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 (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!

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:
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!