Thursday, November 02, 2017

A Polite Suggestion Regarding Monument Avenue

I often stroll on parts of Richmond's Monument Avenue in the Fan to clear my head during the workday. This has become less effective as the monuments themselves have become part of the national conversation on racism.

Let me be clear from the outset: I do no support the monuments.

I grew up in this city. Monument Avenue marked my northern limit for personal exploration as a tween. I was allowed to venture anywhere within the Monument / Boulevard / Main / Belvidere box, though I may have tested those limits from time to time. But because they were my limits, I traveled them extensively. The monuments were very much a part of my cultural knowledge of this city.

As a child they did not bother me. Even as a young adult, I allowed myself to buy into the "part of history" and "culture of the south" (I won't quite venture to "heritage") notions. I even can still allow a romanticized version of history to justify the presence of most: Lee was, after all, not in favor of slavery, but defended Virginia as his personal homeland, and remained a public figure for reasonably good causes after the war; Jeb Stuart died defending the city; even Stonewall Jackson could be viewed as a hero of Virginia, more so than a hero of the South.

But all of that falls apart at the shrine to Jefferson Davis. Jefferson Davis was not a Virginian. He did not die defending Richmond, or Virginia. He argued long after the war that the South should remain defiant, and reading some of his bio information I learned that he was not well liked or even respected by his government, largely ignoring the responsibilities of Head of State to micro-manage the military.

And let's not forget: it's not a monument. It's a SHRINE. It is actually called a shrine. Monuments are erected to remember great men and great events. Shrines are built to worship them.

So the monuments are, at best, problematic. The shrine is inexcusable.

But to super duper complicate everything, Monument Avenue is also a national landmark, so the likelihood of doing anything destructive about it is next to zero. Ever. And while it would be easy to turn the resulting anger toward other statues and monuments in the region, evidently early 20th century racists had a plan for that and actually exhumed and re-interred the remains of A.P. Hill into the base of his statue. Check and mate: Richmond's statues are here to stay.

But that doesn't mean we have to celebrate it. I've mused for some time over ideas of how to deter traffic from the area. Richmond's mayor, Levar Stoney, has expressed support for measures that would diminish the cultural impact of Monument Avenue, so here are a short list of options that would cost next to nothing for the city, and would significantly detract from the foot and vehicle traffic that we force to see our monuments and SHRINES to racism and treason:

  • Reduce the speed limit inside I-195 to VCU to 25mph. It's residential!
  • Install stop signs at every intersection that does not include a traffic circle. (Push traffic to Broad St)
  • Rename the street to Franklin St. That's the name east of Stuart Circle, and while there is a "W Franklin St past Thompson St, that could also be renamed "Old Franklin St".
  • Suggest that Henrico County rename their portion to "Franklin St". They have no monuments and no overlapping street names and gain nothing from celebrating Richmond's troubled past.
  • STOP HOSTING PUBLIC EVENTS ON MONUMENT AVENUE
    • Move the Easter Parade--Byrd Park would be a lovely venue.
    • Move the 10K to Broad St
    • Eliminate the marathon's turn at the Stonewall Jackson monument
  • Allow parking on both sides of the street at all times, not just Sunday
We will not win a war against the statues, but we can at least make them inconvenient.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Cross: DCCX Masters 40+ 3/4/5

Not sure I'll ever become a 'cross convert. I like my cross bike. A lot. I love the flexibility it gives me in terms of when and where I can ride, the long wheel-base, the ability to tow a trailer or haul a baby-seat. I like the simplicity of a 1x drivetrain, and have given serious consideration to porting that setup to my road racing bike.

But racing it? Whoo. I'm not down with interval training. Give me a peloton and an open road, and I'm happy. Short, choppy straights with vertical walls and loose terrain do not play to my strengths.

The nice thing about the DCCX course is that it had a fair amount of open space. There were even 3 paved straights, and a couple of good long rolling grassy straights. I basically used those to make up for everything else.

I was called up to row 4 to start, not too bad for having basically no real cross racing history. I was on the far right, and the guy to my immediate left got a better start. Going into the first turn, I was trapped behind him, and I stayed trapped for about 4 or 5 turns. In that time, about 20 riders blew past us on the left, and I finally got enough space to get through. From there on, the whole race was all about recovering positions. I don't like racing like that--it feels pointless to work your ass off just to get back to where you started.

Coming into the iconic "W" for the first time, I was really shocked at how loose the first downhill was, and probably played it too conservatively every single lap. I kept the right line, more or less, and made it back up the sandy climb better than most of the guys around me, and that kind of defined most of the race: I sucked at the downhill, crushed on the uphill.

One particularly easy-looking turn on the bottom half of the course had me unclip 3 of 5 laps, and then just blast up the exit.

I also super duper suck at barriers, but got lucky with the barriers going uphill. Guys who were really good at them gained no particular advantage over my stop, climb on, and roll. I even picked up a few spots there and at the top of the stairs.

Ultimately I settled into a rolling group of about 5 or 6 guys, not quite pace-lining, but kind of pacing off each other (the hecklers made me very aware that we were kind of relying on each other a bit too much). The one time I found myself out in the open I started rolling too hard and had to back out. I can't see my heart-rate very easily, so it's hard to pace myself with nobody to chase.

By the 5th lap, I was too tired to try anything exotic. My ability to steer had basically gone away, and I think I cut a couple of guys off in one turn in an effort to keep the bike upright. Ironically, my speeds came up for the last half of the last lap, and my blast to the finish was good enough to have stayed in the top 25 times on Strava.

I ended on the lead lap, 2nd of 12 Cat 5 racers, 34th overall of 82 starters. If I cared enough about cross, I'd upgrade to Cat 4, where I would have been 12th of 38, but I just don't do this kind of racing often enough to get excited about it, and it huuuuuuurrrrts. Holding a 180bpm+ heart rate for 45 minutes is not my idea of fun, but I was very satisfied with where I finished, and for being able to lay down a pretty decent sprint at the end.

---

The real reason why I signed up for this thing, though, was for Alastair to get a sense of big-pack juniors racing. There were also 82 people in juniors 9 - 14, and while he *just barely* made his start time (like literally rolled into the start corral as they blew the whistle), he was rolling strong and steady for the first lap, catching and passing members of his age-group. At one point he was as high as 6th, and apparently gaining on 5th. His heart-rate was glued to zone 5 like a boss.

Alas, in the 2nd lap he tried to ride down the W, got bounced to the inside, and went over the bars, landing hard on his hip and bending the right shifter over. He got up quickly, but was in a lot of pain, and had serious trouble controlling the bike. His lap-time plummeted, more than 2 minutes on just the 2nd half of the course, and he dropped to 19th of 23, one lap down. He has a big bruise on his left hip, but the bike was easily fixed after the race.

He was really irritated to have finished that way, but is actually looking forward to trying again next year! He said he was feeling really great until the wreck, and feels confident he could have put himself on the podium. That's an amazing improvement for a kid who's finished dead last in every prior cross race he's ever done. Even crazier? I think he's got the bug for cross. Uh oh.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Page Valley Old Guys - Final Road Race of '17

Last year it monsooned on the final lap, and I ruined the bike for a 3rd place finish. This year I took more confidence than brains with me.

I have two cassette ranges: 11-25 and 11-28. The '25 lives on the race bike during crit season, and I tend to reserve the '28 for the steepest of the steep. I ran it last year and couldn't remember hitting the bottom gear, so I figured I'd go for it and run the '25. Three ascents of a Category 4 climb wouldn't be too much.

And it wasn't, really. It was the finish-line climb that sucked.

The first lap felt too slow leading up to the big climb, so I got out front and pulled up the hill with my teammate D. Riddle. Neither of us wanted to be in the front, but the group was all too eager to just let us work. I figured I'd TT it and see how many riders got shelled off the back. We lost a few, but not as many as I'd hoped.

Going down the first big drop, I let the bike do its thing and ran waaaay off the front, letting the pack catch me at almost 30mph halfway down the next road. Again,  nobody was willing to work, so I pulled the group at almost 30 for the next several miles, nearly back to the base of the big climb.

Once again we got thrown out front, and again I just ran it at a TT pace, but by now we had a locked-in set of riders. In a short stint before the final turn, I experimented with laying down some serious power, and put a big gap between myself and the group, letting them catch me on the finish-line climb. This time, though, I was out of gears and a little worried about tackling the same effort on the final lap. Plus I had exposed my hand.

The final lap, again a big super-tuck to run down the mountain, and nearly a repeat of the previous lap. Guys refused to do any work. I'd swerve left and right and the pace-line just followed. Finally I jigged hard left and hit the brakes. A grand total of 3 riders passed and started putting in effort, including a guy who'd been projected to win the race.

We got to the base of the climb for the final time, and he was at the front. He pulled for a grand total of maybe 30 seconds and then moved left. I was 2nd wheel and had spent almost 10 miles of the race in the wind, so I moved with him. He didn't appreciate it and brake-checked me. Dick. This is supposed to be a race of guys old enough to know better than to ruin each others' day over bragging rights, but there ya go. I avoided his wheel and watched my heart-rate creep into unhappy territory.

Again we approached the final turn, and again I laid down a big effort to move clear, but I actually forgot to brake for the final turn and nearly went over the bars at the exit, costing me a valuable couple of seconds while I regained composure. In that time, a rider bridged up and ran out ahead into the finish-line climb.

I figured his effort would come up short in the steep pitch toward the line, and indeed I was able to pull alongside him about mid-way up, but by now my heart was pounding out about 190bpm. Brake-Check Guy made a move between us, and we were three-abreast 200' from the end. Then the first dude just stood up and dropped the hammer, rolling off to a solo win. BCG did the same, but to less effect. I had nothing to offer, gassed out and churning on that paltry 25-tooth cog, and we crossed the line with him about half a bike ahead.

3rd again, and Mr. Riddle followed shortly behind in 5th place. The organizers paid cookies 5 deep, so we both got to take home baked goods.


It was a good race, and while we pushed the pace much higher than it was last year, we spent too much time near the front. My lap-2 run to the final turn was a bold experiment, and it will probably work again in the future, but I can't TEST it again in the middle of a race. And next time I'll put a climber's cassette on the bike.