Saturday, October 3, 2009

All Crossed Up!


I've been wicked busy getting my new Cyclocross site, and accompanying blog up and running. Come check out the CycloCross Build blog!

Rather than reposting the slew of articles I have over there, here are some highlights from September. Come visit the 'cross site, check out the Forum and Profile pages, and if you want the best cyclocross training plan in the business, we've got you covered.

Stormin' Outta September - Article Highlights:

Another Reason Campy Kicks Ass for Cyclocross
In my mind, Campagnolo has one decided advantage in their integrated shift levers: it’s all in the brake release button mounted in the shifter. On road bikes, Campy has this functionality on the actual lever while SRAM and Shimano have a release on the actual brake calipers. However, cyclocross cantilever brakes don’t have a loosening function... [read more]

Back In the Ring for 2009: Battle at Barlow
Ding-Ding… It’s Round 1 of (my personal) 2009 Race Action.
I really tried to make excuses and had such a hard time pulling the trigger to just get out there and race already. It’s been over a month since road season, I’m still feeling a little mentally fried from life/work/etc., I haven’t been riding much and have been stressed out... [read more]

Going Tubeless for Cyclocross!
Tubeless tires, long a fixture in the mountain bike scene both with the UST tubeless systems and the Stan’s conversion kits that makes any clincher tire and rim into a lightweight tubeless setup, has more recently been all the buzz among roadies and cyclocrossers. The main advantage for cyclocross, like mountain biking, is that a tubeless setup will allow you to run lower pressure without... [read more]

Cross Vegas: When the Chips Are Down…
There’s something surreal about cyclocross in Vegas. It could be the pin-up models and the Elvis impersonators working the crowd… or the atypical for ‘cross hot n’ dry weather.
But, thanks to a large purse and its connection with the big Interbike industry show/extravaganza/party, the field is just getting better. Katerina Nash, a Czech national who [read more]

Photo Courtesy Oregon Cycling Action

Friday, September 4, 2009

CocoRosie

Goddammit. I've been wanting to see CocoRosie play live for, like, evah. Turns out they're in Boston the week before I get there and in Portland right after I leave. sigh...


For now, I'll have to make do with this new-to-me album which, somehow, I've never heard. Found it streaming for free though! 30second embeds below, click through for the whole shebang.

The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn

Friday, August 21, 2009

Portlandia

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Recovery Techniques Straight from US National Championships


I'm fresh off an intense block of competition which featured 8 races in a little over two weeks, culminating with the US Elite Road and Time Trial Championships. Two days into the racing-excursion and I'd already logged about 16 hours of travel time in the team van, had done a National Road Calendar criterium in Boise, got heat exhaustion and spent most of the night throwing up, and was en route to another race near Portland, Oregon. Two days later was the start of the Cascade Classic with a bunch of international superstars ready to throw down. It wasn't off to the most opportune start and my recovery became even more important than it typically would be.


Fast forward to Nationals in Bend, Oregon. Wednesday featured a 100+ mile circuit race in intensely hot conditions (the route was actually shortened from 120 miles due to the extreme weather) followed by a tough, hilly 35km Time Trial the next day.


Just completing the blisteringly fast road race was an accomplishment as I was one of only 50-or-so finishers out of the 135-man field (I was 34th). We raced the 100 miles in under 4 hours, with the main damage being done on the circuit's two steep hill sections. After scrapping to survive for several laps and yo-yoing a couple of times, I fell off the pace for good with an 8-man group on the 5th of 6 laps.


In the time trial, I did the best I could on another hot day and hoped my legs would come around to blaze through the course. My performance was a little off, but my recovery techniques and attention to pacing maximized my chances. I finished 30th out of 72 competitors.


So what were my secrets to prepare for these big races on my calendar and recover in between? It shouldn't surprise you that they all come straight from Cyclo-CLUB!


Keys to the Recovery Game:

  • Prepare. Prehydration is especially important in the heat, start drinking extra water at least 24 hours before and make sure you're taking on electrolytes as well. More about hydration here. I also had an ice-filled sock draped across my neck, cold water bottles at the ready, and ice cubes in my jersey to keep my core temps as low as possible while I warmed up.

  • My morning-of warm up: I wake up with my Morning Rituals (Parts I & II) followed by Cyclo-BREATH. I add in Warm in 5' just before I start the on-the-bike warm up (if necessary) and I'm ready to roll! Great for keeping myself calm and focused.

  • If you have 2 back-to-back events, your nutrition during the first event becomes even more important. Carry an extra bottle in your jersey, even if there's a feed zone. Stay on top of your calorie and hydration needs early on and don't let yourself get behind - it will impact both the current and the proceeding day's ride.

  • Recover right away. Finish event one, cool down briefly, start drinking and eating as soon as you can. Recovery drinks are a good, efficient, easy to consume option. Don't hang out and chit-chat for too long. Get out of the heat, cleaned up, and into air conditioning if possible.

  • Light Stretching. COOL In 5', LOOSE In 5', and RELEASE In 5' are all excellent programs to accelerate your recovery

  • Cool. Warm. Compress. A cold water or even an ice bath is awesome for minimizing muscle soreness and beginning the repair process. Follow with warm water to get your circulation going and flush lactic acid and toxins, followed by compression tights to continue the flushing and recovery process.

  • Do everything you can to minimize stress, promote recovery, and take care of yourself!

What are some of your recovery secrets? We'd love to hear them...

Monday, July 27, 2009

When the Bad Days Come...


Four days into the Cascade Classic we were faced with the 84-mile Cascade Lakes Road Race. It finishes with a long slog of a climb up to Mt Bachelor -- but it was the beginning of the race that had me worried. We'd climb the first 15 miles, right from the starting gun.



Tough starts like this have never been my forte and after three hard days of racing, I wasn't sure what I'd be able to muster. I also still had my nasty bout with heat exhaustion in the back of my head. Was I back to 100%?


The time trial the day before was decent, but definitely not my best. Racing fatigue was catching up with me. I managed a mid-pack finish in an impressive peloton and gave everything I had in the tank, but the 37-minute effort destroyed me for the rest of the day. My best bet was to accelerate recovery as well as I could. I spent the rest of the day incorporating naps, ice baths, light stretching, staying cool, hydrating, and light myofascial release.

As you can see, the doubts were echoing around in my head. I tried to remain positive and motivated. If this were a one-day race, I would have done more of a warm-up to prepare. But in a long stage race, I didn't want to be putting out any more energy than absolutely necessary. I did a very easy spin and incorporated some breathing exercises to prepare my system.

10.5 miles into the race, I came unhitched. On a typical day, I should have been able to keep plugging for longer, but I just didn't have it. The group was shattering all around me. Some guys would eventually find their legs and fight their ways back onto the pack, others simply turned around and went back to their cars.

I tried to collect myself and pick up the pace. I rode with a couple of guys here and there, but eventually settled into a sustainable pace. The pack pulled away, but a small group was just ahead, within striking distance. I hoped to join them as we crested the hill and started to descend.

I chased, alone, for 35 miles. The group of 4 riders constantly hovered 30 seconds in front of me. Sometimes it close slightly, but never enough. Finally I had to back off the pace and focus on food and fluids. My race was over, I was cooked. That foursome would be the last riders to finish the race, and they made it within the time cut by a scant two minutes!

Needless to say, I was disappointed. So much time and energy goes into these events, it's a horrible feeling not to make the grade. However, this experience happens to every cyclist who attempts to push him/herself past personal limits. I feel fortunate that it was superstars the likes of Oscar Sevilla and Francisco Mancebo who pushed me beyond my edge -- but we all have our own personal Sevillas out there, dropping us on the climbs.

Better riders than me had already been cut from the race. Multi-time US Champion Freddie Rodriquez and cyclocross/mountain bike stud Ryan Trebon both missed the time cut in the time trial. Many of the top US talent finished behind me on Stage 2's finishing climb. There were bright spots mixed in, and I can only hope to improve at these star-laden big time races.

Here's a quick list I'm compiling on the fly of...


How We Everyday Cyclists Can Deal With Disappointment:


  1. Push your own edge . As Greg Lemond famously said, "It doesn't get easier, you just go faster." Whether you're a Cat 1 stage racer or a weekend warrior, there are folks who can drop you. Every time you move up a level or try something new, there will be a learning curve and an initial shock.

  2. Find the positives . Break big goals into little pieces. Try to hang just a little bit longer, improve specific techniques, learn from your mistakes, and make small gains. Over time, these small gains will add up to big improvements!

  3. It's all in your mind . If you can stick with it, you will improve. Most would-be athletes get discouraged and give up. It's not necessarily the most physically gifted athletes who persevere and rise through the ranks -- it's the ones who can handle the suffering and setbacks and still come back for more.

  4. Put it On the Line! Don't be afraid to dig deep during an event. There are times when it's worth digging really deep, even risking blowing up, to stay with a group. A small amount of really intense suffering can prevent hours of chasing solo later on (take it from me!). With more experience, you'll learn when it's worth taking this risk and when you can play it more conservatively.

  5. Train with Intensity . It's not just the racers that need the top-end. Every tough ride will have a "selection point." Those who can grit their teeth and hang will leave the others flapping around in the wind behind. It happens in "friendly group rides," charity centuries, and races alike. To be able to "put it on the line" (above), you have to train beyond your comfort/endurance levels! Cyclo-CLUB's Get Faster, Go Longer/Climb Stronger, and Climbing BOOTCAMP modules are all great tools.

Photo courtesy Pat Malach, Oregon Cycling Action.

Friday, July 24, 2009

BH Global Concept Review: Time Trial By Fire!


(Added Note: The new ride also got a photo and a mention in Oregon Cycling Action!)

I got the "Pro treatment" this week. My team manager built up a brand new BH Global Concept time trial bike and brought it out to the Cascade Cycling Classic for me to race this week. This is the just-released 2010 model, revised to meet the now more strictly enforced UCI standards.

The AG2R French Pro Tour team debuted the bike in the Tour de France a couple of weeks ago; now my Ten Speed Drive Cat 1 amateur team has the privilege of unveiling the rig to North America.

A National Road Calendar event may not be the ideal time to debut a new setup. But one of the most important things a cycling team can do is to help them debut new products, get them good exposure, and hope that they're interested in helping us to continue to grow our race program.

We dilligently measured my current setup, built it up with hand-me-down Campagnolo components and Profile Design time trial bars and stem, and a soft-nosed time trial saddle. The bits and pieces were different, but we were able to get a position that felt really good.

The Bike

She's a beauty. Good looks may not directly translate to speed - but this baby definitely looks fast and inspires time trial confidence.

The frame is also a great balance between light weight, beefy tubes for power transfer, and aerodynamics. The front wheel tucks right into the downtube, the rear wheel into the cleverly-curved seat tube.

Did I mention that this bike is LIGHT!? Fully built up, my 54cm bike weighs in at about 17.5 pounds. Considering how aerodynamic and overbuilt the tubes are, this is really impressive for a time trial bike.

Sweating the Details

The seat mast is semi-integrated, which means the bike can still be disassembled and shipped, there's room for 90mm of seat height adjustment, and you get the aerodynamic advantages of having a beefier, sculpted seat mast and seatpost.

Internal cable routing may sound like a nit-picky nicety. In fact, keeping the cables inside the frame and out of the wind can be a surprisingly huge time savings in races against the clock. The GC Aero does an excellent job running the derailleur and brake cables inside the tubes for almost their entire length.

Overall Performance

The bike felt amazing in today's hilly 25km event. The ride quality is incredibly smooth and all of my efforts translated directly into forward momentum. The bike ripped through the corners on the 45mph long return descent - it didn't at all feel like I was on a new unfamiliar ride.

There are only a handful of "next generation" time trial bikes that I'd recommend to prospective buyers: Felt, Cervelo, and Trek. BH has now announced its presence in that elite circle.

It's a little early to tell how the BH compares to its predecessor, my 2007 Felt B2, also an excellent ride. The BH is significantly lighter and definitely seems to be in the same ballpark for flat out speed.

Today's debut event was a trial run of the Elite National Championships coming up next week. I still have some more fine-tuning to do with my hand position PowerTap routing, etc, but I'm looking forward to piloting my new sexy steed to the best result I can muster.

BH Bikes is the most established bike company you may have never heard of. Beistegui Hermanos or "Beistegui Brothers" is a Spanish company that's been around since 1909, but their bikes have only come to the United States in the past 3 years. See the BH Bikes website for more info.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

World-Class July Stage Race... In Oregon!?


It's late July - which means there's a big stage race well underway. An assortment of World and National champions, Grand Tour winners, and a fresh crop of up-and-coming talent leaving everything they have out on the roads. Today features a crucial, hilly time trial, followed by a mountainous road race, and finishing up with a circuit race on Sunday.

Sound familiar? Well, it aint the Tour de France! It's the 6-stage Cascade Cycling Classic in Bend, Oregon, and I'm slugging it out with some of the best cyclists outside of France right now. Francisco Mancebo, Oscar Sevilla, Victor Hugo Pena, Freddie Rodriguez, Floyd Landis, and Ivan Dominguez may be the most recognizable names pushing the pace, but the next generation of superstars are impressively strutting their stuff as well. Young guys like Peter Stetina, Danny Summerhill, and Taylor Phinney as well as the entire Garmin U25 and Livestrong development teams are holding their own against the old guard. Throw in the top domestic pro talent as well as a slew of amateurs and you have the best - and biggest - ever field for this event.

A Hot, Fast "Union Race"

The heat wave that hit us at the Boise Twilight crit has followed us here. Temps are well into the 90s this week, unusual for this mountain town.

The first stage was a 70-mile, mostly flat road race. The 190-man peloton zig-zagged through farm roads surrounding Bend, with sections of the course featuring a lot of slowing and reaccelerating through bendy roads and corners after corners. I kept waiting for a crosswind section to shred the field around the next corner, but it never happened.

The night before the first stage, many of the team directors seemed to be conspiring at the manager's meeting. Something was up, and the amateur teams were clearly being excluded. During the meeting, two pro teams made the unusual (and preposterous) suggestion that the amateurs be excluded from Saturday's criterium. I guess they were concerned about having so many riders on the technical course.

The pro teams opted for another solution - attack in the feed zones. "Union Race" is a bike-race-insider's term for when the Pros get together and determine how to get rid of the amateurs and make sure they reap the rewards. The well-supported pro teams can drop back to their team cars during the race to grab food and drinks, but the amateur riders typically need to wait for designated feed zones. So, just as we hit the first feed zone, 20 pro riders gunned it off the front of the pack and established a break-away. With all of the big teams represented, their was no one left to organize a chase. The break put 5 minutes into the pack and built a solid lead in the contest for the overall.

For me personally, it was actually a pretty good day. Coming off of heat exhaustion, I was happy to sit in, follow wheels, drink as much as I could, conserve, and hope that I continue to feel better every day. We were ripping along at over 30mph for most of the race and I was happy to be mostly in tow, rather than beating my brains out working in a breakaway.

My goals have shifted. Play conservative the first two stages, put in my best possible time trial, and see where things stand.

Stage 2: Going Up!

Wednesday was an 80-mile road race with rollers early and an 8-mile climb to a snow park at the end.

AGAIN there was an attack in the feed zone. There's not much we can do about it, even if we know it's coming. The heat's intense and we need to replenish our fluids. This created a big split in the peloton, with me and my teammate caught in the back half of the race. Although we did rejoin the lead pack, we had to burn up extra energy to do it. Every little effort in a stage race adds up - unfortunately, this one will have repercussions later on.

The next mishap occurred just before the climb. A crash took down a bunch of riders. I had decent position, in the first 1/3 of the peloton, so, while I had to unclip and slow down, I didn't go down or lose too much time. Another match burned to get back onto the lead group.

As we hit the real climb, I settled into my own pace and let the mountain goats leave me in the dust. There was no point in attempting an effort I couldn't sustain, and I'd still like to have some oomf for the time trial. I lost about five and a half minutes to Sevilla and Mancebo and came in feeling like I'd given a good effort but not jeopardized the rest of the week.

Stay Tuned! Thursday is the Time Trial - my first race on my BH Global Concept Time Trial Bike. It's the brand new 2010 model and, as far as we know, this marks the North American debut for the machine! Will have some sexy bike pics, a race report, and a brief bike review posted in the next couple of days. I'm pretty excited, hope I can do the bike justice...


Photos courtesy of Pat Malach.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dehydration, Heat Exhaustion... and Starting a Stage Race!?


The final racing block of my season is off to a rocky start. After building my fitness for the past several weeks, including a trip to California for the Death Ride, my team headed to Idaho for the Boise Twilight Criterium. An 8-hour drive to 3,000' elevation to downtown Boise where, despite the 8:30pm start time, the temperatures hovered over 100 degrees.

Just as CLUB member Ellen recently advised, life happens to the best-laid plans.

As the race kicked off, adrenaline kicked in. 20,000 rambunctious fans lining the 1km course encouraged the early speed. 80 minutes would translate into almost 80 laps, with lots of cash sprint prizes thrown in to spice things up. After a handful of laps, I dug deep to join a breakaway that stayed away for a few laps.

Just before the pack caught us from behind, I accelerated through a corner and went it alone. I stayed off solo for a lap and a half. I metered my effort and drilled the final 500 meters to pick up a $50 prime. The prize plus the great exposure for the team of having the announcers talk about our team were enough to make my night a success. But, there was still a lot of racing left.

There was a cost to the effort. It took me forever to recover and my body temperature remained elevated. Despite my best efforts to conserve, every small acceleration was brutal. With 15 minutes to go, I backed off the pace and pulled off of the course.

On came the nausea - not unusual after such a tough outing. The problem was, rather than subsiding, it only got worse over the next several hours. I vomited several times back at the hotel, couldn't get to sleep for many hours, and had another 8 hour drive looming at 7am the next morning.

I had teammates and friends looking after me, thank god. I was a mess! I have some great pointers to share with you, I just wish that they weren't based on recent personal experience...

  • Pre-hydrate with an electrolyte solution. For a short, intense event like a criterium, you can drink a sports drink. For longer events, water with electrolytes (i.e. Hammer's Endurolytes) is better than consuming calories.
  • During the event - MAKE TIME TO DRINK! It's really tough to drink when you're fighting to hold on. But, if you don't hydrate, your performance will eventually suffer and you may jeopardize your health.
  • Gulp! Small frequent sips may be the best, but the most important thing is to consume adequate fluids and electrolytes. When you have limited opportunities to drink, take some gulps when you can!
  • Prepare. Read our articles on Heat Preparation. Simulate event temps in your training, maybe try Bikram's yoga, etc.
  • Pedialyte. If, despite your best efforts, you wind up with heat exhaustion or dehydration, consult a medical professional. Pedialyte (I've been chugging a store brand knock-off the past several days) is easy on your stomach and replenishes electrolytes quickly. It's easy to find when you're on the road as well. If you're at an event, go to the medical tent to get back on the road to recovery ASAP.
Stay tuned for upcoming reports of the 6-Day Cascade Cycling Classic. I'll be lining up with superstars like Francisco Mancebo, Victor Hugo Pena, Freddie Rodriguez, Floyd Landis, and a slew of other way-too-fast guys. Trying to get recovered and hydrated for that... and the forecast is for HEAT!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Mid-Season Cleanse


In order to improve, it's necessary to frequently mix up your body's regimen. This is true both in training - that's what H.I.T. (high intensity training) sessions are all about - as well as nutrition. Cyclo-CLUB's (the cycling membership I work for) Fatloss BOOTCAMP throws a curve ball to your metabolism and carefully targets your body fat as fuel, but if you were to follow this regimen on a regular basis, your body would adapt and it would become less effective. The Master Cleanse is another great tool to use once or twice per year to shake up your nutrition, detoxify, and promote healing.

Last week was my prescribed mid-season break from training. Typically I'll take a block of days completely off of the bike somewhere in the middle of the year to avoid both mental and physical burnout. This year that week off happened to coincide with an injury (more about that here), so some R&R and time to take care of my body were definitely in order. I also took advantage of this time to do a quick, 3-day Cleanse.

There are many different types of cleanses, but the "Master Cleanse" has that name for a reason. It's really effective at purging your body of toxins and, although sometimes difficult to stick with, makes you feel great.

Eliminating solid food from your diet for a short period gives your digestive system a break and lets your body address other needs, including recovering from a long stint of hard training. The secret elixir during the Master Cleanse is a mixture of squeezed lemons, cayenne pepper, maple syrup, and water. Organic ingredients are essential (particularly the lemons) since we're looking to remove toxins here. The maple syrup provides some calories as well as minerals, while the lemons and cayenne act to draw toxins out of the system and stoke your metabolism.

A happy side effect is that most people will lose significant amounts of weight during the cleanse. In my recent 3-day endeavor, I dipped by as much as 10 pounds before stabilizing with approximately a 5-pound loss, which has stayed off.

The Cleanse itself can last anywhere from 3 to 7 days - and I strongly recommend transitioning both in and out of the cleanse. Coming in, slowly simplify your diet, first removing all animal products, then all grains until you're just eating fruits and vegetables, and finally move to an all-juice regimen. After the cleanse, follow this process in reverse. This is a great opportunity to assess some of your "normal" dietary practices and perhaps even to make longterm changes for the better.

One recipe mixture from MasterCleanse.org (which I recommend checking out) calls for:


  • 14 Table Spoons Lemon Juice

  • 14 Table Spoons Maple Syrup

  • 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper - or to taste (as much as you can stand)

  • 2 Liters/quarts of water

Plenty of water to keep hydrated and keep the body flushing is crucial and (unsweetened) herbal teas can help you bring on more fluids and add flavor to your day.

Another key component of the cleanse is to have regular bowel movements to continue to move toxins out of the system once they're freed up. A salt water solution definitely does the trick, but isn't exactly palatable. Herbal laxative teas are a more gentle method.

The Master Cleanse is not an easy process but, in my experience, it's extremely effective in a short amount of time. You'll definitely want to perform this in a down period in your training - you won't have the energy for serious exercise. Take care of your body, do lots of light stretching, go for walks, and get rest!

How it Goes...
The first one to two days are tough. You'll likely experience cravings and, if you're a caffeine junkie like me, headaches. As the toxins begin to release, you'll feel irritable as well. Typically by day three, participants start to feel really good and energized. Three days is a manageable, effective length for me - but I've known people who have performed the cleanse for as many as 7 or even 14 days!

Modifications?
While following the Cleanse to the letter is probably best, it's all about making improvements. Cut yourself some slack and make modifications if you need to. I added in a small amount of daily fresh-squeezed fruit juice to my last cleanse and, although it may have prevented me from acheving the full benefit, I had one cup of green tea each day so that I could still function (my prior coffee consumption was pretty heavy!).

Prepare and ResearchBefore embarking on this journey, do your research! Here are some great sites for more info:
http://themastercleanse.org/
http://therawfoodsite.com/mastercleanse.htm
Original Master Cleanse book as a pdf (Burroughs, 1941) [warning: it's a little out there, but interesting!]

Have any experiences with the Master Cleanse or recommendations for other Cleanse diets? Share below!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pedro's Ethik Review: Small Things Matter

My bag, in black. It's also available with a Pedro's flower print for those feeling ostentatious!
My bag, in black. It's also available with a Pedro's flower print for those feeling ostentatious!

Pedro's USA is a company well-known for respecting the environment. They became famous for their tire levers and watter bottle cages made from recycled milk bottles and currently offer a vegetable-derived chain lube known as Chainj (pronounced "change"). Rather than a typical "cradle to grave approach," Pedro's designs products whose materials will continue to be useful after their lifespan. The durable, recyclable Ethik seatbag - composed of HDPE - is a prime example.

The Ethik bags are made in former textile factories in Quebec. Many of the employees were laid off when their jobs were shipped overseas to cut corporate costs. The influx of new jobs offers revitalization to these devastated communities.

Pedro's sweats the details with these bags. Manufacturing is positioned close to distribution centers to minimize greenhouse gases. The simple, minimalist packaging uses soy-based inks printed onto recycled cardboard.

OK, so we can feel good about benefiting people and the planet with this purchase. But without a competitive cost and high-performance, cyclists just aint gonna buy it. Well, they're $20, easy to install, stay tightly in place, and at only 32 grams are the lightest and - according to Pedro's - most aerodynamic seatbag on the market. They're also, to my knowledge, the only waterproof saddle bag out there.

I've been using mine for a few months and it's none the worse for wear. The only caveat: They look funky. To me, and my off-the-beaten-path aesthetic, this is a plus. But, if you need something to match the sleek Italian styling of your Colnago Ferrari, you might want to look elsewhere. Then again, those folks likely have a domestique to carry their tubes and inflation gizmos anyhow.

In my book, Ethik gets a big thumbs up! More from Pedro's website here.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Race Aftermath: Adventure, Wonderment, and... Near Disaster?




I was that guy. You know, the idiot that you read about who gets into a situation way over his head and you're left wondering, "How the hell could anyone be so friggin' stupid?" Yeah, well, what started out as a nice spring ride through Oregon's Cascade mountains was followed up by me, a little lycra-clad bike racer, hiking uphill through five-feet-deep soft snow, road bike in tow, before hitching a ride on the back of a snowmobile. This takes the list of absurd things that I've encountered while cycling -- or, generally, have done in my life, to new heights.

Mandatory Ski Lift shot
Mandatory Ski Lift shot
Just the day before I'd done a nice, controlled ride from Sunriver, Oregon up to Mount Bachelor. It was a lovely, steady climb to the base of the ski area with a gain of maybe 4,000 feet. Conditions certainly changed en route -- I was greeted by a lot more roadside snow than I'd anticipated and a biting snow squall to boot. The end result was 40-some-odd miles round trip, a good little workout, the mandatory shot of my bike perched in a big snow pile in front of a chairlift, and a nice, albeit tame, story of adventure.

I was visiting Sunriver for a couple of days with my girlfriend, Erin, who had work obligations with a local school district. When I got back to our cabin, I started looking over maps for day two's adventures. The weather reports were calling for warm temps and I was pretty excited for further explorations. I'd just finished the epic Tour of the Gila bike race in Silver City, New Mexico -- going up against the likes of Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, and Floyd Landis -- and should have been in R&R mode with my training. But I couldn't resist.

Started off as a beautiful day!
Started off as a beautiful day!
Turns out that the road I'd taken up to Bachelor was a section of what looked like a fantastic 65-or-so mile (eyeballed guesstimation) loop, predominantly on the Cascade Lakes Highway. I elected to wind around clockwise so that I'd approach Bachelor from the opposite direction as the previous ride -- a fateful decision.

I was off to a late start, after 2pm, but it was a glorious day, perfect for a bike cruise. The rolling country road had minimal traffic, in part due to the intermittent construction zones where mile-long sections of asphalt had been removed giving way to dirt roads before being repaved. Other than the mandatory breaks -- only one direction of traffic was allowed on these stretches at a time -- the hardpacked dirt segments were fun, added to the sense of adventure, and made me feel "rugged."

45 or 50 miles into my ride, there was yet another reason for the low volume of traffic -- cones across the road and a "road closed" sign. A 90+ mile roundtrip ride was more than I was looking for and I hoped that, a little further on, the road might be impassable to cars but that I'd sidestep this section and continue on my way.

Growing Snow Banks...
Growing Snow Banks...
The change in elevation was subtle, but the roadside snow piles grew progressively deeper, almost to shoulder-level. The road was well-plowed and the quietness and absence of vehicles on the mountain road was incredible -- the setting was straight out of a Giro d'Italia mountain stage.

All was fine n' dandy for several more miles until I came across two tractor/snowplows parked in the middle of the road. The way beyond was plowed, but the going now had a slushy covering over the top. The warm weather meant this was rideable, but that I needed to take advantage of the warm afternoon and get on through before it froze over. I underestimated that there were only a handful of miles to go to Bachelor.

Now, that's an Ominous Sign
Now, that's an Ominous Sign
OK, full disclosure. To make matters, and the whole image, worse, I was also cell phone communicating updates to Erin, who by now was waiting for me in the Bachelor parking lot, and using my iPhone semi-GPS to make sure I was on course. Keep in mind, this thing is better suited to finding lattes downtown than any sort of mountaineering.

Amazingly enough, I had cell reception the whole way and realized that, at about 6:10pm, I still had over 2 miles to go. The good news: I'd make it before dark and wouldn't make the news for either freezing to death in spandex or a ridiculous search and rescue mission. The bad news? It was gonna suck.

Turns out that my rescue chariot was not far away. Erin sweet-talked one of the snowmobilers, all of whom were getting ready to pack up and head for home, into tracking me down. The conversation went something like:

Snowmobile dude and lady friend (incredulous)
: There's a guy riding a mountain bike in this!?

Erin (worriedly): In this, yes. But... he's not on a mountain bike...

Minutes later a decked out, winter-leather-clad dude revved my way -- taking a stylish little jump at the side of the trail before pulling up in front of me.

The next scene will stay with me for a while... As he came to a stop and tilted his face shield and helmet back onto the crown of his head, exposing long red hair straight out of a wintry version of Braveheart, he greeted me affably enough after giving my get-up, and predicament, a quick once over. "I like your style," he said.

We skimmed quickly over the rest of the trail home, me gripping my rescuer for dear life, past the understandably confused stares of a group of crosscountry skiers. I held the bike over my right shoulder, holding the handlebars cyclocross style. It's a great position for running with the bike, but the jarring snow machine ride caused the bike's top tube to dig a nice bruise into my deltoid and almost sent me sprawling headfirst into the snow. For this, at least, I was prepared, with bike helmet firmly in place.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Me vs Gila Monster




I wanted to quit so badly. The first few miles were hard - they felt as horrible as the crit the day before... And this was to be the grueling, mountainous 106-mile "queen stage." Things were not starting well.

As we rolled out in the early morning and the pace quickened, all I wanted to do was to turn around and slink back to bed. My goal for the day was a simple one: Make it to the day's first major climb at mile 53, settle into the best pace that I could maintain, get into a decent group, and finish the damned race.

Even those modest objectives were starting to sound ambitious. I'd conveniently forgotten the uncategorized hills - and inevitable attacks to set up an early break - along the way.

Once a group of ten-or-so riders finally did get off the front and establish a gap, the peloton settled in to a tempo that would keep them close enough that they wouldn't threat the overall results and, likely, would get gobbled up on the day's decisive climbs. I was able to hang with the group up and over the first Category 4 climb, down the descent, through the valley, and up and over the Continental Divide.



A stage race of this magnitude always involved attrition - riders who just fatigue over the course of the event and whose bodies go into revolt. During the Gila Monster stage, good riders were literally losing their wits. Crashes were everywhere and several racers were seriously hurt. It was starting to look like a war with bodies falling and staying alert becoming the most important task.

The Overall GC: Levi, Lance, and Gila Monster stage winner Phil Zajicek!
The Overall GC: Levi, Lance, and Gila Monster stage winner Phil Zajicek!

I held tough until mile 53, at which point I knew my time with the peloton was soon to end. The pack shattered going up the Category 2 climb, followed by the most hair-raising, high speed descent I've ever seen. There were small groups forming up and down the mountain, with Lance and Levi pushing the pace of the eventual winning move. Gila veteran Phil Zajicek would upstage them both, however, as he attacked hard into the finish and took the ultimate victory of what's been a successful domestic career.

As for me, I settled into a good pace and actually got stronger as the race wore on: The Monster itself - a Category 1 climb, followed by a Category 2 and Category 4 climb to the finish with lots of high-mountain road, twisty descents in between. 9,131' of climbing, all told. Although I was pushing my tempo, I was actually able to enjoy the scenery, reflect on the insane week of racing, and appreciate all that I'd gone through to get to that point. It was a beautiful, poignant moment.

The 106-mile day took about 5 hours, with the stage winners a full half-hour quicker. I ended the week in 84th, dead-center of the 168 starters. Only 104 riders made it to the finish line - an accomplishment in itself.

The memories of suffering are becoming more vague and remote, as they always do, but the grandiose images of the event remain. This can only mean that, despite the struggles, or maybe because of them, I'll be back for more... this was my 5th consecutive Tour of the Gila, after all. And I'm a better person for it.

Suffering On In Silver City: Gila Time Trial and Crit




The body's a tough thing to figure out. You may nail your training preparation and feel like you've done everything right – but your performance on the bike sometimes doesn't cooperate. My best guess is that my time here at altitude, after living at sea level for the past year, is taking its full effect.

Prevailing theory says that an athlete's third day up high is the worst. The body is in full red blood cell production mode in response to the thin air, and it's tough to do much else at a high level – let alone chase the top athletes in the world.

In the time trial, my power output was down dramatically from where it would normally have been. I race with a powermeter and had target numbers for various segments of the course, but it quickly became obvious that I needed to readjust my goals on the fly.

Although conditions were significantly faster than last year, my time was slower and the power output down a whopping 25 watts.

All that I could do was pace my efforts as well as I could, to recover whenever I could on the descents, try to give what I had on the tough climbs, and keep myself low and aero whenever possible. There aint no lying in the “race of truth,” but tactical dosing of my efforts helped to minimize the damages. All things considered, I'll take my 90th place of 147 riders, and will move on to day 4 hoping for better things.

In the more newsworthy highlights of the day, Levi Leipheimer scorched the roads for a new course record of 32:59, besting Nathan O'Neil's former mark by about 15 seconds. Tom Zirbel (Bissell) rode an incredible race to take 2nd in 33:52, 30 seconds ahead of Lance Armstrong in 3rd. And the other Armstrong – Kristin, that is – showed why she's the reigning world and Olympic champion by uncorking an amazing record-setting ride of her own in the Women's pro race at 37:36.

Downtown Silver City Criterium

I'm tucked in on the right. My grimace tells a story...
I'm tucked in on the right. My grimace tells a story...

If struggle and suffering build character, I'll have character coming out of my ears after this week. Struggling in any race isn't exactly fun, but when trouble strikes in a crit, it's particularly painful. The entire 40 lap race, covering about 43 miles, felt as hard as the last five super-fast laps of a criterium typically do.

The speeds were pretty fast but, unfortunately, that wasn't the trouble. My body's not cooperating and I was holding onto the huge 145+ rider peloton by my teeth for the entire day. As you can see from the course profile below, there wasn't a whole lot of room for recovery.

OUCH.
OUCH.

As in the previous day's time trial, I did everything I could to save energy. My main rule of thumb was: Take it when it's free. In other words, any time I could move up in the pack with little to no effort, I was all over it. The further up I could get, the more buffer I would have in case I started to feel really bad before coming off the back. It was all about self-preservation.

I allowed small gaps to open up on some faster corners, then slightly accelerated into them. This saved me a little of the effort of having to brake into corners and re-accelerate back out. I stayed out of the blustery wind whenever possible, looked for seams in the pack to open around me that would allow me to take more efficient lines or find a better position, and took a couple of extra pedal strokes on the descent when I had the energy to move on up.

Truth be told, I felt absolutely horrible today. Only one year ago I was in the decisive breakaway in this same race and we were only caught in the last lap. It gave me confidence to do more big races. I'm trying to not have this experience make me feel the exact opposite.

But I'm also proud that I was able to gut it out. I clung to the lead pack and managed to get the same finishing times as the leaders, despite getting caught behind Levi Leipheimer's crash with a little less than two laps to go. His tubular tire rolled off of his rim on a corner as he was setting out on an attack. Several riders crashed and a huge portion of the pack, including me, had to come to a stop. You'd think these guys would have better mechanics although, to be fair, this is probably the first criterium any of the Euro-pros have done in several years.

Levi was able to finish the race without losing any time, thanks to a quick bike change with teammate Chris Horner. Congrats to Roman Van Uden (Land Rover/Orbea) for piecing together a win out of the chaotic finish. And for the Lance watchers – he took 11th in his first criterium since 2002.

Tonight it's eat, drink, rest, and hope for the best. It's an early start for the epic Gila Monster tomorrow. 106 ridiculously hard miles to come... and I'm planning on finishing!

Images from the Gila Time Trial

John and Gay Fayhee of Silver City have opened up their home to my teammate Emiliano and me for the week of the Tour of the Gila. They're incredibly welcoming and hospitable but, more importantly, just really cool and fun to hang out with.

I met John when I was in town both to compete in the race and to cover the event for Mountain Flyer magazine two years ago. My editor arranged for the host housing through the event promoter. John was the editor of Mountain Gazette at the time - a superb blend of outdoorsy, mostly high-country based literary fictions and facts - and I was an aspiring writer. We've kept in touch and been friends ever since.

John's wife Gay was nice enough to come out to the time trial venue today and brave the hoopla surrounding Lance's visit to snap some photos. Much thanks for these great shots, all of which are © Gay Gangel-Fayhee.

Stetina

Levi

Floyd

Lance 02

Lance01

Josh

Howes

Emiliano

Colavita

Christian

Baldwin

Armando

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Surviving Stage Two: Inner Loop Road Race

Stringing it out up the first climb
Stringing it out up the first climb

There are two big related stories about this week's Tour of the Gila stage race. One is the amazing coverage that media outlets are giving to a U.S. based bicycle race. When Sports Illustrated, ESPN, the New York Times, and pretty much every mainstream news publication is covering a race in remote southwestern New Mexico, you know that something's different. Here's a little snippet from the Albuquerque nightly news:








And just what is that "something different?" Well, it's the Lance factor of course:




Stage Two: Inner Loop Road Race Recap

I knew it was going to be rough, so I set very modest goals: Finish the stage and make the time cut. Sounds easy enough, but when you have international superstars revving their engines, a small gap to the peloton can balloon extremely quickly.

The race is mellow for all of about 5 miles before teams start lining up for the first intermediate sprint bonus. Right after that comes a pretty nasty climb up to Pinos Altos and the pack definitely begins to splinter. I didn't quite make it over the climb with the lead peloton, but was close enough that I could punch it to the riders just in front of me and quickly rotate with them to rejoin the action.

A few miles of technical mountain descending and then the steep two-mile climb in the outskirts of the Gila National Forest is up next. It's a spectacularly beautiful area, but I only now this from visiting on non-race days. Today going up that climb, my lights started to go out.

I must have yo-yo'ed back and forth off the back of the pack, fighting my way back on three times before the last "yo" had no response... it just dangled at the end of the string with no snap back. Sorry for the horrible metaphor - it's the best I can do after too long, hard days!

The next descent goes on for ever, off of the mountain and down into the Mimbres River valley. The tight roads, undulations, and some decreasing radius turns thrown in are sure to grab your attention - it's awesome, and a nice chance to recover from the climbs.

The good news is that by the bottom of the descent, I got into a good-sized group that eventually built to over 20 riders. We moved through the subsequent valley and the climbs towards the end at a good clip. We finished the stage about 18 minutes down on the leaders which, considering what was transpiring at the head of the race, wasn't all that bad.

There were some fireworks going on further up the road in what sounds like a smaller, simpler version of Tours de France gone by. Floyd Landis was in a four-man break that gained as much as four minutes on the peloton with Lance and Chris Horner doing most of the work to keep them close and eventually real them in. As Alex Howes (Garmin U23 Team), who went on to take second place in the field sprint told VeloNews, "They were just two-man team time trialing, it was pretty impressive."

Kudos to my teammate Emiliano Jordan who after a rough day yesterday was was able to rebound and gut it out over the early climbs, sit on all through the valley, and stay with the lead group to the finish - no mean feat! The rest of my teammates actually ended up in my chase group, although they each lasted longer in the peloton than I did. There's still a little bit missing in that real top-end punch in my game, especially when it comes early in a race.

Tomorrow's another day, the "race of truth," time trial, or, as my Honduran teammates call it "contra reloj" (against the watch). 16.15 miles long and, since it's the Gila, some pretty burly climbs thrown in along the way.

Photo via Tour of the Gila.

One Day Down and Degrees of "Good"




There was a quote from Astana's Chris Horner about two weeks ago when the rumor mill started flying about him attending the Tour of the Gila with teammates Lance Armsrtong and Levi Leipheimer. It looks like VeloNews has since re-edited the interview, so I'll paraphrase. Horner thought that the Gila would be an ideal warm-up for the Giro d'Italia, which starts on May 9th, because of the altitiude (Silver City is almost 6,000 feet with climbs going much higher), the great climbs and descents, and that they'd emerge from the 5-day stage race feeling fresh since it wasn't (by their standards) a very long or hard event.

When Horner said this, he wasn't being cocky. Perhaps it was misconstrued as such and that's why VeloNews removed that portion of the interview. Those guys really just are that good.

Just a few weeks ago, as I wrote about for the Club, I lined up for the Cherry Blossom Classic stage race in the Dalles, Oregon. Paul Mach and Jeremy Vennell of Bissell Pro Cycling dominated the weekend. They made it look effortless as they set a ferocious tempo on the climbs, putting mere mortals like me into severe difficulty.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks to the Sea Otter Classic. Levi Leipheimer showed up without any teammates and got into the decisive breakaway in the road race with four Bissell teammates, including Mach. Mach describes how Leipheimer was able to ride away from the foursome without seeming to break a sweat. It never ceases to amaze me just how many levels of "good" there are.

Tour of the Gila, Stage One

Compared to past editions of this race, today's Mogollon road stage was downright civilized. The typical driving winds, guttering of riders, and echelons all over the road were replaced by relatively mild, warm, sunny conditions. As always, there was a breakaway that stuck for a good portion of the day, but they held less than a two-minute gap when the peloton turned into the 7-mile finishing climb.

Not long after, largely thanks to Lance Armstrong's tempo-setting efforts, seven riders, including his teammate Levi Leipheimer, sped across to the break and left them behind. Lance ended up taking 8th on the day, but he set Leipheimer up to do what he does best - hit the hills hard and lay waste in his path. 22 year-old Peter Stetina (U23 Garmin team) continues to be a revelation as he powered his way to an impressive 2nd place.

As for me, I had plenty of elbow-rubbing time with the superstars. It was a little surreal when I listened in on Lance, riding just behind me, trying to get the attention of his team director, Johan Bruyneel, over his race radio. The moment was straight out of one of the Tour de France dvd's I've watched over and over. Recent World Cup track winner and up-and-coming all-around phenom Taylor Phinney (aka "all-twitch") was to my right, and the best U.S. based riders in the business made up the rest of my field of vision.

As expected, the finishing climbs absolutely shattered the peloton. By the time I crossed the hilltop finish, I was about six minutes behind the furious winning pace, setting tempo and doing the best I could to spin my 25-tooth cog up the wicked steep pitches. The climb is relentless. I'm not going to be able to match the climbing speeds of the top domestic pros on something like that - let alone the Euro peloton talent setting the pace this week! If I dug too deep and went beyond threshold for long, I'd be sure to come unglued and lose tons of time. Because there's little time for recovery, my best approach was to find a pace that I could hold and do my best to keep turning it over, recovering whenever the pitch flattened a bit.

I've been feeling the altitude for the past few days and knew that today would be tough. Although the race was relatively tame by Gila standards, it was still a long, hard day. Every effort above threshold hurt more than it should have. I focused on my breathing, keeping my neck and shoulders loose, good pedal form, and coasting whenever possible. I'm doing everything I can to conserve energy and to keep eating and drinking during the stages, hoping that my form will come around over the next couple of days. The time trial is on Friday - and there's no faking it or conserving energy there!

The mental chatter was relentless today and I did my best to keep it positive. The demons emerged and prodded me to climb off at the feed zone, to quit bike racing and realize that I'd never be able to hang with guys of this caliber. I did manage to persevere and quash those voices - but it wasn't easy.

Tonight it's time to chow down (I seem to have a bottomless appetitie right now, 2 burritos went down way to eaily), a toned down version of Myofascial release on the foam roller, light stretching, and plenty of sleep and R&R. My lungs are feeling pretty stressed already but, if I feel up to it, I may trying in some shorter versions of the breathing exercises from Cyclo-BREATH.

Stage 2 Course Profile - 80 Miles
Stage 2 Course Profile - 80 Miles

Tomorrow has a long, hard climb early in the stage followed by a long, technical mountain descent. Getting through that with the leaders may be a tall order, but if I can dig deep and get over that climb with a strong group, we should be able to catch back on in the long valley after the descent. If not, it's going to be a really long day out on the road, battling to make the 20% time cut and to live to race another day...

Photo by Rob Alvarez.