Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why do you blog?

From time to time, I have people ask me why I blog. Usually they simply say “why do you blog?” When what they really mean is “your blog looks like a huge time suck—why on earth would you engage in such a pointless endeavor, especially since you hardly ever have something worthwhile to say?”

The answer to that question is complicated. The most basic reason is that I really like skiing and riding bikes, and I like to document what I’m doing. Digging a little deeper, I also feel like I’m constantly learning more about both of these sports, so I figure if I’m learning something new, chances are pretty good it’s new to at least one of my readers as well.

When I write about bike racing, I’m usually thinking of my dad as the target audience. My dad rides bikes, but he took it up late in life, so chances are pretty good that if I learn something new about the sport, it’s also new to him.

Occasionally, one of my posts will be laced with profanity, in which case I’m writing for my mom, not my dad. Because she really likes the word shit, or at least I was convinced she did whenever I did something wrong while growing up, which was often. And I like to show her from time to time how much my vocabulary has expanded since she taught me that word.

I also blog because once in a while I have something that I think is funny enough to share with others. And while the really, really good jokes have to be limited to a really small audience because of their very nature, the still very funny but suitable for a broad audience jokes need to see the light of day.

Really, though, I blog because it’s cheaper than paying a shrink. And writing stuff down helps me process what’s going on in my head. I write a lot of really boring stuff for work, so writing something frivolous or angry or self-aggrandizing helps me refocus and concentrate on the writing and other work that actually pays the bills.

From time to time, writing it down is enough, and there’s no need to publish it. Which is why I’m filing, not posting, what I had to say after a delightful exchange with another racer (with whom I have some history) at RMR last night. Because if I posted it, it would just be inflammatory* and wouldn’t do any good. And racing bikes should be all about suffering fun.

*I know, since when has that stopped me, right?

But here’s the question I’m really curious about: why do you read? I’m not a lone man shouting in the wilderness—more than a few people a day check this thing out. So what do you come back for*?

*Do not infer that blog content will be altered to better suit your taste if you provide feedback. The author has posed this question only to satisfy his own curiosity, to bolster his delicate ego, and to try and understand of all the blogs out there, why you read this one. No warranty, expressed or implied, is granted with this question.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The throw

Saturday was the state championship road race, which is held on a sixteen mile circuit with a 7-10% climb of ~1.5k on every lap. The cat. 3s were scheduled for five laps, and I was frankly hoping to just hold on four times up the hill so I didn’t end up with a DNF and could at least drag myself over the summit the last time and finish within shouting distance of the field.

My brother and I did this race last year as cat. 5s; Steve won, I came in 9th, having been dropped by the lead group on our 3rd and final time up the hill. I came oh so close to chasing back on, and the pain of that near miss was in my mind on Saturday.

My strategy this time was to make sure I was near the front as we started the climb. That way if I lost ground, I would just drift back through the field but hopefully not end up behind a gap. First time up the hill, I started towards the front, and though the pace was high, I never felt like I was struggling to keep up. I finished the climb near the front of the group, grabbed my bottle in the feedzone, and kept going. One down, four to go.

A guy from Cole Sport had attacked on the climb and had a decent gap, but he was alone. Most of lap two was a series of counter-attacks, with people trying to get up with the leader, and others chasing them down. As we hit the climb for the second time, Cole Sport was still alone, and the rest of us were all together. If he could stay away to the end, he would have earned it the hard way. Once again, I stayed near the front on the hill. We must have lost a few this time up, because the group seemed smaller.

Third time up the hill, my teammate Will attacked, along with Brian from Team Wright, a guy from Biker’s Edge, and Chris from RMCC. There may have been one more—I’m not sure. I almost got gapped, but not on the climb. In the feedzone, I tried to get two bottles. Rachel ran after me for all she was worth*, but ultimately, I couldn’t wait any longer for the second one and was still left with work to do to get back on.

*The unsung heroes of the day were the support crews. Though the race promoters had neutral water available in the feed zone, there were no bottles nor volunteers to hand them up. And it was a hot day. So Rachel and Steve’s wife, Marco, started collecting cast off bottles, filling them up, and handing them to racers needing support as they came through. The idea caught on, and soon others got involved. Even so, some douchebag in the Cat. 1/2 field had the audacity to yell at them for not doing a good enough job with the water handups. How about they let you dehydrate next time?

Most of the teams with numbers were represented in the break, and surprisingly, there was very little chase. We just rode along at a comparatively mellow pace, with Steve and I on the front deliberately slowing down* to force someone else to work.

*Having someone in the break is critical, not just because the man up has a chance to win, but because the teammates in the group aren’t expected to chase. If you are on the front, deliberately slowing down gives the break a better chance to survive, but the slow pace may also prompt other teams to get on the front and work, forcing them to use energy they won’t have at the finish. We’ve been on the wrong side of this equation a couple times this season, so it was nice to have it the other way.

After the fourth time up the hill, it seemed obvious the break would stay away. The main field had shrunk considerably, and the only team left with any numbers was Ski Utah. Mounting a chase would take its toll, so I expected another parade lap. Clint from Ski Utah said something about throwing in the towel and duking it out at the end for the last remaining upgrade point, which is probably what I would have done. Surprisingly, Clint and his teammate Cody traded pulls until Cody was blown, and then Clint got on the front and drove it by himself until just before the climb when a Barbacoa rider moved up and took a turn.

Mark T. talks about doing your duty on the front—the work Clint did epitomized that ethic. He knew he was destroying any chances he had of placing by trying to bring the break back, but he did it anyway, preferring to try and fail rather than not try at all.

Last time up the hill, what was left of the group started to shatter. And then we caught the guy from Cole Sport who had been alone on the front all day. Wonder where everyone else is? I felt great and liked my chances sprinting it out with who was left, but we still had some climbing to do.

Then Tyler from Team Wright attacked. I thought “let him go,” knowing he probably couldn’t last by himself when it flattened out before the finish. But Steve and Nick from RMCC went with him. That was fine. Nick’s a great finisher, but so is Steve.

At the top of the hill a guy from Logan Race Club started to chase them down. In that split second when I could react and go with him, I was still feeling the burn from the climb and hesitated just that much too long. The only guys left were my teammate Scott P. and guys from RMCC and Wright. We all had men up, so I figured we’d just do our best to maintain the gap we had on the Ski Utah guys but not do much else.

Then RMCC turned to me and asked if I could chase. I gave him a non-committal shrug, but it was apparent he wanted to bring them back and Wright was willing to help. I could see why Wright would chase—Tyler is a pure climber and wouldn’t do well against Nick and Steve. But why would RMCC chase with Nick up? Scott and I can both sprint—why would they want to bring us with them?

Wright took a pull, then RMCC, then he rotated off and gave me a big shove, so I went up and rode tempo, feigning effort. Wright and RMCC took more pulls, and we gained ground each time. I rode more tempo and saw Steve looking back—did they want us to catch? Were they blown from the attack? By the time it fell to me again, the catch was inevitable, so I figured let’s get it over with and regroup. I took a big dig, and two groups of four were now eight.

Scott turned to me and asked if I had legs. I said I did. He said he’d give me a leadout. It was obvious what we were doing, so it was just a question of whether anyone else could respond.

With about 500 meters, Scott accelerated. With 200, I came around and went for all I was worth. And then I passed someone. Were we that close to the break, or was he from another group? Then I passed the guy from Biker’s Edge. My legs were searing, I thought I’d gone too early, I expected Nick or Steve to come around any moment. I just wanted the pain to stop. Then I saw Chris from RMCC up the road and realized I was racing for third—it was just a question of whether there was enough real estate left to catch him and whether I could suffer a few seconds longer.

In a close sprint, riders will “throw” their bikes forward at the end to try and get their front wheel those last few centimeters ahead. I have never done nor practiced this move and don’t know the first thing about timing or technique. As I dug to try and catch Chris, I knew the throw was my only shot. I timed it late. He got me by less than half a wheel. One more meter…

Steve was right behind me for fifth. Brian and Will had been alone at the end, with Brian outsprinting Will for the state championship. Scott finished 11th after setting me up. Considering the course and the competition, I couldn’t be happier with the results. A detour to Logan for Aggie ice cream on the way home was icing on the cake.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Ever since last year after Tour DAY Park City, when the massage therapist who was trying to help me get my muscles to the point I could actually walk again told me that I’d be faster if I actually stretched after exercise, I have tried to be reasonably diligent about stretching following rides.

This is no problem at home. I can stretch anywhere I want, with the only risk being a kid (or wife) thinking that since I’m holding still it’s a good time to make some loving gesture that knocks me off balance (resulting in a muscle strain).

But when I ride my bike to work, twisting myself into odd positions and holding them for half a minute is sure to further convince my co-workers that I am a freak. And it’s already bad enough that I occasionally walk into the office still wearing my cycling clothes.

So where to stretch? I thought about hiding in the parking garage, and indeed was planning to go there today. Except that before I went I stopped in the bathroom. And accidentally discovered the most perfect place to stretch ever.

Privacy and hand rails galore—what more could you want?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The elastic will snap, but when?

In the past, I have often lost bunch sprints because someone else jumped before I did, and I’ve run out of real estate chasing to the finish line. I’ve also won a bunch sprint by jumping early and getting a gap on the field. Which begs the question: when is the optimal point for me to begin sprinting?

Unfortunately, the answer is “it depends.” Because a longer sprint with an early gap can have a lower max speed, whereas a shorter sprint may require a faster acceleration. Jumping early may also force the chasers to go earlier than they want to, forcing them to hold it longer and disrupting their tactics. In general, I know I can go flat out from 200 meters without any problem, but I’m not always good at positioning myself at the front, so what for me is a 200m drag race is 190m for my competitors. Would I be better off to go earlier? Can I hold it to the end?

Last night at RMR, I decided to find out. We were racing on the oval, which is 400 meters per lap. Teammate Alex K. was in a break, but Nolan from Porcupine was chasing hard, and with two to go, the break had less than 50 meters gap. It wasn’t going to hold.

I was sitting about third wheel behind Nolan, and as we started to exit the last turn on the second-to-last lap, I made my move. I got a good jump and quickly caught and passed the break. I was by myself on the back stretch but the chase was closing in. Coming into the final turn, I was still in front, but my legs were on fire and my pace was slowing. I had four guys, including teammate Rob, pass me in the last 75 meters and finished fifth. Not a bad result, but more importantly, I have a better feel for how early I can start a sprint and hold it to the end.

The “A” race finished about ten minutes after ours, and that’s when I watched how it’s really done. There was a break of six with a good gap on the field. Dave H. was sitting in third position in the break behind Aaron O., with Aaron giving it all he had on the front. On the last lap, Dave accelerated. He didn’t stand up. He didn’t fight with his bike. He just pedaled faster. He went around the two guys in front of him and kept accelerating, building up a 2-3 bike length gap before he hit the line. He never got out of the saddle.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Last week, when I talked about the difficulty of defining “doping,” RabidRunner made the following comment:

I'm glad you brought up the technology-in-bicycles issue. I was going to get into that - how cycling is not just about endurance, speed and skill, it's also about technology - but I got lazy. So I'm told, it seems on some levels, the quality of your bike has a great deal to do with how well you do. It does parallel the doping issue a bit in that doping is about technology.

So here’s the thing, the difference between a $2,000 bike and a $10,000 bike is almost meaningless. The more expensive bike may be more fun to ride*, but any performance advantage will be minimal, to the tune of a few seconds here and there. Fitness definitely matters way more than technology.

*I use may and not will here, because the higher-end bikes are typically designed for racing, and if you’re not racing (or even if you are but aren’t as limber as a 14-year-old gymnast), a more relaxed, non-race geometry** may be more comfortable and therefore more enjoyable to spend time on.

**Specialized has totally figured out how to market this with their Roubaix models—they tout it as a race bike because it’s used by pros exactly one day a year at it’s namesake event, Paris-Roubaix, an event so atypical of other road races that it’s been won in years past with Rockshox forks mounted to road bikes. The dentists, accountants, and guys who own their own insurance agencies that buy a new S-Works Roubaix every year get the cachet of thinking they’re purchasing a race bike but are happy riding them around because the upright geometry is much better suited to guys who can’t touch their toes than that of Specialized’s true race bike, the Tarmac.

But here’s the catch and why the technology arms race in bike racing is such an incredibly ludicrous dick dance: racing is all about narrow margins. Races are typically won and lost by margins of less than 1%. In Saturday’s High Uintas Classic road race, Nate P. won the Cat. 3 race by six minutes. It was a dominating victory and an unusually wide margin, yet he was only 3% faster than the 2nd place rider. 3%. Coming home from a group ride six minutes late would hardly earn a scolding, yet as a margin of victory in a bike race, it was an eternity.

Which is not to say that Nate only did 3% more work than the people chasing him. Because he won it solo. Eight kilometers into a 125k race, Nate attacked. Steve and Tyler K. were on his wheel when he went. Steve’s heart rate was 185 trying to sit in Nate’s slipstream, so he pulled the plug and was looking for someplace to hide when the peloton caught him. Tyler lasted slightly longer. Those of us who know Nate and have raced against him knew at that point that the race was over.

The first ~50k of the race are mostly uphill, but it’s only the last 12k or so of that that’s really steep. When we hit the steep part, I knew I couldn’t sustain the pace. I also knew there were a bunch of other guys who couldn’t sustain the pace, but they didn’t know it yet. I figured I would catch some of those guys and work with them to try and race back to a respectable finish.

Steve paid dearly for his effort following Nate and was one of the guys I caught. We worked with two others on the descent, caught two more, and then two more and had eight working together in a rotating paceline across the flats into Evanston. Three more caught us, the cooperation broke down, and it was a series of covering attacks from that point on.

I was cramping and suffering, and after one of the attacks with less than 5k to go, I had suffered enough and let a gap open. As I looked at the racers in front of me, I just thought about how bad I would hate myself if I let them go, so I hunkered down, ignored the pain in my legs, and pulled them back with enough time to almost catch my breath before sprinting it out to the finish.

Will and Alex finished ahead of us in 5th and 12th places, respectively, with Nick from RMCC taking the field sprint for second and with it very likely a mandatory upgrade (which is too bad because Nick is a way smart racer and one I could stand to learn from racing against).

The next morning was the TT, the discipline where guys like me who try to follow wheels and hide from the wind are exposed for the frauds they are. It’s also the discipline where technology and equipment differences, such as TT bikes, pointy helmets, skinsuits, and deep-dish wheels can make a measurable difference. But you still have to be able to sustain the effort. And I’ve so far proved that trying to keep up with other Cat. 3s during long, sustained efforts is not exactly in my wheelhouse.

The course was an out and back, with 8k to the turnaround into the wind and rolling to slightly uphill. I thought the turnaround was never going to come. Courtesy of the Cottle Service Course*, I was all super-heroed up with aero bars, aero wheels, and aero helmet. All these advantages helped me realize my desired albeit subjective result: not embarrassing myself. Here’s how I define not embarrassing myself:

  • Nobody passed me—which is the first time that’s happened in a TT.
  • My time was more or less in the fat part of the curve (in other words, not DFL, or even second-to-DFL).
  • I was within seconds, not a minute+, of Steve.

*Service Course is the equipment warehouse for a professional cycling team where they keep bikes, components, wheels, and what not. Obviously amateur teams don’t have these things, but Daren has a well-stocked garage—including a TT helmet he had just acquired and never even used—that he kindly let me borrow for the race. It’s the next best thing to having an equipment sponsor.

I expected the TT win to be a formality for Nate, but he lost by a few seconds to Colin Joyce from Idaho. Colin is 15 years old (!).

The final stage, the criterium Sunday afternoon, is where I hoped to have my best result. Except unlike your typical crit course, it has a six block climb on every lap. As we began the race, I was thinking about the advice Bryson Perry gave his brother Brandon before the road race: you have to risk losing the race if you want to win.

I’m usually a sit in and sprint it out at the end kind of racer, but none of the previous fields had stayed together, and I didn’t expect ours to either. I burned a few matches trying to go with each of the first three attacks. Then on lap four as we hit a tricky downhill right-hand turn, I was on a bad inside line and had to touch the brakes.

That little tap on the brakes cost me enough momentum that by the time we were on the finishing straight, I had a gap to close on the field. I closed the gap, but when the pace stayed high on the climb I was popped off the back and rode the rest of the race solo. Steve held on for a solid third place finish. Colin took the stage win and second place in the GC, with the GC win going to Nate.

It hurt to lose a race like that (especially since I felt so good Thursday night at the Miller race) which gets back to my point about technology. My gap to the field was just a few seconds when I got to the top of the hill. But a solo rider not named Nate (or Peter or Norm or Dave) is no match for a group, and the seconds stretched to a minute and more by the time the race ended.

Racers want the best equipment because those narrow little gaps that will make no difference to a recreational rider can mean the difference between staying with the group and not and ultimately winning and losing in a race. Were there anything I could have done from an equipment standpoint to keep that gap from opening, you can bet I’d be thinking about it now. But the bike I’m on is as close to Pro Tour spec as any amateur racer needs, so it gets back to the rider. And this rider needs more focus on diet, training, and racing smart.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Drawing the line

If you go fast, they accuse you of cheating. If you go slow, they say you’re not professional and you didn’t train hard enough.

-Fabian Cancellara, after winning Stage 1 TT at 2010 Tour de Suisse

I hate doping. I’ve made no secret of that. I was reminded of how much I hate doping while reading posts at Rabid Runner and by Mark T. via Church of the Big Ring today.

I made similar comments on both, the essence of which is that if performance enhancing drugs were legalized and therefore no longer cheating, as has been proposed in some circles, then they would make their way to the amateur ranks, as all things PRO tend to do. The decision would no longer be “do I dope so I can compete in Europe or go back to racing in the US?” but “do I dope so I can upgrade to the next category or resign myself to being a career Cat. X?”

I like to pretend to try to be competitive at the local amateur level, and I don't want to dope. I hate needles. I don't want to stick needles in my arm or butt before a race. I don't want to race knowing that I'm only as fast as I am because I put chemicals in my body. It would be hollow and not worthwhile and would take something I love to do and suck the joy and satisfaction out of it. I could not muster the passion to suffer as I do on and off the bike under such circumstances. (And really, what is bike racing without the suffering?)

But where do you draw the line? It’s fun to pretend that doping is cut and dry and you’re either doing it or you’re not. Is it really that simple?

The UCI has set bike weight limits at a minimum of 6.8kg. So if you’re riding a bike that weighs less than that in a local race that doesn’t weigh bikes, is that doping?

Caffeine has been shown to enhance performance, indeed exceeding certain levels constitutes a doping positive, so am I doping when I pop a Red Bull prior to a crit?

EPO and blood transfusions are used to increase hematocrit levels, the concentration of red cells in the blood, thus augmenting aerobic capacity. Sleeping in a hypobaric chamber (altitude tent) or at altitude stimulates a similar response (though not of the same magnitude). My house is at 6300 feet, and yes, I thought about the effect this would have on my hematocrit when I bought it. Is that doping?

Allessandro Petacchi missed Le Tour in 2007 for taking too many puffs on his albuterol inhaler. He had a therapeutic use exemption for the drug (as do something like 2/3 of the pro peloton—who knew asthma was so pervasive amongst endurance athletes); he just failed to use “utmost caution” and took too much. I have asthma and have had poor results when I forget to take albuterol before competition. Other times I’ve probably failed to use “utmost caution” and taken too much. Is this doping?

Power meters allow an athlete to test him or herself and know exactly what kind of power can be generated for a given duration, enabling pacing strategies that are much more precise, which is especially helpful in time trials or when climbing. Does using this technology to your advantage constitute doping?

In 1989 when Greg Lemond beat Laurent Fignon in the final time trial of Le Tour, Lemond was using aero bars, similar to a modern time trial setup, while Fignon rode old school in the drops. Lemond is a vocal critic of doping, but did his bike setup give him an unfair advantage?

The list goes on and on of course. One argument against performance enhancing drugs is that they’re dangerous. But they’re less dangerous than obesity, tobacco, alcohol abuse, or air pollution, each of which by itself is and always will be a far greater public health concern. Another argument is that it gives an unfair advantage. But could not the same be said if one competitor has power meter, carbon frame, and aero wheels when another can’t afford such equipment?

I’ll obviously utilize any legal advantage I have access to, and yet I hate doping and will go on hating doping. I hope there are some huge, visible busts that come out of the Landis allegations. I hope the riders roll on each other. I hope it becomes an out-of-control wildfire that burns down not just cycling, but the major sports like football, American football, baseball, and basketball. I hope it gets to the point that riders go beyond a silly two-minute delay or soft pedaling around finishing circuits and make a real protest, like refusing to line up and race against someone they know is dirty.

Problem is, can anyone can say definitively and precisely what “dirty” is?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Own it

We’ve all said and done stupid stuff in our lives. I’ve said stupid stuff on this blog, which others have called me on in the comments. All I require is that you put a name next to your comment. Because if you say or do something, you should own it and own the consequences.

Initial reports after yesterday’s crash in the Tour de Suisse were that Cavendish was withdrawing from the race. Considering he caused the crash and pissed off a lot of people in the process, I’m glad to see that he lined up to take his lumps. It will be interesting to see whether the two minute delay is all the protest the peloton offers, or if someone pulls the cycling equivalent of a beanball. I’m not endorsing that, but if I were Cav, and I got beaned, I’d know I deserved it.

Even though he was relegated, fined, and penalized for the crash, the thing Cav isn’t owning is the blame:

“I’m not going to say that I’m not at fault but I don’t think I should have been held as the sole responsible.

“It’s the worst fall of my career, the worst injuries that I’ve suffered.

“But there are riders who are in a worse state than me.”

So if he’s not the sole responsible, who is? Looking at the video, Cav is coming up the middle, with Haussler coming up on his left. Cav is in the lead, but Haussler is gaining. Cav knows he’s there, so instead of holding his line, he starts moving left to keep Haussler from coming around. This is a big no-no.

Haussler is full gas and has his head down with the reasonable expectation that nobody is going to change lines and come in front of him. My suspicion is that Cav came in front on him because Cav knew he was going to get passed. It’s the equivalent of tackling from behind in the box to stop a clear goal scoring opportunity—should be a straight red card every time.

Some noise has been made about this photo (shamelessly ripped off from here):

With the suggestion being made that it was Cav’s wheel failing that caused the crash. It’s hard to tell in the youtube video, but watching on Versus last night, it was obvious that the wheel failed because Haussler ran over it when they collided, and it was an effect of the crash, not the cause. But given the momentum absurd stories about cycling equipment seem to be garnering lately, I imagine Zipp is in damage control mode anyway.

So what happens from here? It’s unlikely given today’s course profile that Cav will be in the mix at the end. In fact, even if he were able to pull himself over those climbs with the leaders, I suspect today he’d consider that effort not worth his while. Whether anyone decides that revenge is a dish best served cold remains to be seen. I’d be willing to bet, though, that nobody goes Bernard Hinault on him.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Too short for a post

Sometimes I have ideas for a post that never really get enough momentum to become an actual post. Actually they’d be long enough for a post if I were Rick, because he believes that the essence of good writing is thrift. But I’m not so thrifty like that.

  • I have officially embraced the vuvuzelas. I know people hate them. The BBC has considered filtering out fan noise to mitigate their annoyingness. I frankly can’t imagine watching a World Cup match without them. The good news? They may be coming to the Premier League. Can’t wait.
  • As cool as the vuvuzelas are, the guys who carry full-on brass band-style trumpets into the stadium are far and away cooler (pic below--ripped off from here--not really what I'm talking about, but too funny not to include).
  • How ironic is it that Ronaldinho was included in this promotional video for Nike but not Brazil’s world cup roster?

  • In extra time, Ivory Coast were putting all kinds of pressure on Portugal’s defense. In the waning moments of the match, they were awarded a corner kick, a last chance to put a goal on the board. Time was almost up. But play was delayed so that one of Ivory Coast’s players could be treated for one of those mysterious injuries that prevents a highly-trained athlete from bearing his own weight but that’s instantly cured by the application of magic spray. Once back on his feet, they had one play before the referee was going to blow the whistle—the corner kick. So what do they do? They play it short. Whistle blows. Match over. The referee wasn’t going to give you 30 seconds to see how your short corner played out. You had one kick. Why waste it like that?
  • This weekend is the High Uintas Classic. I’m signed up for the full stage race, which means doing a TT on Sunday morning. So I’ve actually been riding a TT bike I borrowed from Daren in the vain hope that I won’t embarrass myself and finish DFL in the TT. Problem is that I can’t figure out which is more embarrassing: finishing last in the TT, or having people see me riding the bike and thinking that I’m a triathlete.
  • If you thought last year’s exclusion of Chris Horner from Astana’s Le Tour squad was a travesty, it would be a far greater injustice to exclude Janez Brajkovic from this year’s team. The Dauphine is typically a good indicator of a rider’s form for the upcoming Tour, and Brajkovic showed he is probably the only rider in the world right now whom Contador can’t ride off his wheel going up Alpe d’Huez. And Brajkovic beat Contador in the TT. Not only should he be on the Radio Shack roster, but Levi, Lance, Horner, et al should be riding for him, not the other way around.
  • Speaking of Brajkovic and Horner (who is just shy of his 39th birthday), the form these guys have found since joining Astana/Radio Shack is, as The Rev puts it, like Altoids: curiously strong.
  • I’m one of those football fans that can watch a 0-0 draw and come away thinking it was one of the more exciting matches I’ve ever seen. There’s so much more to a match than the scoring. It’s like bike racing that way—attack, counter-attack, will it stick? The buildup is where the entertainment is. Seeing it capped with an exquisite goal can be icing on the cake, but all too often the goal itself is an afterthought as the ball rolls over the line. Or the keeper makes a magnificent save that’s more impressive than the shot that forced it. But even I am fed up with this no-attacking-football-playing-for-a-draw business that has dominated the group stage.
  • For American fans of football (not to be confused with fans of American football), when the score is equal at the end of a match, it’s called a draw, not a tie. In English English, the match (not game, which implies the game as a whole rather than a specific contest between two teams) itself can be referred to as a tie, so if you’re calling the outcome a tie, it gets confusing. And this number: “0,” is rightly called “nil.” As in, “nil-nil draw,” which has sadly been all too common, per the above. (Now if only the USA could adopt the metric system once and for all we wouldn’t seem so backward to the rest of the world.)
  • If you build a tall structure, you may want to consider a lightning rod. Last year, the Angel Moroni atop a Mormon temple was damaged in a lightning strike, which is not the first time this has happened. Yesterday, Ohio’s famous “Touchdown Jesus” was struck by lightning and burned down. Apparently Zeus is fond of casting thunderbolts at his rivals, or at least at their graven images.
  • Leaving Radio Shack out of the Vuelta is the cheekiest, most satisfying move all year. You turn down the Giro? We’ll turn you down before you get a chance. We don’t care that you [claim you] were going to send an “A” team—unless you really are only going to race Le Tour and nothing else, quit acting like it’s the only race that exists.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Yet another reason the Giro is better than Le Tour:

And the Giro has its traditions, among them the riders’ habit of going into any and all restaurant along the route and taking away anything they want in the way of soft drinks. The owners of these places usually feel quite flattered.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jean shorts

Last night was Cam’s final DMV race before a five-month work assignment in India. We wanted nothing more than to try and set him up for the win before he goes. Step one was softening up the field with an ill-fated attack, so after the first neutral lap when I found myself at the front next to Tanner, I said “let’s go,” And we attacked, along with Eric from Skull Candy, and got a bit of a gap that we managed to hold for a few laps.

We of course were reeled in, but it seemed to set the tone for the rest of the evening, and the pace was high for the duration. A few laps later, I was caught behind a gap going down the hill. I could have burned some matches and tried to chase back on, but this is supposed to be a recovery week. I got to the top of the hill and pulled the plug, riding circles in the lot until the lactic acid went away.

Tanner joined me shortly thereafter, while Eric managed to stick it out for the duration. I apologized after and told Eric the attack was never intended to succeed.

Steve got in the next break, which looked like it could have stuck and probably would have had Steve actually worked when he was on the front.

But things came back together, after a fashion, with about three to go. After a fashion, because at least half the field was either detached from the group or had withdrawn. Steve took the front on the bell lap to try and lead Cam out. Cam made his move early and was in good position coming up the hill but had gone just a bit too early to hold off Casey and Seth, who passed him at the end. Would have been nice for Cam to get the win—he certainly deserves it, if such a thing can be said in a bike race.

Cam is the unofficial captain of our Cat. 3 team. He’s our Hincapie, the guy who puts in the critical efforts to make the tactics work. If there’s a break to chase, he’s on the front chasing it. If the not-very-sexy job of driving the train before the leadout needs to be done, Cam does it, without regard for his own placing. He’s the consummate teammate, a good enough racer that I should be sacrificing my race for him, not the other way around.

After the race last night, we went out for pizza. We told Cam we wanted to buy him dinner before he left. He could have lit us up for Ruth’s Chris, and I would have been fine with that. Instead, I spent $10 on pizza and root beer. Over dinner, Cam suggested that we’d have a pretty solid Cat. 1/2 team in a year or two as our Cat. 3 guys move up. I have a hard enough time keeping up in the 3s, so moving up has never been a consideration. But it might be worth trying to keep racing with Cam.

Cam has found a cycling club in India, “Bangalore Bikers.” It will be a little different than what he’s used to, as one of the group emails indicated that it was fine to show up for a ride in jean shorts and guys are riding time trials on mountain bikes. I’m sure Cam will be the consummate teammate with that group as well. With over a billion people, the odds are pretty good that a great cycling champion is going to come out of India someday. But that will only happen if he gets on a bike, any bike, and falls in love with racing. Even if he’s racing his mountain bike in a time trial wearing jean shorts.

Good luck, Cam. Look forward to having you back in the fall.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


English footballers have an annoying habit of writing autobiographies*. It wouldn’t be so bad if they wrote them after retirement when they could provide a retrospective on a full career. But they’re fond of writing them when they’re just a few birthdays clear of growing hair in their armpits. Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole, and Stephen Gerrard have all written autobiographies, none having even turned 26 yet when the books were written.

*And, since the World Cup starts this week, we can expect a whole bunch more of them to be released this summer (publishers are hoping England win it, but not out of national pride so much as the momentum that would give book sales). If you’re anything like me, you’re just going to sit on Amazon clicking refresh to get yours the first second that it’s available.

Perhaps they’re jumping the gun and the books would be much better if there were a little more life experience to include. Or perhaps it’s a preemptive move intended to get the book on shelves ahead of the less savory details all too common when one retires in his mid 30’s, such as tax scandals, marital infidelity, and multi-day post-retirement binges culminating with waking up in a cheap hotel room, a hooker you don’t remember on the bed, whilst laying in a pool of your own vomit on the floor. Or perhaps the books would in fact be better with those details. I don’t know. I’ve never read one.

Of course, it’s not as if British athletes are alone in this. Tiger Woods has written about himself, though in his case it was more about golf than him (and now we wonder why). And Lance Armstrong has done so twice. Too bad neither one included the details of their personal lives that we’re really interested in. In Tiger’s case, the press took care of that for him. In Lance’s case, Floyd Landis is doing his damnedest to get it out in the open.

And now Mark Cavendish has come out with an autobiography. Seeing as how he’s a British athlete, it’s fitting that he’s writing about himself with the immense perspective he has gained in all of a quarter century of life.

Here’s the thing, though, I may actually read this one. Why? Because for one, if I can learn anything about the way he rides from reading the book, it will have been worth it. But more importantly, even though he’s a galaxy away from me in ability, I can relate to Cavendish. He’s “too fat” to be a cyclist. The filter between his brain and his mouth is often inoperative. His parents have excellent taste in names. I have experienced all of these first hand.

I read an excerpt from the book in Velo News, and it’s actually pretty interesting. Someone obviously wrote it for him, but that someone is a decent writer. So I may check it out (literally, from the library, because I’m not sure I’d actually pay for it). Besides, who am I to criticize someone for writing an autobiography without the benefit of something worth writing about? After all, this blog is nothing more than an autobiography in serial form, and I’m nothing more than a mid-pack amateur racer. So joke’s on me since Cavendish, Cole, Gerrard, and Rooney undoubtedly made money on their books, while all I’ve got to show are some Smartwool socks. At least the socks are way awesome.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Last week I got comments from three new commenters in one day. And while Amy’s comment was flattering, the other two, I have to think, were self-serving.

One of the self-serving comments was left by none other than “Somebody.” This is what he (she?) had to say:


Got that? Yeah, me neither. I’m guessing it’s an ad for a Korean porn site, or maybe a malware farm. But fearing the latter, I haven’t dared click over. Perhaps Kirk can help me out with this one.

The second comment that I suspect of self-servingness came from Grant-Grey Gouda, who fancies himself a poet. His comment struck me as self-serving, because he sought to flatter me without being specific about what he liked from my blog. Makes me wonder who else has seen him leave the same comment and how many times he’s been back.

As a “poet,” his style reminds me of Emily Dickinson in tone, William Carlos Williams in style, and Fezzik the Giant in execution. He could also use some help with apostrophes. Though he makes no claims to being a visual artist, really is there anything more tired as a would-be poet than ripping off a photo of Rodin’s the Thinker for your masthead? And the made-up name “The Humanicana” sounds more like a Banana Republic knock-off store than writing of any literary consequence.

Lest anyone think I’m not constructive, however, I won’t just leave Grant-Grey out in the rain without some coaching. Because after all, if you’re going to make your living as a poet or even share your poetry with other people without soliciting unintended laughter, you better be damn good. But since I’m not a poet myself, the best I can do is provide an example of something that is good.

From Buck Ramsey, I present an excerpt of Anthem:

The grass was growing scarce for grazing,
Would soon turn sod or soon turn bare.
The money men set to replacing
The good and true in spirit there.
We could not say, there was no knowing,
How ill the future winds were blowing.
Some cowboys even shunned the ways
Of cowboys in the trail herd days
(But where's the gift not turned for plunder?),
Forgot that we are what we do
And not the stuff we lay claim to.
I dream the spell that we were under;
I throw in with a cowboy band
And go out horseback through the land.

So mornings now I'll go out riding
Through pastures of my solemn plain,
And leather creaking in the quieting
Will sound with trot and trot again.
I'll live in time with horse hoof falling;
I'll listen well and hear the calling
The earth, my mother, bids to me,
Though I will still ride wild and free.
And as I ride out on the morning
Before the bird, before the dawn,
I'll be this poem, I'll be this song.
My heart will beat the world a warning—
Those horsemen will ride all with me,
And we'll be good, and we'll be free.

Good luck, Grant-Grey. Maybe you should hire “Somebody” as your publisher—he’s really good at mass distribution.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Decisions, decisions

Certain decisions leave one wanting to hit the rewind button and make again at the crucial moment. 20/20 hindsight, Monday morning quarterbacking, whatever you want to call it. Saturday’s E-Center criterium was one of those races where, as a team, we’d like a do over.

RB described the E-Center course as “a little bit ghetto style with a bunch of cones all over a parking lot.” And while it was no Sugarhouse Park, it was still fun and plenty challenging (and well-organized--Marek does a great job). The turns were tight enough that I had trouble keeping my front wheel on the ground the couple times I tried taking a corner with my hands on the hoods. We dropped five, but fully half the field got shaken loose in the Cat. 4 race, if that tells you anything.

The strategy going in was pretty simple. We had enough guys to cover any breaks, so all we needed to do was make sure we had a guy up when the moves were made. Depending on who was in the break would determine how hard we worked to keep it away.

On lap two, RMCC, Ski Utah, and Canyon each sent a guy on the attack. Cam was on the front and thought “no way is a winning move going this early” and didn’t go with it. First decision we’d like to have over—we were the only team with any numbers that didn’t have anyone up, so it would be up to us to chase. Cam, Steve, and Will (who gets hard man honors for having already done the Suncrest hill climb race earlier in the day) gave the chase some effort, but by about 20 minutes in, the break was still away and it was clear it would not be caught.

Jess, Cameron, and unknown Canyon rider in the break. Photo credit: MFT

It’s hard to muster the motivation to race for fourth, so most of the race was reluctantly covering attacks and launching a few of our own, none of which went anywhere, except for Steve’s solo move to take the prime. With about 10 minutes left, the Canyon guy got dropped by the break, while Jess (RMCC) and Cameron (Ski Utah) lapped the field. The rest of us were racing for third.

Turn 2 was only slightly less tricky than turn 1. Photo credit: MFT

With two laps to go we started jostling for position in the bunch sprint. I had spent most of the race at the back half of the pack and now needed to do the work to get forward. My plan was to be in the lead 5-6 coming around the final corner and then cut inside for the sprint. The final turn was a left-hander, and the wind was coming left to right, so I figured by coming inside I’d have a cleaner line since more people would want to go wide and right to maintain speed and stay out of the wind.

Photo credit: MFT

As we exited turn 3 on the final lap, we were bounded on the right by a curb. The riders on the inside took a wide line to keep people from coming around the outside on the right. Unfortunately, Steve and I were coming outside on the right and were left with nowhere to go. Steve actually bumped the curb with his wheels but managed to stay upright. I bumped elbows, as did others, and a bit of yelling ensued. The upshot was that while I was glad not to crash, I wasn’t in the position I wanted to be.

On the final turn I was probably 10 or 12 back. Unfortunately, the inside line wasn’t as clean as I expected (but still cleaner than outside—my real problem was being too far back) and about halfway up the final straight I was boxed in with a rider in front and one on either side. I had to slow and wait for a gap to open and shoot through it.

After coming through I was able to improve a few places, but I’d positioned myself too poorly and lost too much ground getting boxed in to be anywhere near the front. Which is too bad, because I had good legs and the the sprint was pretty slow for having that much straightaway—I maxed out at about 55kph, whereas 60+ kph is more typical and certainly would have been attainable unimpeded. Good enough for eighth place, but worse than what I hoped for. Only good news is that Steve and Rob finished ahead of me in sixth and seventh, so trading spots with either of them wouldn’t have helped the team any. Though I am smarting over still not having finished ahead of Steve all year*.

*Except once at Miller, but he was on the front of the leadout train trying to set me up only for me to fall completely flat in the sprint, so that’s perhaps worse than losing to him when we’re both trying for results.

Nice to win rather than lose by half a wheel for once. Too bad it was only good for 8th. Photo credit: MFT

This is pretty much it for the flat, sprinters’ races until Sanpete Classic in August. We’ll see how things go in the mountains, starting with a nice, easy climb over Bald Mountain Pass a week from Saturday.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The week in photos

Friday filler post: photos and commentary from the last week.

Scott organized a team ride Saturday morning: North side of Suncrest to Alpine Loop and back over south side of Suncrest. A good warmup for the mountain bike race Monday.

What does fast look like? Here’s Pete at the top of the Alpine Loop Saturday. He won the Expert 30-39 race, the fastest category not called “Pro,” on Monday.

Doug and Nate.

Jonnie J.

The Junkie family spent Sunday afternoon hiking in Corner Canyon. Lots of flowers, none of which I can identify without Watcher’s help, were in bloom.

I don’t know what lives in this nest but the neighbors undoubtedly are publicly outraged at its size but privately envious.

It won’t stay this green for long.

This cactus grows high in the rocks above Ghost Falls. Seems really out of place for a riparian area and makes me wonder how it got there. I’ve not seen any other cacti like this in Corner Canyon.

The Junkie children.

Here’s the victor, resplendent in team kit at the top of the Alpine Loop yesterday. Rick’s rule: if you’re in full team kit, it better be a race. Duh.

Elden and Adam. Elden is leaning on his bike because he lacks the strength to stand. But then again, perhaps he has the strength after all.


Aaron, Nick, and Elden. See? I told you he was bluffing.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Excuses be damned

Two things are a given on any group ride. First, it will start with everyone offering their excuses as to why they won’t be at their best that day. Then the ride will actually begin, and it will be a flat out race to see who can best put the hurt on his friends, excuses be damned.

This morning’s Alpine Loop ride, being the first of the season, had much anticipation, and so the excuses began via email the day before the ride.

Adam: I'm fatty. If you use "fatty" as an adjective. (Extremely fit men talking about how fat they are is a favorite pastime amongst cyclists.)

Aaron: I asked Adam if he was racing the biathlon tonight with Brandon and me and he said he was pedaling easy today in preparation for tomorrow. So not only did Adam make it a race, but he is TAPERING for this one. (Aaron uses a shrewd tactic here, mentioning his excuse—racing the night before—as well as misdirecting the attention towards Adam as the man to beat.)

Eber: Anybody got a connection for EPO and HGH? I’m going to need some to see the front end of these weekly races.

Rick: I think it’s already been established that I am mid pack.
We need to be worried about the current night race champion- Brandon. (More misdirection.)

Trent: Instead of riding, anybody want to go to Ihop for all you can eat pancakes? I think it's time to gain some weight. (Punts on second down.)

Nick: I just did a lunch ride and my legs felt like pancakes. (Lunch rides are not racing but conveniently let the group know you didn’t taper. And that you don’t feel 100%.)

Me: I am doing the crit at DMV tonight, and I'm not going easy/tapering, so if I have no legs in the morning, that's why. Which means, if I happen to beat Adam--especially after the hurt he put on me Monday--it will be that much more satisfying. (I employed Aaron’s excuse/misdirection tactic, which, after his blog post, put all the pressure on Adam. Would he deliver?)

Elden: [Nothing spoken, but conveniently let word get out that he had ridden the gauntlet the day before.]

The ride to the ride began with Jonnie J and I meeting at the four-way stop for the ride down the hill. We had a tailwind as we descended and clocked an unprecedented 92kph on the descent. That’s nearly 30kph over the speed limit on that road, so we were taking the left traffic lane in anticipation of our left turn. Yet somehow some woman in a SUV felt like we were still impeding her and decided to pull in behind us and honk. I’ll try to go faster next time so as not to be in her way. Sheesh.

At 7:00 a.m. we all met at the mouth of American Fork Canyon to see whose excuses were legit and who came to ride. Truth be told, we all came to ride, but wanted the excuse in the back pocket in case someone else was up to riding just a bit harder.

Sometimes we do this ride for placing, sometimes for time, sometimes for both. The good turnout combined with the advent of the Alpine Loop TT meant today was a day for both. And since the clock starts at the fee booth, that’s where I started.

I think it caught everyone off guard, as I quickly had a small gap on the group. I briefly wondered if they’d actually let me open a real gap but knew this group too well. Within minutes we were all back together, each trading pulls, doing our duty on the front. I braced myself to suffer for the next hour.

After the turnoff to Tibble, where the road starts to get steep and you say goodbye to your big ring, Rick launched the first real attack of the day. Adam covered, then Elden, Nick, and I fought our way back on. It wasn’t long until Rick went again, and this time the gap stuck. Adam then gapped me, while Elden, Nick, and I stayed together in the chase.

Below Pine Hollow, I got a little gap on Elden and Nick and came tantalizingly close to catching Adam. I knew Rick was gone for good. Shortly after Pine Hollow, Elden caught me again and mentioned we must have been separated at birth. Seriously, the question of who’s faster typically comes down to who weighs less. Our power output has to be within a few watts of each other. At the moment, we both weigh the same, so it’s no surprise we saw a lot of each other.

Elden and I continued to chase Adam, inching closer and closer, waiting for him to crack, even plotting to flip off his rear-mounted video camera as we went by. His head was bobbing, his shoulders starting to rock. Unfortunately for us, Adam also has a tremendous capacity for suffering and had to have been consciously overriding his sub-conscious desire to pull the plug. I know that’s how I kept going.

At mile marker 17, there’s just over 2k to go to the summit. I knew if I was going to catch Adam, I needed to make it happen then. I accelerated just a bit, just enough to gap Elden, and started inching closer.

Adam knew I was there. The gap seemed to shrink, but the increments were too tiny. At mile marker 18, the flamme rouge on this climb, I put it into the big ring and began a measured pursuit—all out pursuit would mean an all out implosion, but pacing I thought I just might bridge. Adam began a measured escape at the same time, and I knew it was not to be.

What was to be was a personal best time on that climb—not bad for this early in the season. Rick rolled in about 30 seconds ahead of Adam, who was at 55 minutes flat. I was 13 seconds back, and Elden just over 30 seconds behind me. The previous best time for a group ride was around 57 minutes, and that happened late season when we were presumably on better form. We’ll see if we can best Elden’s 53:11 from last year before the summer ends.

Of course the real race is to the fee booth at the bottom of the hill. Nick and I worked together on the descent and had the lead at Tibble, but we could see Jon and Rick close behind. Sprinting it out between two isn’t as fun as four, so we let them catch on and finished the descent together.

Jon took a huge pull below the cave, and I was feathering my breaks to avoid getting sucked into his rear wheel. Then Rick made an early move, and I got on his wheel. A bit earlier than I wanted, but I hoped to hold it. I felt Jon coming on my left and Nick on my right. We were all three on level terms at the guard booth—none of us has any idea who was first across, and without a photo finish we’ll never know. No time bonuses today, but 18 minutes to undo 55 minutes of climbing was a just reward.