suspension. And while I don't like that he chose to dope and then chose to deny it for so long after testing positive, I do like that he's come clean and has finally broken the omerta in an effort to bring more accountability to the sport. I would feel honored to hand Floyd a musette.

The thing that struck me about the letter was the phrase (emphasis mine) "I try not to judge those people." Perhaps I'm reading more into it than the author intended, but the self-righteousness of the assertions "I don't drink coffee," and "I have never tried beer," coupled with the statement "I try not to judge" left me wondering what exactly there was to judge about these actions.

Yes, caffeine is a performance enhancer. It happens to be a legal one. Getting plenty of sleep, eating apples, and doing intervals are also performance enhancers. They are also legal. The thing that separates these activities from using EPO or HGH is that EPO and HGH are against the rules and therefore against the spirit of fair play. Some may deem the use of EPO or other blood boosters necessary to complete a three-week stage race and for that reason suggest they should be legalized. While I don't think they are necessary to complete the race, they may be necessary to compete at the level we as fans are accustomed to enjoying. But until the day comes that such methods are legalized, they are cheating. And until the day comes that coffee (or Rock Star) or getting plenty of sleep or eating apples are banned, they are legal and consistent with fair play. There is nothing to judge if an athlete chooses to employ these legal methods. So I'm not sure what Mr. Ford is "trying not to judge" in this situation.

As for 'crossers drinking beer, it's part of the culture of the sport. Nobody would tell you with a straight face that it improves performance, it's just something that a subset of the racers enjoy. (There's a good case to be made that beer diminishes performance, since beer is basically empty calories with little nutritional value, and it's taboo enough amongst pro roadies that a certain team manager threw a fit when his athletes were drinking it.) Some may say beer helps them race better, but their tongues will be firmly embedded in cheeks when doing so. However, provided the person drinking the beer is of legal drinking age, again, there's nothing to judge. If one person chooses not to drink beer, that's his choice made according to his values and judgment. But those values are his alone and are not a benchmark against which to judge another.

Actually, the one case that can be made for beer as a performance-enhancer in cyclocross is that it numbs the inevitable post-race pain, perhaps enough that one might forget the anguish sufficiently to keep lining up race after race, suffering beat-down after beat-down, until he has finally done it enough to actually have some degree of skill at this cursed and sadomasochistic sport. If beer is the only thing that allows someone to persist as a cyclocross racer, then yes, it's a performance enhancer. But it's still legal.

Which brings me to my present existential crisis with regard to cyclocross racing. The existential dilemma we all face is that no matter how much we do to improve ourselves and others, eventually we will deteriorate and die. So the question becomes, why not shorten the suffering and commit suicide? According to some schools of existential thought, the greatest victory is accepting the absurdity of life and persisting, choosing not to take the suicide shortcut.

As bike racers, our lives are even more absurd than normal. The inherent suffering that's part and parcel of the human condition is not enough for us, so we inflict more. Either we have not only accepted the absurdity of life but embraced it to the point of trying to one up humanity in the suffering department, or we're just so stupid we haven't yet realized just how absurd it is to deprive ourselves of food, free time, and disposable income so that we can race our bikes, in many cases racing with no hope whatever of actually winning. And just as in life, no matter how much we improve, not only will we eventually deteriorate and die, but there will always be someone faster. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?

I got into cyclocross for fun. I got into it because of the laid-back atmosphere. I enjoy competing, I enjoy pushing myself as hard as I can go. I enjoy a challenge. I prefer to be the slow guy in a fast group so I can watch myself improve, and cyclocross certainly affords that.

But Saturday's race was not fun. The mud was challenging, the race was challenging. I pushed myself. It had all the makings of a good day on the bike, but it wasn't. On the first lap while we were riding a stretch of pavement, I accelerated to go to the front of the group I was with. It was the type of pass I've made 100 times without incident in road races. But as I came upon the lead rider, we made contact. I thought I was riding straight, I'm sure he thought the same, but we somehow got tied up at the elbows, and he went down.

I felt bad about it. It certainly wasn't intentional, but whose fault it was is immaterial because there's no way for him to uncrash. Let's just say that his reaction was a far cry from Jeremy C. saying "rubbing is racing" when he and I bumped shoulders in a crit a while back. It sucks he went down, but he got back on, bike and body both still in racing condition. Not too bad as crashes go, but you'd never guess that from his response--it was everything cyclocross racing is not supposed to be. At least I avoided Adam Myerson's fate, and he didn't punch me. So I've got that going for me. Which is nice.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Only a flesh wound

If you live in SLC, go check out the Elliott’s Angels’ Holiday Boutique fundraiser for cystic fibrosis at 2066 Hubbard. It will be running today until 6:00 and tomorrow from 10:00 to 5:00. Lots of cool stuff for a great cause, including some delectable comestibles from my lovely wife. I stopped by earlier and saw only women in attendance, but seriously, guys, head over there if you’re looking for stocking stuffers for the women on your list.

This Dawn Patrol movie is generating a lot of buzz. So much that the producers have seen fit to make a second trailer for it. Check it out.

I got out again this morning, but conditions weren’t quite so good. On the descent I hit a buried stump and thought I had broken my ankle. It hurt. Substantially. The week before cxnats, no less. I thought my trip was over. I managed to ski out, but turning left was a problem since I couldn’t weight my right ski. My apologies to any groups that came after us for the 181cm wide sideslip down the lower 1/3 of Scotties.

After some ice and vitamin I, it seems OK. Just another sprain. How you can sprain an ankle with a ski boot on, I have no idea, but I managed to do it. Still not the best way to start the day. Then Rachel hit a piece of debris on the freeway and smashed her bumper and flatted a tire. Oh well. We’ve had worse.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Juan Grande Productions

Jon put together a highlight reel from yesterday morning. As the city sleeps, indeed.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Breakfast with Ingrid

Skiing this morning sucked. I wish I’d stayed in bed. Mike M., Jon S., and Aaron were lamenting their choice as well, wishing they, like Adam, had had headaches and chosen not to come.




Rick isn’t in any of the photos. He climbed up with us but just did one lap. Said something about having breakfast with Ingrid. Which was unfortunate, because he missed seeing Mike skid his Megawatts halfway across highway 210.

Unless you really were having breakfast with Ingrid, you should have been skiing. But you already knew that. Sorry about the headache, Adam.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Who knew?

All these years I’ve thought that skiing was about the only way to have fun in the snow. To that end, on Wednesday I ducked out of work just early enough to take in a couple backcountry laps with Daren. It was cold. Like minus 11 F (minus 33 with windchill!) kind of cold. My fingers, face, and toes felt every bit of it. Still, the snow was nice. Really nice for November.

Thursday I enjoyed a nice recovery meal. I was sure to eat my five a day of fruits and veggies. Although I’m not sure that fruit stuffed between pie crust counts towards the five a day. I don’t particularly care.

Friday was more backcountry skiing. What a difference a couple of days make. The sun was out, the snow was still nice, but it was warm. Like hike in your base layer with no jacket kind of warm. I’m already up to eight days of skiing this season, and I’ve skipped most of the Saturdays to race cyclocross. We’re off to a good start—hope it keeps up.

I’ll admit, though, that I was a little reluctant on Saturday to give up the chance at more skiing to race cross in the snow. I was apprehensive about cold, I was apprehensive about traction and crashing. I just didn’t think it would be very fun.

How wrong I was.

I lined up in the 35A group. There were about a dozen of us. The five contenders—Art, Bo, Tom, Tim, Gary—got an early gap. I was right behind Mike K. through lap one, but eventually lost him and had Seth, Jay, and Mark P. on my wheel. I slipped in the off-camber section and went from the front of this group to the back, but took the front again when we got to a straightaway on lap two.

Legs felt good and three of us opened a small gap on the fourth. But with the snow and ice on the ground, staying with the group and shedding anyone else would require some skill just to stay upright.

There was one section with a patch of ice right at the bottom of a dip. It was straight and high speed, but as I rolled through it, I had to turn my wheel slightly to keep balanced, and when my wheel hit dirt again, it grabbed and burped. I was tentative with the low tire, but it had enough pressure to keep riding. Traction was actually better, I just had to be careful with it to keep from going flat.

Then I burped again in the same place, but this time it didn’t hold. Tire went completely flat. I had a CO2 cartridge in my pocket, so I aired it back up, but by that time the three I had been with all passed me, and I wasn’t bringing them back unless they suffered their own misfortune.

Keeping the bike upright is part of racing and one of the more engaging aspects of cyclocross. Sure I’m disappointed about my tire, but it was my fault. Had I ridden cleaner, I wouldn’t have burped it. After I burped it once, I should have found another line. Maybe tubulars wouldn’t burp, but they may have rolled off the rim. After every race there will be “if only” moments. It’s up to me whether I use these moments as learning experiences or just another lame excuse.

The last two laps, I found a line through the snow that avoided the ice altogether, but it was too little, too late. Inexplicably, I was still having a ridiculous amount of fun. I was on the edge of crashing pretty much all the time and even went down once on the last lap. I didn’t care.

I went into the race dreading the snow but raced nonetheless out of a sense of duty. It’s quite likely nationals will be snowy, so I figured I better practice. I came away hoping that there’s snow on the ground at nationals and that there’s snow on the ground for the remaining UTCX races.

Brad has been having an ongoing debate with himself about racing with gears or on his single speed. He concluded that he didn’t care whether he could get better results racing with gears, he was having more fun on the single speed. I feel the same way about racing in snow. I’m not the best bike handler and won’t likely get better results in the snow (unless it keeps faster people from even showing up), but I had a helluva lot of fun and can’t wait to do it again.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Daren and I went backcountry skiing Saturday morning. Winds were nuking—at one point I had to hunch over to avoid being blown over.

Wind is not conducive to avalanche safety. Wind can redistribute snow into wind slabs many times thicker than a layer of new snow from even the largest storms. So we made the decision not to ski the north-facing slope on the lee side of the ridge we had just climbed. The south-facing aspect was surprisingly good.

Sunday morning, Daren sent me a text asking if I had seen Bart’s observation from Saturday. Same aspect and elevation, less than 200 meters from the slope we were considering skiing.

As you can see from the picture of the Samurai holding his pole up, that wind slab was pretty deep.

This morning, Mike H., Tanner, and I were back to the same spot. The wind was still blowing.

Dug et al opted not to even poke around Days and skied the south aspect out. But we figured we were there, so we may as well check the snow out.

Mike kicked half a dozen cornices and didn’t get anything to move. He kicked one particularly large cornice directly above the lower angle slope we were considering skiing, and nothing moved. “That cornice was definitely heavier than a skier,” he observed.

Still, we decided to dig a pit. We did an extended column test that failed and propagated about 60cm deep with a Q1 shear at four taps with just the weight of my hand. Below the slab that failed was a layer of sugary, faceted, weak snow.

Anything that fails with the weight of your hand is a red flag. Anything that shears at Q1 (a clean break between two layers) is a red flag. Put the two together, and it may not matter that the slope is less than 30 degrees.

The south aspect skied great. Snow was soft, and even though visibility was poor, it was still fun. Incredibly fun when you consider it’s still November. Tanner headed to Alta for more first tracks. Mike and I went to work. When I got to work, I read the following in today’s avalanche forecast:

Dropping a cornice on a slope, seeing no results, and diving in is asking for trouble.

Um, yeah.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Jonah and the whale

I don’t have a lot of time to sit down and read books. I’m too busy watching TV. But watching TV is difficult when I’m commuting, what with the need to keep it at 80 while I’m glued to the bumper in front of me and updating my Twitter status and all (though I would never text while driving). So I listen to audiobooks.

Audiobooks are awesome. It’s like story time when I was in elementary school but even better because there aren’t little girls doing each other’s hair or boys picking their noses or trying to give each other buttercups. I’ve read, or rather had read to me, various novels, memoirs*, and even some non-fiction that I would never have made it through otherwise.

*I’m particularly fond of the memoirs of men who are gay or grew up the sons of alcoholics in Depression-era Ireland and highly recommend Dry, Running with Scissors, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and Angela’s Ashes. Angela’s Ashes I haven’t finished yet, but it’s way awesome so far. I started it after a succession of Hemingway books following which I didn’t think I could bear any more Hemingway because it was too depressing. Turns out Hemingway’s stories are like the Brady Bunch meets Leave it to Beaver by comparison. But it’s still worth reading, as is For Whom the Bell Tolls.

But the “had read to me” part is important. Because the reader* matters. A lot. Some books are fantastic on their own but made even better with a good reader. The Book Thief is one of those. Other books I can tell would have been more enjoyable with a better reader.

*I have a hard time saying “the reader” after that creepy (but good) movie of the same name where Kate Winslet plays the illiterate Nazi cougar. I even considered titling this post “the reader” but couldn’t bring myself to do it because of the association.

One book that it never even occurred to me to listen to as an audiobook is the Bible. Because quite frankly I don’t think there’s a reader alive who could keep the passages with all the begats or the various and sundry rules about how to treat unclean women or how to properly slaughter sheep from becoming terminally boring. Or at least I thought that until I saw this video.

The story of Jonah from Corinth Baptist Church on Vimeo.

I would totally listen to the Bible as an audiobook if she were telling the stories. Hallelujah.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My face hurts

I have a hard time getting out of bed before 6:00 a.m. to ride my bike. The thought of riding after dark, in the cold, is only appealing when there's no viable alternative. So why is it that getting up at 4:30 to start hiking in the dark in the winter with the cold and wind is not a problem at all?

Maybe watching the sunrise over the Wasatch is part of it. Maybe first tracks is another part of it. Oddly enough, conditions in which I would be miserable on the bike, I love on skis. I don't mind foul weather. In fact, I kind of get a high from being out in it.

And evidently I have no shortage of friends who think likewise. This morning we split into two groups, Ben and his crew heading to Grizzly Gulch, the rest of us to Days. In the photo above, Mike is dropping into Days. The Grizzly crew didn't have it quite so good.

Mike disappeared into a cloud of cold smoke. The north-facing descent into Days was great, but the south-facing descent off of Flagstaff had us nervous. Coverage was thin and a bit wind scoured. We were just hoping to avoid rocks. Instead, we enjoyed some of the best turns in shallow snow I have ever experienced. Jamie summed it up best when he said "I thought my legs were going to be sore, but it's my face that hurts from smiling so much."

Monday, November 15, 2010

UTCX #8 – State Championships

Saturday was the state championship race, held at Mount Ogden Golf Course. Hands-down my favorite venue of the year, even if Seth described it as “deciding the cyclocross champ and hill climb champ in the same race.” There was a decent-sized climb that changed the dynamics substantially. There was also an absence of technical elements, with two barriers being the only time you’d consider getting off the bike*. Intentionally, at least.

*Bunny hoppers like Rico and Bart never got off the bike.

My tirade against sandbaggers notwithstanding, I decided to race the B flight. My motivation was primarily that Adam and my brother Steve race B, and I had never raced against them with fresh legs. I wanted to see how I measured up. Nate Drozd deserves props for racing in the A flight, where he got a respectable result on a course I don’t think suits his strengths—I expect he’ll move further up the results sheet next week at Wheeler Farm.

We had 37 starters in our race, most of whom showed up early to stake out a spot. Just before callups, three guys from The Church of the Big Ring made the little ring* move of the day when they rolled in and entered the pen from the front, not the back, placing themselves on the first row. Brian Cadman would have been called up anyway, but I don’t see why the other two thought they were entitled to start from where they did. I wish I would have said something at the time (but I have a blog, so I can say what I want when I want and anyone who doesn’t like it can leave a comment, because comment moderation is also totally little ring).

*In other little ring news, Tim Az won both cat. 4 races at the USGP this weekend. Which is cool. Except Tim has been racing cross for three years, and has won a number of races and been on the podium in even more in that time. But since UTCX isn’t USAC sanctioned, none of that counts towards an upgrade, so when he races out of state, he’s a four. And since he doesn’t do much road racing, he can’t get an upgrade based on his road category.

I love UTCX. I love Matt’s commitment to it. I love having a dozen chances to race in that series plus nearly a dozen more in other races throughout the season. It contributes to Utah having one of the best racing scenes in the country. But would it kill us to get the races sanctioned? Sure, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference for Utah racers who just race the UTCX series, but you have to be a three to race at Nationals. Tim can’t race at Nationals. Tim beats the crap out of the fours at a USGP. Sanctioning and upgrades keep the competition competitive.

The little ring move didn’t make much difference for me. I was second row, had a good start and was fifth starting up the hill. Passed one on the hill and was fourth.

Next time up the hill, Joseph Moffett (Mad Dog Cycles) gapped us all. I knew I couldn’t climb with him, so I didn’t even try. I had second and third in sight when we entered a series of tight, 180 degree turns. I had good momentum through the turns when my tire washed out, and I was suddenly laying on my side, still clipped in.

I lost a few spots getting up and was in seventh. I chased hard the rest of the lap, probably a little too hard. My asthma kicked in as we passed the start/finish line. It felt like someone was standing on my chest, keeping me from filling my lungs more than half way with air.

I’ve had this happen before in road races, and I’ve sometimes been able to sit in until I recover. But I have to back way off or it just gets worse. There was nowhere to sit in, so I dialed it back and watched as seven guys rode past me on the climb. On the dirt road at the top of the climb, I got to where I could breathe again, so I started the work of bringing back the guys ahead of me.

Over the final two laps, I slowly clawed back all but two of the guys that passed me. Eric Martin (Skull Candy) and Mike Pratt (Canyon) were the last two that I caught and passed. I’ve raced with those guys enough on the road that there’s a bit of a friendly rivalry there. I led Eric from the top of the climb. My breathing still wasn’t normal, and he told me I sounded like his dog right before it died.

Just before the barriers, I hit it hard and got a little gap on Eric. I wasn’t going to catch Drew Free, my Revolution teammate who was the next guy up, so I focused on riding clean and just keeping it upright through the finish.

There was a 180 degree turn 50 meters from the end. I didn’t want to fall in that corner, so I took a foot out just in case. As I rounded the corner, I heard the click of a gear shifting. Mike Pratt had caught and passed Eric, had caught me, and was now starting to sprint, and I only had one foot clipped in.

I turned the cranks a couple times before I clipped in, managed to clip in, then sprinted as hard as I could. I beat Mike by maybe a wheel. As Daren put it after the race, encouragingly, I beat all the guys that mattered. Now I just need to figure out how to ride faster than the eight guys who were in front of me.

While I could have done without the crash, I’m happy with the race. The course wasn’t particularly technical, which was helpful to me. Technical would have been better for Daren, who finished third in the 45+ race. His brother Doug got his second win of the year, making him the 55+ state champion. Congratulations, Doug. Tanner had a great race and finished ninth in the Elites, despite a crash with two to go. Rick finished sixth in a stacked Singlespeed field, and Annie was one step off the podium in Women’s B.

I’m finally starting to figure out how to race cyclocross. I still suck, but each week I feel better. More importantly, though, I’m having a lot of fun. And getting my fix of self-inflicted suffering, which is perhaps the part of racing I’m most addicted to. Who knew skinny tires on dirt were such a riot?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Also known as Mark’s brother

Anyone who has been to a cyclocross race or a criterium in Utah has probably been entertained by the commentary of Bruce Bilodeau. At the first UTCX race of the season, he saw my wife standing near the booth where he was doing commentary, so as I came through, he just went on and on about me, telling all sorts of lies about how tough I am and how much he likes racing with me.

Afterward, Rachel said “you should have heard what the commentator said about you!*”

*Since he wasn’t wearing his helmet and sunglasses, and was therefore wholly unrecognizable**, Rachel had no idea that “the commentator” was one of my racing friends.

**Cyclists have two ways of recognizing one another: based on the team kit, helmet, and sunglasses; and from behind. Bruce joked last night that he had to ask a couple of people to bend over so he could tell who they were. Which was somewhat ironic, because from behind Bruce is perhaps the most easily-recognizable racer in the state.

Afterward, Bruce said “I saw your wife standing right there, so I thought I’d give her a show.”

Bruce is no slouch on the bike, either. He won stage one and got second on GC at the Capitol Reef Classic. He toiled in the break at Tour DAY Park City, only to be derailed by a puncture. He’s a guy you want to be in a break with, because he takes his turns and has a smile on his face while doing so. Becoming friends with Bruce is one of the highlights of my 2010 racing season.

He was the obvious choice to MC last night’s Utah Cycling Association awards banquet. As he presented the award for the Cat. 3 series points leader, he said “this racer had 11 top tens, two wins, and five podiums in the UCA series….From Revolution-Cafe Rio, also know as Mark’s brother...”

Congrats, Steve, on a well-earned victory in the season series. Bruce’s “Mark’s brother” comment was funny, but it was all you out there on the road. You fought hard every race, and your individual results don’t reflect half of the contribution you made to the team.

And thanks to Bruce, Ferg and the UCA board, Marek, and everyone else that contributes to Utah having arguably the best race scene anywhere in the country.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Suspension of disbelief

How many men do you know with gray eyes? I can’t think of any. Yet I don’t even know how many novels I’ve read where the action-hero-type protagonist has gray eyes.

And who does this gray-eyed hero fall in love with? A violet-eyed woman. Do you know any women with purple eyes? Didn’t think so.

Gray-eyed men and violet-eyed women are the unicorns of adult literature.

Wanna know what else would require a suspension of disbelief if I hadn’t experienced it myself? It’s November 10th, and I’ve skied three days this season already. Not just getting out on snow for the sake of getting out, either, but real, legitimate powder turns.

Yesterday after work, the Flyin’ Ute and I did a quick run up East Greeley just before the sun set. His first tour ever.

I think he’s hooked.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Brazilian

In road racing, and especially in time trials, racers get all geeked out over making their position, bike, etc. more aero. The arms race to shave every last gram and make every last part slice through the air as efficiently as possible is perhaps best embodied by the Reynolds RZR wheelset that has a retail price of $6000.

Turbo is the only person I know that races on these wheels. He works for Reynolds. The wheels are splendidly light and magnificently aero. But I’d need to make a lot more money than I do now for the marginal advantage they give me to be worthwhile. They have a 82kg rider weight limit. I wonder if that’s because riders over 82kg would break them, or because if you weigh more than 82kg you’ve got problems as a racer that these wheels can’t solve?

Other disciplines of racing, notably mountain biking and cross, are a little less obsessive about weight and aerodynamics. Having tires that adequately grip the course and being in a position on the bike to handle technical terrain will yield more speed than shaving a few grams or reducing a little drag.

Nevertheless, racers in these disciplines will still seek every perceived advantage, whether it has any real benefit or not, including one that can be had for free provided the racer owns a pair of scissors and can cut straight enough to remove all non-number material from the number plate. I’m not sure if the intent is to reduce weight or to improve aerodynamics. Maybe both. Either way, I’m a big fan of the number plate trimming style I fondly refer to as “The Brazilian.”


Photo brazenly misappropriated from Cycling Utah. Go give their fall/winter issue a look and patronize their sponsors so I don’t feel guilty about it.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fourth gear

JunkieBoy is the best cross racer in the family. His remounts are cleaner than mine are. His handling skills are remarkable, especially considering all he has is a rear coaster brake. He's not particularly fast, but his bike weighs half as much as he does. It would be like me riding around on a 35kg bike. I don't imagine I'd be particularly fast on that, either (who's trying to kid who here--I'm not fast on my 8kg bike). Now that he's had a taste of doing two laps like the older kids, he's unwilling to consider the shorter race.

I'll need to avoid the urge to get little league dad on him and push him way too hard, ruining it for both of us. But with as well and as much as he rides at age six, I kind of doubt there's going to be a whole lot I can teach him if he keeps after it. I just love that he enjoys coming to races and seems to have as much fun as I do while we're there.

My race made me acutely aware that I lack a fourth gear, so to speak. I've got a fifth gear for covering attacks and bunch sprints in road races. I can hold it for 10 to 30 seconds. I've got a third gear for long road races, where I can just keep grinding at medium-high intensity for hours at a time. But I don't have a fourth gear that's below sprint intensity, above road race intensity, and lasts for about an hour. Cross races are an hour of fourth gear intensity.

Daren commented after the race, "you looked good those last two laps. You need cross races that last for two hours." Or better yet, three.

My first lap was reasonably good. First lap is fifth gear. I was with the leaders coming up the hill and into the first turn, but I just can't hold that intensity for very long.

I lost the chase group on lap two but kept them in sight and was intent on chasing on. I was closing in on lap three when I took a gravel corner too hot and went down. I was more angry about the lost ten seconds than I was about the bleeding.

On lap four, I could tell Matt Ohran (Cannondale) was suffering. Out of 13 starters in the 35A field, I was in 12th after one racer had a mechanical. Reeling Matt in would be a legitimate pass and keep me from the lanterne rouge, my only real (and at this point, realistic) goal racing in the A field. I caught him on a short uphill, and he didn't even try to stay with me. In fact, I don't think he even tried to race after that. I'm still counting it.

I ended up finishing 11th, which, incidentally, is my average finishing position in the 35B races. The difference in the B race is that in addition to the ten guys faster than me, there are about 25-30 guys slower than me. I only really care about who's ahead, so I think the move to 35A was a good one. It has the added benefit that the races are 60 minutes, whereas the 35B races are 40. Minutes 25-40 of the race are usually my worst. Minutes 40-60 tend to be my best. If I can be better from 1-25, survive 25-40, then finish strong, I think I can be in the mix eventually.

Steve had a great start to his race, getting the hole shot and staying at the front the first two laps. He too faded as the race went, then came back for a strong last lap. He and Grizzly Adam were close enough to be sprinting it out coming up the hill. Steve crossed first, but just barely. Afterward I witnessed one of the more poignant moments of cross racing, as Adam staggered over to the gutter, and on hands and knees dry heaved for a while. Adam is a tough guy, and to race himself to that point over a mid-pack finish shows just how committed he is to this sport. I don't know if it brings out the best, but cross racing brings out the toughest in people.

And speaking of tough, Daren won again. He said it hurt, but the hurt he put on the rest of the field was worse. Bart and Alex G. were neck and neck throughout the elite race. Bart let Alex have it at the end, Alex's first cross victory. Bart, ever gracious, told me afterward, "I've got plenty of wins, and Alex could use the points." Oh to be fast enough to be in position to gift a Cannondale Factory Team racer a victory.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Racing cross is kind of like...

Photo: Thomas Ducroquet

Dug and I were talking about cross racing the other day. He said “you’re hooked aren’t you.” I responded in the affirmative, but I really don’t know why. All I can come up with is this:

Racing cross is kind of like gay sex. For most people there's no reason in the world why it should be appealing, but for a certain sub-segment of the population, it is—the difficulty of it notwithstanding—and they can't get enough.