Monday, December 12, 2016

Alastair's first "season" of CX

Sometimes just showing up is enough.

Alastair was exponentially more skeptical of cross than I, so when I told him that his first foray into racing would be on wet grass, he was not thrilled. But since his entry would be free, I gave him no real choice and told him it would just be an opportunity to learn.

Reluctantly, he went along with the program and, while he HATED every pedal stroke, he at least finished the race.

It was good enough for a podium, but because this area doesn't see a lot of competition in the juniors divisions, it was also last place.

We skipped the rest of the season, with me shifting into marathon training and him putting time on the soccer field, but since the season finale was going to be in Richmond, I told him he needed to try again.

As I mentioned from my own race report, it was VERY COLD. And getting a 10 year old to put on lycra to go ride in sub-freezing conditions is not easy, but this time was dry, and he'd been putting in some decent training on Zwift.

He didn't get on the podium this time. Of the 3 other racers out there, one wins just about everything he does, another was the son of the guy who took 2nd in my race, and the third had been to every single race this season. Alastair was outgunned and didn't take it seriously until it was too late.

But.

He showed up.

Series results were posted this morning, and somehow, magically, irrationally, he took 5th place, out of 33! It looks like 27 other kids just did one race, but if he's truly a member of the junior development program on the team, then he got the overall best position on THE WHOLE TEAM for this cross season.

Mind: blown.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

VACX 2016 Finals, or how I learned to stop hating cross and love the bike

Let's get one thing out of the way right up front: I'm still not 100% sold on cross. My heart does exotic things that do not occur in other forms of racing, like gluing itself to 178bpm and just staying there for 30 minutes at a time. That doesn't feel good.

But today, in spite of the imminent heart attack and the sub-freezing temps, was kinda...fun. Ish. Sorta.

After completing the marathon a month ago, I turned my attention aggressively back to cycling, but was so far out of my fitness cycle that I've just felt like I had no power at all. I've commuted to work a bunch of times, and almost invariably gotten the outfits wrong for the weather, and all this week I was sick.

But I kept at it, and bit by bit I started to see some of the summer's speed come back, even if my legs felt like putty.

And in the interim, I'd made some changes to my cross setup. I'd switched to a 1x setup with a 40T chainring driving an 11x32 cassette on MUCH lighter Easton EA90XD wheels, dropping a couple of pounds off the bike. And I'd done some practicing on well-groomed single-track with it. The bike felt light, spry, agile, and shifting was crisp.

I maybe should have practiced some dismounts, but I'd done what I could, and braved the nastiest weather in preparation.

This morning, the car said it was 30F when we parked. I'd put on a baselayer, arm warmers, thermal jersey, wind vest, thermal bib, soccer pants, wool hunting socks, team socks, my heaviest gloves, and my old auto racing balaclava (probably the only guy in town bike racing in a fireproof hat). I looked pretty ridiculous, but that warmup lap was COLD.

14 of us lined up at the start, and--failing to ever learn a damn thing--I got in near the back. I spent the entire first turning complex just trying to figure out pacing and traffic, and by the time I found the first bit of straight, my heart was pegged at 180. Too much, too fast. But I got a break in the traffic and picked off a few riders early. I settled into 8th by about 1/4 through the first lap, and then started reeling a couple folks in. By the time I'd come back to the line on the 1.3 mile course, I was in 6th, and I took 5th going the long way around a hairpin, but I had a problem: I couldn't feel my hands at all, which meant shifting and braking were more "jiggle and hope" than anything else.

As I came through the start/finish for the 3rd time, I had a sizable gap and backed off a bit. 4th was out of reach, and it became a game of management. Starting the final lap, 4th had backed up a bit and 6th was closing in. I picked the pace up as best I could, and my body rewarded me by thawing my hands a bit. With the feeling back, so too came the confidence, and they made up for the sponginess of my legs, with the last lap only a few seconds off the pace of the first, and rebuilding my comfortable gap on the guy behind me.

Cross is still weird to me. I'm used to pelotons, bunch sprints, and downhill segments where you can tuck into the group and recover a bit. Not counting the number of switch-backs between me and the one or two guys ahead...that I can see. I know part of it is the diminished field aspect, and that bigger races draw bigger crowds, but even the first one just turned into a single-file race after the first lap or so.

Improvements:

  • The suitcase carry--thanks Youtube!
  • Stairs--probably because of the suitcase carry, but I didn't feel like the stairs were really an obstacle this time.
  • Trusting traction on dirt--I got too tired to care about whether or not the bike would stay upright, and it did! Crazier is that I had no idea how much air was in the tires. I'd set them at ~28psi a day or two before, but ran out of time to check before the race started.
  • Turning--I wasn't darting from one turn to the next, and I didn't go "tape to tape", but I was legitimately setting up the turns and used the terrain advantageously. Unlike last time, I didn't get wobbly-slow through anything.


Things to work on:

  • Dismounts--I felt like my dismounts were a harried mess. I'd had a couple of dismounts nearly go sideways at Chimborazo, where my left foot would twist but not unclip fully. It made me nervous and twitchy, and I know I gave up a few extra seconds there.
  • Remounts--Shoulda practiced. There were two dismounts/remounts on the course: one after the lone barrier, and one at the top of the stairs. The barrier was no problem because the course sloped downhill. The other one, though, was on flat pavement. Only once did I actually get pedaling without being clipped, instead of spending precious seconds fumbling with how to get on and get clipped AND THEN get moving. Needs to be a single action.


I'm really happy to have ended the season with a strong(er) finish, but I know that would not have been a 5th place finish in a bigger field. Guess I'll just have to wait until next year to see if I can improve!

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

CX

Somehow I failed to report on my first cyclocross.

It was October 1, it was cold-ish, soaking wet from the prior day's rain, and the city had done very little mowing. My team was responsible for helping set up the course, so Alastair and I were there well before dawn to help get things going. I think by the time I actually started my race, we'd been there for about 4 hours already.

I had done a bit of practice: mostly just dismounting and remounting, and the 2016 Giant TCX SLR 2 was still functionally brand new to me. I'd spent some time chasing down a braking issue that turned out to be a grain of sand wedged into the rear caliper, but the bike was ready, and I was...not. Honestly I had very little idea of what to expect, other than exhaustion.

The race was both slower and faster than I expected. I had no problems on the straights, but little to no confidence cornering, especially since one of the first corners saw a massive wreck. So instead of racing smooth and smart, I was basically just b-lining from one corner to the next and trying to keep the bike upright. The top half of the course played to my strengths, with largely sweeping turns and space to just crank. The bottom half required something I do not possess on dirt: finesse. Darting switch-backs, tight hairpins, a couple of zig-zags into and off of long straights, a BRUTAL uphill climb that became very muddy and led to a stone staircase with a steep asphalt climb at the end. It was all I could do to hang on in that complex, and I ended up finishing just north of the top 50% mark...tasting blood and almost unable to breathe.

I've said before that I don't know how to do semi-competitive, and while 'cross didn't really suit me, I wasn't about to throw in the towel, especially because I LOVE that bike. But I felt I could love it more...

So, not knowing how to leave well-enough alone, I whipped out my trusty gear-ration chart and did some calculating. The bike came with 36/46 chainrings and an 11x28 cassette. There was a lot of overlap in that range--maybe one or two gears of independent range on each chainring. I'd managed to keep the bike off the bottom gear, but I hadn't gotten anywhere NEAR the top.

Since pulling the front derailleur had netted a 1.1 lb savings on the old mountain bike, I ordered a 40T single chainring and pulled a spare 11x32 cassette. The extra depth made up for any losses from the slightly larger ring, and in fact the bottom two gears are nearly identical to what they were before. And with a 1x drivetrain, Shimano's 5800 short cage derailleurs do not have clearance issues.

But the weight savings were nowhere near what I'd seen on the MTB. The bike was clocking in just under 23 lbs.

So I went with the only logical upgrade: wheels. I just got a set of Easton EA90XD wheels and mounted them...tubed. Right now the bike is sitting at 21.6 lbs, and I know that going tubeless will get it closer to 21, but I'z askairt of tubeless, and technically my tires aren't rated for it, so that can wait.

Since making the changes, I've taken the bike out and put it through its paces. 25mph @ 90rpm in the top gear is perfect, and there wasn't an obstacle I couldn't clear at the bottom of the range on a bit of single-track (this bike is majestic on flowy single-track). Now I just have to learn how to ride smart, trust the traction in turns, and get over my fear of exotic low tubeless pressures.

Next race is Saturday. Forecast calls for HOLYSHITTATSCOLD. I think the person who finishes with the most toes and fingers wins.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bike Stolen

On a business trip on Tuesday, I commuted on my red 2015 Fuji Sportif 1.1D (with Mavic Ksyrium Pro Disc wheels) from Silver Spring, MD to Chevy Chase, MD. After being told there was no way I would be allowed to keep my bike inside during the conference, I locked it with a big-ass cable lock (dumb, I now know) to a rack at the intersection of Wisconsin Ave and Western Ave. (map: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1UnUVWkFipNcm_PxNr9SQ1gyGZFA&usp=sharing)

I checked on it periodically throughout the day, but was unable to get out between noon and 3pm. When I did get out at 3, the bike was gone. I called the police; I called mall security. I put the two together and shared all the relevant details with both: serial number, description, value, etc. Both were less-than-optimistic that I would ever see the bike again.

This was the bike back in June. The only things that have changed since then were the seat (still black, but now a Fizik Arione) and the rack, which is now a Topeak BabySeat II Disc. If you see it, please call the Montgomery County, MD police: 240-773-6700. The case number is 16053593. The real telling attribute will be MY NAME emblazoned on both sides of the top tube, right behind the stem.

For more information about the bike: https://bikeindex.org/bikes/101461.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

BPTS #13 - 3rd and a prime!

With mommy and babies nestled snugly back into home life (we had a baby girl two weeks ago, surprise!), I got permission to dust off the racing shoes and dice it up with the other B series racers last night. Alastair came to be my cheering section, which was pretty awesome since we had probably the smallest team showing of the season, with only 3 of us out there.

Race was clock-wise, which has delivered me some surprisingly decent results over the season. Clock-wise, as I've mentioned before, requires a standing sprint. I really do not like a standing sprint. I think my race bike's handlebars are too narrow, and I never feel entirely steady.

And I'd ridden REALLY HARD the night before, and was having some leg pains during warm-up. I wasn't optimistic, but I was gleeful to get to play. I even gridded up near the front, which is just a fool's errand at Bryan Park, as the smart folks will just let you burn up in the wind.

The race started with M. Lipka screaming off the front like his ass was on fire, with two other guys chasing. The rest of us formed a solid lead-out group, with M. Barton pulling for the first lap. She peeled off and I got stuck out in the wind for two laps. Then they rang a prime lap. Nobody seemed willing to pull out around me heading toward the hairpin, and dammit I wanted a prime, since I didn't feel like I had a win in me.

So I tried something new: as we came through the hairpin, I didn't hammer it. I gradually raised the pace with a steady hard effort. The paceline held, and by the time someone jumped at the kink, we were already moving over 26mph. The instant I heard the crunch of hard pedaling over my shoulder, I jumped and hammered. We crossed S/F over 33mph, but I edged the other guy by a couple of feet. It worked! And fortunately, he didn't try to hold the effort, allowing us to get quickly reabsorbed and rest.

Smiley grabbed the 2nd prime a few laps as I cycled further back through the pack. Alastair later said he was worried that I was running out of steam, but I just didn't see the point of jockeying for position, and I really wanted to see how much I could move around. I found that from one lap to the next, I could get from the inside lane to the outside, which is not normal. Usually it takes 2 or 3 laps to move across.

With 3 laps left, I spied an outside-line gap just past S/F and lunged toward the front.

With 2 laps left, I got caught when 3 other riders did the same thing. Coming off turn 1, I moved far left to feint an attack and shut down a line of riders behind.

With 1 lap left, I found myself where I wanted to be: outside line, on what appeared to be T. Tharin's wheel. He was 3rd in the line, with 4 lines across, and M. Wierzbicki 2nd wheel inside. As we approached the hairpin, Ted jumped around a teammate, and I followed. Jeers came from the peloton, and I couldn't tell exactly what was the issue, but I moved a bit farther outside just to protect myself in case of disaster.

It was a tactical mistake, and I went from 3rd rider through the turn to 7th, but I stayed clear of the lunatics who typically charge into the corner and have nothing left to climb the hill.

T. Tharin and M. Wierzbicki were clear and in a 2-man sprint for glory, but I conjured up every scrap of strength I could and put down a 3-part stand/sit/stand sprint and got clear of everybody else. I was actually closing on the leaders when they crossed the line, but they were still well clear of me.

Alastair told me later that a rider was just over my shoulder at the finish, but I had no idea at the time.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

BPTS #10 - 5th and a prime!

My crit season ended last night on a high note, but frankly it could have gone better.

Tuesday afternoon was sporadically rainy, so instead of racing, I went and watched the B race with Alastair. While the actual race was uneventful, there was a crash during warm-up and evidently some carnage during the A race.

So I headed into Wednesday with fresher legs than most, and a plan. The plan was hatched after watching a competitor complete a season full of come-from-nowhere top-5 finishes. I'd spent all season near the front, with nothing left at the end, and he'd spent all season near the back, and is wearing the points-leader jersey. He knows something I don't.

So I was going to spend the entire race glued to his wheel, following his actions and figure out when is the time to move up from the back. But on lap 4, he dropped the hammer, and I followed, racing off the front like a couple of wild banshees. As we crossed start/finish, he sat up and looked over at me. I asked what we were doing, and he just smiled and gave a "meh, whatever" reply. No prime lap, just a random flame-out.

Next plan.

I dropped back to the back and circled around for a few laps, easing forward when gaps allowed. By lap 10 I was back near-ish to the front, and I was hearing some shouts to pick up the pace, which is weird, because why the hell would the guys on the front want to blow up? As we crossed start/finish, I heard the marshals say "15 seconds", which can only mean one thing: a break got away when I wasn't paying attention, and is 15 seconds up the road.

That's bullshit, and there was no way I was going to end my race off the front group. Nobody was willing to organize, so I floored it and shouted at the front guys to get on my ass and close the gap. We took away that 15 seconds in 2/3 of a lap, with about 7 guys clear of the field. And they all sat up, right as the prime bell rang. I was hanging out close to the front as we came tearing back up the hill to the line, but nobody was willing to jump. I like free things, so I figured if nothing else, I'd go win a bottle.

And nobody chased!

I even asked the marshal if it was a prime lap. Whatever: the team took at least 2 primes on the night.

I dropped back into the group and looked around to see if my rabbit was moving up, and he was! But on the complete opposite side of the road, so there was no chance of getting to his wheel. I was pinned inside, but had complete control of the inside line.

On the final lap, even as we came into the hairpin at the bottom, I was still able to control the line, and nobody tried any boneheaded dive-bombs. As we came out of the turn, I was about 10th, and we were moving (better than last week, where a bunch of guys basically stopped on the exit). I jumped and my legs felt amazing. The guy in front of me jumped, too, but got pinned right into my line, leaving me inches on the side of the road. With nowhere to go, I had to let off and roll behind him. By the time I had clear space, the front 3 were away, but for the first time I was a legitimate factor in the final sprint.

I really feel like I could have pulled off a solid 3rd place finish, but I ended up with $5 winnings and a gift card, so I can't complain.

5th place in my final crit of the season, following a 3rd place in my final road race. Can't ask for much better in a 40-year-old's rookie season!

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Data Nerd

Every part you can buy for your bike comes with some sort of promise. Makes you more visible! Makes you faster! Sleeker! Reduces weight! Increases virility!

Obviously a lot of it is marketing, and sorting through it without significant financial outlay is challenging. We have do-gooders in the community, like DC RainMaker, who review products like crazy to separate the wheat from the chaff, but there's just so much stuff out there, and so much anecdotal evidence, that even with expert reviews it's hard not to spend money on a promise.

I've spent a lot of time, money, effort, and research making my racing bike as fast as it can be. Fully equipped, it comes in under 17lbs and is dripping with just-shy-of-top-end equipment. Carbon everything, ceramic bearings, and data sensors out the wazoo: power, speed, cadence, GPS.

I haven't, however, spent a bunch of time or money making my commuter bike faster. It has an aluminum frame, disc brakes, exposed cabling, fenders, and a rack. I did spend money on a decent set of wheels, but only decent--no carbon here. The commuter sports a mostly-Shimano 105 drivetrain, with stock chain and rings. All compact, unlike the race-bike's 53/39 x 11/25 big boy setup. And about half of the miles I've put on the bike have come with panniers, a tool bottle, and usually a big honkin' light with an external battery.

Point is, this bike ain't light. Commuter weight, with laptop and everything else, comes in right around 40lbs. And yet, in spite of all the FASTER! LIGHTER! SEXIER! parts on the 17lb bike, I ride them just about the same speed. Most of my rides average just over 20mph over their length.

So if I can ride two wildly different bikes at the same speed, was all of that money a waste? Could my commuter be an effective racer? That question has bugged me a lot, recently. I've even considered racing it at Bryan Park just to see how it would do. And actually my first ever race was on the commuter: the failed Monster Cross back in February. I slapped some CX tires and SPD pedals on it and rode it until I couldn't any more (and wrecked it twice).

One thing that was holding me back from trying the commuter in a race, though, was a recent spate of flat tires. The decent wheels I bought back in the winter were Mavic Ksyrium Elite Disc 2015 wheels. The were on clearance, and came in at 1540g for the whole set, which kinda blew me away for non-carbon. They're weird looking, but you can't beat the value, and I have some nasty hills to climb on my commute. They also came with extremely proprietary tires, which I didn't realize had zero puncture protection.

I got so tired of replacing tubes that I swapped one of the Fuji's stock Vittoria Zaffiro 700x28 tires on the back. Worst case, I figured, I was training and it would help make me faster on the race bike. Best case, I wouldn't really notice a difference.

I think it went somewhere in the middle. I certainly knew the tire was heavier, but as many components as I've hung from the scales, I'd never actually weighed one of these bricks. For the past 2 months, I've had a 385g tire hanging off the back of the bike, but hey: no flats.

In June I gashed one of the race bike's tires and switched over to the new hotness: Continental Grand Prix 4000s II. They were 10g heavier than the previous tires, but advertised LOWER ROLLING RESISTANCE! and INCREASED CORNERING GRIP! and FASTER! SEXIER! STRONGER! And I have to admit, the bike felt faster. And instead of wiping out in the rain at Page Valley, they cornered pretty well.

I figured it might be worth a shot to get off the commuter's brick tire and standardize.

This morning I got up early and mounted a 25mm version of the same tire on the commuter. It weighs 225g, a full 160g less than the Vittoria, and all of that savings comes--not just in rotating weight--but at the outermost point of rotating mass.

And the ride in was amazing. I tore up hills at 25mph. I raced a Honda Ruckus. I felt fast. But more importantly, I felt like the bike wasn't sapping my strength with every effort. So at 20 miles, I felt as good as I had at 5 miles. And it got me wondering if those marketing claims are real.

To the data!

I track my rides through Garmin Connect and Strava, my sleep and weight through Garmin Connect, and my food through MyFitnessPal. Looking back over every commute with the bike in its current configuration, I was able to determine which days I'd packed my lunches, which days I'd slept better, and capped it off with Strava's Fitness/Freshness/Form scores (from the previous day) to see what my overall performance level should have been for a given day. For the wind, know that most of my ride is due south. Data like estimated average power was ignored as subjective, and morning humidity in my region is just shy of jungle.


Bearing in mind that I've only put one ride on this tire so far, and the fact that this bike lacks a power meter, and some days I might have packed a change of clothes, etc, it's fascinating to see that today was my fastest moving ride by over a minute, with a lower average heart rate.

The temperature was lower, and my average cadence was higher, but my weight was not at its lowest, I barely slept last night, and overall time shows that I stopped for a number of red lights, which means some of that moving time was spent stopping and starting.

Because I'm always running late, I only ever ride hard, but this morning was the first time I've ridden hard and felt like I could just keep on doing it, in spite of form, sleep, whatever else was in the way. And the numbers support it: my heart didn't have to work as hard to fuel the effort.

I credit the tire. So there you go, kids: in my completely academic test that failed just about every scientific standard, I think I've effectively demonstrated that pulling 160g off the rotating mass of the bike and reducing the rolling resistance has made me FASTER (0.6mph average over my previous best, or 1.3mph better than the average average)! STRONGER (lower heart rate)! LIGHTER (-160g)! The Continental marketing department can rest easy tonight.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

BPTS #8 - Reverse

I commuted yesterday.

With Page Valley out of the way, my real racing season should have been over. Bryan Park is supposed to just be an opportunity to work on skills and try new stuff. And while I had a plan for the race, it did not depend on being particularly fresh. But then came the news that we would be running clockwise tonight. Fan-friggin-tastic.

Counter-clockwise, the course is a downhill run into a hairpin, with a mostly straight and slightly uphill run to a 90-degree turn at the top, and then a run back to start/finish. It's a momentum race. Clockwise, it's a 90-degree turn with a whole lot of chop on the exit, a run downhill at breakneck speed, an uphill hairpin, and a sprint to the kink. Every lap plays out the same, and it's exhausting. And I was already exhausted.

To make matters more complicated, even though I had completed all of the PUBLISHED requirements to upgrade my racing license from CAT 5 to 4, we are apparently playing Calvinball. There are unpublished rules. There is "steward's discretion". And I think some sort of Illuminati handshake, but I got confused after the eleventy-third if-then statement. Honestly, scoring the Tour de France is less complicated. Anyway, the take-away was that if I put myself in a scoring position tonight, I would likely secure my upgrade. No pressure. Oh and they typically only score 7 positions.

The race was predictably fast, predictably hard out of the hairpin, and had the predictable bumpy run-outs from the top corner (one almost threw me). I took a few laps to move up from the back, but once I got to my preferred spot, I was able to hold it, for the most part. A few dodgy passes, a couple of corner dive-bombs. The usual.

In spite of my determination not to bridge, I still fell for one failed break, but fortunately it was on the downhill, and I was able to stack up the field with a slightly-less-aggressive run back up the other side. Several riders tried in vain to either attack solo or form a break.

But in the last lap I finally had myself exactly where I wanted to be: 2nd wheel, inside line. I knew I had the power to make the tighter turn work on exit and was on Ted's wheel setting up for the hairpin, when some jackass just swerved in front of us. Ted checked up hard, as did I, and we lost all our momentum. I watched a slew of riders go into the turn ahead of us, including some guys who had no business being that far up in the bunch.

As we came through that turn, it was like running into a parking lot. Half the guys who had crowded that turn were just grinding up the hill while the leaders sped away. I knew the race was done, but dammit: an upgrade was on the line. I buckled down and put out everything, blocking the inside line completely and reeling back a few fliers. As we rounded the kink, I counted helmets and saw 9 ahead, with one just beginning to ease up. I dropped the hammer, and realizing how close it would be, tried to thrust the bike forward, having never done so before.

As I came back around after the race, the timing & scoring guy told me I was 10th. I asked if my thrust had been for naught, and upon review, T&S confirmed that I did get 9th! I groveled and begged, and they agreed to score 9 deep. Woohoo!

So I learned a new skill tonight, and I found a little extra reserve of energy when I needed it most. Now I just hope we're running the right direction next week so I can follow my original plan...

Monday, August 01, 2016

Getting the Boy into Cycling

Take a kid half your size and ask him or her to pedal a cheaply-made heavy beast of a bike with crap components up a hill. The result will be a child who has no interest in cycling.

Seeking to avoid that experience, I bought my then-7-year-old what I thought was going to be an AWESOME bike in September 2013: a Specialized Hotrock 24. This thing had an aluminum frame, a single rear derailleur with 7 speeds connected to an easy-to-read twist-grip shifter, and an integrated kickstand.

I'd done a ton of research before making the purchase, and everything indicated that this was going to be the bike to put cycling easily into my son's reach.

The first time he rode it, that idea was nuked. Our driveway is long and kinda steep...ish. Not really daunting, but not inviting for the average kid. He couldn't get the bike up the driveway. The gearing just didn't go deep enough to much of anything useful for him to even move around our property. FAIL.

Fast forward a year or so ago to when I started getting into cycling, and I decided to throw a front derailleur on his bike to give him a greater range of gears.

Once again I did the research and found that one company had a discontinued triple chainring on kids' length cranks, and it happened to be square-taper, just like his bike's bottom bracket!

That, of course, meant putting a shifter on the front, which meant cabling and new grips, a longer rear derailleur, and a new chain.

And by virtue of all of that, a heavier bike.

But I figured the extra depth of gears would make it all worthwhile. We ended up with an incredibly heavy bike dripping in cheap, crappy Shimano Tourney equipment, but the bike was marginally improved in terms of capability: he could, for instance, now get up the driveway...most of the time.

A quick scouring of the Interwebs revealed that I would do well to swap handlebars. I found a cheap carbon bar, and when it arrived, weighed the two bars side-by-side. The stock steel bar on the Hotrock weighs more than a full pound MORE than the carbon bar, which comes in at just over 100 grams. With one part, I'd obviated all of the weight penalties of the new gearing options.

I then stumbled upon a clearance Forte seat that perfectly matched the color-scheme of the bike, and mounted that on a spare aluminum seat-post, cutting another 200g+ from the top of the bike.

But the whole thing still didn't work particularly well. The front derailleur interfered with the bottle cage, preventing the bike from using the little ring unless he reached down and fiddled with his bottle. The rear shift cable had been trimmed to its limits and resheathed enough times that the housing was pretty well destroyed, and the rear brake cable was frayed to hell from a prior emergency repair.

And he didn't really enjoy riding it. It's hard to get excited about riding something in that kind of condition.

Just about the time I was trying to figure out what to do with his bike, I bought a 2008 Trek Fuel EX 7 with a fairly worn 3x9 drivetrain. The SLX shifters were in great shape, as was the Deore front derailleur. The rear XT derailleur's jockey wheel was more wheel than gear, but it was otherwise mechanically sound.

That, of course, meant swapping out that 7-speed rear for a 9-speed. Which turned out to be a huge PITA, because one other area where Specialized cheaped out was in the building of the 24" wheels. These things take freewheels instead of freehubs. There are not many companies that make 9-speed freewheels, and I did not have the tools to pull them.

So more moneys and more parts later, I had a SunRace 13-32 9-speed heavy freewheel. Not what I wanted, but a hell of a lot cheaper than building up custom freehub wheels.

But with this extended range of gears (the 7-speed was 14-28), the math told me that he wouldn't need the outside 44T chainring. And that's good news for a couple of reasons:

1. The outer ring was big enough to cause clearance issues over some of the smaller obstacles on our local trails.
2. He's a kid, he doesn't own kits, and I don't want his pants getting painted with chain grease. The 44T ring could have accepted a plastic bashguard, but by dropping it, I was able to put on a proper metal 32T bashguard / pants-protector.

As a final finishing touch, I asked him to pick out cable colors for the shifters & brakes. He picked lime green for brakes and clear braided steel for shifters, and I gotta say, it looks TIGHT. And after a few ruined rides where his brakes weirdly interfered with forward progress, I spent a couple hours getting his wheels properly true.

So now the kid's got a carbon bar, SLX shifters tied to a 2x9 drivetrain running a Shadow XT rear (with a newly-replaced aluminum jockey wheel) and Deore top-pull front derailleur, a proper bashguard, colorful Jagwire cabling, ergo grips, straight wheels, and it's tastefully adorned with team stickers.

Now if only I could get him to ride it.

But sooth, there may be hope! In light of all my road miles over the past year, Alastair told me he's more likely a roadie than a mountain bike guy. Ready at a moment's notice to call his bluff, I had him cough up 66% of the cost of a road bike. In early June, over a triple-points weekend at a certain national bike retailer, I got him a Fuji Sportif 2.3 sporting 650c wheels, basically a smaller version of my commuter bike.

My rule was that it had to move 50 miles per month, or it would go back to the store. So far he's right on the cusp, at an average of 53.55 miles per month, but part of that has been due to him travelling. In spite of a week at camp and a week at his grandparents' house, he put 86.3 miles on the bike in July. His reward just arrived in the mail on Saturday: a shiny Belgium national team kit to match my jersey.

So far he seems to enjoy road rides. He certainly enjoys the idea that every road ride involves delicious baked goods. Now I just have to figure out how to transition him to the mountain bike for the colder months, 'cause there's no way on God's green earth he's gonna want to join me for one of my long winter rides, and I don't want to start over from scratch at 12mph next spring.

Page Valley Road Race, Masters 35+ Cat 4/5 - 3rd place!

Saturday was my last big race of the 2016 season. I'd put it on my calendar as a bit of an after-thought, but the team started talking about it as kind of a Big Deal. The class was going to be an odd-ball in the cycling community: mixed Cat 4/5, ages 35+. It would be an opportunity for me to race alongside the Cat 4 guys on the team, whether or not my upgrade had been completed.

As the day approached, I started feeling an inordinate amount of angst about it, though. Weather forecasts looked dicey. I was feeling over-(s)trained. I'd thrown away two crits on stupid errors and been way too close to some wrecks. I was not at ease.

Driving up to Page Valley, the sky alternated between beautiful sunny day and quick downpours, but I'd come prepared: since my race bike likes to take on water, I'd packed the Fuji as a backup. The Fuji is heavier, but sports compact chainrings and a wider cassette, so I felt like I was covered, either way.

I arrived to find the parking area bone dry with gorgeously clear skies and temps hovering around 90, a bit cooler than most of my recent racing efforts. We set up the team tent, unpacked, handled registration, and my mind was finally starting to settle down. I'd even decided to chance whatever weather might develop and ride the Blue. I was ready: toolkit gone, 2 water bottles, rear blinky removed. Game time.

Roll-out was the most neutral ride I've ever done. Alastair could have out-paced us EASILY at 12mph for the first mile. But when things heated up, they did so quickly. With no fanfare whatsoever, the pace jumped from 12mph to 30.

The first run up the Category 4 climb was probably a little slower than I expected. I didn't realize we were on it until Daniel told me, and then it was over. The little kick at the top was the only part that felt a bit rough, but the group was really tight and all over each other. Moving around was very difficult, and only when guys misjudged their proximity to the road's edge was I able to move forward. I found my comfortable 6-10th wheel spot only by the top of the feed zone, by the finish line, which was really convenient for the steep run down.

My bike is apparently very mechanically efficient. It descends like it's been shot out of a gun. The whole run down, both the very steep drop down Balkamore and the gradual descent of Fairview, I was on the brakes to stay behind the leaders. I didn't want to run off the front and burn up matches (or teammates) unnecessarily.

As the second lap began, a break formed ahead. Three riders were out, and a long lead-out was probably 50 meters back. One big dude decided to bridge, and I tucked under his wheel to cross...apparently with everybody else. But the break point had been revealed, and I knew what to expect the next time around.

Meanwhile, dark clouds had crept in toward the bottom of the course, and the motorcycles dropped back to inform us that we would go the whole distance, in spite of serious weather.

Climb #2 was a bit tougher, but still a lot slower than I had anticipated. Was everybody holding out for a blistering attack on the 3rd time? I made the turn before the feed zone and popped out front just a bit to put down a proper climbing pace, and looked back to see the whole pack about 25 meters adrift. I sat up, not wanting to expend further, and was re-absorbed for the descent (braking the whole way).

At the start of the 3rd and final lap, the lead group broke away with a blistering attack. I tried to bring the pace back down with a short pull on the front, but looked back and realized there were only a dozen or so of us, with no other riders in sight. Not seeing any risk of the attack failing, I dropped into the paceline. A few moments later, the weather hit. It went from dry to squall in less than a minute, with over an inch of standing water on the road and rain so hard you couldn't see more than 5 bikes ahead. If anybody had chanced a break-away, we wouldn't have known. The rain was ice cold, and the water sloshing up from the tires was warm and muddy. My visor was almost useless at keeping the rain out of my eyes. I couldn't see the Garmin to know if it was even still working, and for a while I had to breathe like I was swimming. I had no idea where I was, but I knew there was a pretty solid descent with a hard right at the end, so I started trying to build heat in the brakes early. No dice. There was just nothing there.

When the turn came, everybody had dropped the pace considerably, and one guy did run off the front. The rain let up just enough that we could see him, and magically the paceline settled down and reeled him in slowly up the Category 4 grind.

When I say slowly...I mean really really slowly. I'm not the best climber in the world, and my bike's deepest gear is 39/28, but the pace had slowed enough to where I was turning about 60rpm in that gear. It felt like a Herculean effort to get to the top, and guys were checking up left and right.

Suddenly I wasn't so sure I was going to be able to hold out to the end, and I got stuck in my least favorite position: the middle line, second wheel. I can't think of a more dangerous place to be at the end of a race. The guys left and right were not budging an inch, and in the run to the final turn, the guy in front of me checked up.

I saw it coming and had gotten on the brakes early, but it was still waaaay too wet for them to be effective. We overlapped, he jigged left, and our wheels hit. I had just barely gotten the brakes to start doing their damned job when it happened, so it was more a brush than a solid hit. I'm sure the guys around me appreciated that fact, because while I got squirrelly, I held it together.

But now I was kinda pissed, and when we turned that final corner, I was ready to run off the front again. 1K to go. Dudes start standing on it. But the one thing holding me back is that damn centerline rule. I'd seen guys pulled for it during the race, and didn't want to throw the whole race over it. I didn't know if it would be enforced on the final 1K, so I didn't press the attack until a hole opened in front of me. I chased the two riders who had broken free, fumbled around with gearing a bit, realized I was already down in 39/28 again (grrr!), and buckled down for what was going to be a very taxing grind to the finish line.

I was sure I'd be caught. That's way too deep a gear to try a hard run, and with RPM already low, I figured somebody with a compact setup would just come rolling by me. But it never happened. I didn't catch the two ahead, but nobody came up from behind, either. I crossed the finish line 5 seconds behind 1st place, and we had a few seconds to recover before anybody else came through. The three of us just looked at each other in disbelief, none of us sure if someone else had beaten us.

The rain paused just long enough to get back down to the cars, where we ended up shivering and celebrating under the baller team tent under another hour of heavy rain.

When I got home, the bike had about a cup of water inside the frame, and more inside the wheels. I was amazed to discover that the BB and headset bearings seemed ok. Now all I have to do for Bryan Park tomorrow is to remount the tires and go racing!

---

My good friend Mr. G likes me to recount what I learned in each race.

  • I definitely learned the limits of braking in heavy rain, but I think running in a 35+ group, we probably all have things outside of cycling that are more important than bragging rights, so I'm not sure anybody was willing to press the braking issue all that hard.
  • I learned that when the end of the race is near, and the temperature is dropping quickly, you probably don't need the contents of your spare water bottle. I dumped mine after seeing another racer do the same, and while I was thirsty after the race, I drank enough wheel water that it didn't impede my performance. Not sure the weight savings helped me secure that podium position, but weight is weight, and my bike was adding to its own while I was dumping that water out.
  • I learned that you can recover from a wheel-to-wheel hit.
  • Probably most importantly, I learned that when the guy in front of you jumps out of the saddle for a standing climb, he's going to pull the bike backward into your wheel. Not sure how best to process and apply that lesson, but I'll certainly add it to my list of things to watch out for.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

BPTS#7 - A Slight Return to Form

Not sure if I was right about over-training or in-race hydration, but last night was better than the past two Bryan Park crits.

My rule for the night was to not chase foolish breaks, and after a few months on the local scene, I'm starting to learn who's fast, hopeful, or just dangerous. My other rule for the night was not to blow up early in the heat, which was almost as bad as Oyster Point on Saturday. So the two rules were complementary, but rules, being what they are, are meant to be broken. Or at least ignored.

I started at the back, as usual, which is a habit I'm going to have to break, because it meant putting out more effort in the opening 2 laps than I should have. The pack was strung out to almost the full length of the back straight, but no crazy blocks were being thrown, so it wasn't too hard to cycle through to the front, but once there, I was smart enough to tuck into line and stay there.

As with last week, RVS tried to break on the women's Prime. Ted got away with a 3Sports rider and a couple others. While the others fell off quickly, Ted & Nathaniel stayed clear for 2 laps. I was 3rd wheel on the pack and there were constant shouts of "do not chase" when Noel bridged. Nathaniel fell off, but Ted and Noel are strong and were maintaining a 5 or 6 second gap. When another rider broke from behind me on the back straight, I jumped on his wheel and we bridged.

Dude Who Jumped then declared quite loudly to Ted & Noel that "we have 4", which caused them to look back and split the line in two. Ted demanded someone else go out front, but it was too disorganized. I pulled through in the kink and Ted said "ease up so they can catch back on", which I obliged, only to then hear thrashing through the grass. Ted had looked back after issuing the order, but had failed to ease up himself, and ran over my back wheel. He kept himself upright, but the break was foiled while the others gave him space.

I stayed in the mix as best I could, crossing one other small bridge effort later in the race, and instantly knowing it was a mistake, but came to the bell in 4th. I'd chased a rider on a fast tear up the back straight, and he'd set up an outside line. Only he apparently was doing my trick from last week, and blew up almost as soon as he crossed the line. But he left me no room to move around, and I was quickly swamped by new lines forming all around me through the kink.

I picked up the pace approaching the hairpin and overcooked the turn, running out to the right and into the dirt. I stayed on the bike and powered through, picking up a few positions on the race to the final turn, and did the best seated sprint I could manage to the line.

I ended up somewhere around 11th position. I really feel like I could have done better if I'd not wasted those bridge efforts. So now I'm thinking of P-Touching "DO NOT BRIDGE" on my handlebars.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Oyster Point Criterium - Can't Outrun Heat

Yesterday was 100 degrees F. It was also sunny, humid, and had almost no breeze at all. And it was race day!

Oyster Point is on the way to the beach, and getting there means vying with beach-bound traffic for two hours...minimum. I did not leave the house in time, and my carefully-laid plans to get set up infield with chairs, spare wheels, and cold drinks fell apart when I got to the venue with only a few minutes to spare, and nowhere convenient to park. I grabbed what I could and followed another racer to registration without even enough time to get in a warmup lap.

I've been riding in the hot hot heat most of the summer. I've commuted several times (22.8 miles each way) on days over 90, and even a couple approaching 100. The past few Bryan Park crits have been around 90 degrees. And over the past month, I've averaged 150+ miles per week out in the heat. I figured I was ready. I was not ready. Because when this race started, it started with a vengeance.

I had gridded near the back, so I had my usual need to push forward, but even so, I was not prepared for the opening lap to be a 300W+ effort, nor for the second to be over 26mph. These guys were hustling.

But I found a rhythm, of sorts, and it was pretty easy to move around in the pack. Front straight was a drag race to the S/F line, then a drinking neutral zone toward the first turn. Gentle pedaling would keep you in line setting up for the 2nd turn, then a breeze was in your face on the 4-lane-wide entry to the fountain area. A run on the inside of the first left would let you pass the entire pack on the outside around the fountain, a run on the outside first left would pin you but let you make up spots coming out of the fountain area, then a hard push through right turn 3, set up and try not to wreck on the 2 manhole covers in right-turn 4, and grunt to the line. Rinse, repeat.

After a few laps, the pace settled and I took up my usual position in the bottom half of the top 10. A few breakaways tried and failed, and I actually remembered to drink water, which was getting hot inside the bottle.

The breeze in the fountain complex wasn't a problem if you weren't on the peg, but the air was somehow exponentially more stagnant and heat-soaked on the front straight. I got cycled forward and fought to stay out of the wind for a couple of laps before finally taking my turn at the front. It was poorly timed, as a turn out front just past the fountain would have had no wind penalty, but I took my lead halfway down the front straight and ended up pulling into the wind after two turns.

I paced the group down to just under 22mph, but they would not pass until I sat up, and then I was way back in the group. Mistake. Lesson: figure out the wind and take the pull with the least wind penalty, even if that means getting to the front a turn early, then give up the lead just BEFORE the turn pointing windward.

Fans had brought bells, making it impossible to differentiate a prime lap, so I just tried to work back up to about 10th and hang on. No crazy breaks for me in the heat. I was grateful for the effort when I heard that awful familiar sound of crunching carbon behind me in turn 1. No idea how many riders went down, but Nathan lost the peloton and retired after another lap.

Matt had cycled ahead of me, and as the laps wound down he took a turn on the point. Waaaaay too long a turn, too. I think he was out there for a good 2+ laps. I shouted for him to drop back, but he was in the zone and rode it until he had nothing left.

And that's about when Fischer Maris jumped and rode off into the sunset, leaving the rest of us with two laps to fight over 2nd place.

I knew when I saw "2" on the lapboard that I was in trouble. The effort to hold the group was becoming overwhelming, and my water was undrinkably hot. I managed to hold position until the bell, but let myself slide a bit through the running order into the fountain complex in the hope of pulling an outside run. No such luck: the legs weren't interested in picking up positions, and everybody had really picked up the pace. Matt was dropping through the running order, too, and coming out of the last turn, he and I watched the leaders walk away.

I ended up picking off one unlucky rider with a last surge, and had I jumped just a couple of seconds sooner could have had two more, but I think Matt and I finished somewhere in the high teens. The race held an average speed of 25mph, stupid crazy fast for that kind of weather. But while I had nothing left at the end to put up a fight, I made it, which is better than I'd done at the past two BP crits. Whether it was because I stayed a little better hydrated or because I had backed down my training appropriately last week, I definitely felt more capable.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

BPTS#6 - Crunch Pop DFL

Last night was a mess.

It was supposed to be the second night of a double-header, but rain canceled the Tuesday race. I don't know if that set up nerves, confused the cycling gods, or if it just wasn't our night, but just 3 laps into our race, a guy I'd not seen before decided to battle hard for a pointless scrap of pavement on the left side of the road.

There was no break to chase, but the peloton was stretched a little longer than usual for so early in the race, and several of us were trying to close it up on the back straight.

I was charging hard up the left when he glanced over and shut me down. I had just enough room to duck around his back wheel and take the middle line, but lost all of my momentum and was setting up to protect my wheels going through the slight bend. As soon as I felt stable, I looked left to see two teammates trying the same run, and once again he pulled left, but way too late, and from only about 18" off the grass.

I heard the exclamations from the 2nd rider, then the unmistakable crunch of carbon and spokes. Matt was down. Over nothing at all, we had a rider down on the 3rd lap. I later found out that wreck took out at least 5 riders, including the series points leader.

Absolutely uninterested in locking wheels with that guy, I got off my ass and moved to the front, where Ted (RVS) recognized an opportunity to burn me up in the wind. Realizing the mistake, I fell off a bit and took up my usual post of 6th~10th wheel: close enough to see and respond to a break, but far enough back to let someone else do the work.

That plan held for only about 5 laps, when RVS tried to make a solid break on a prime lap. Fortunately, I was not the only FSR rider to jump, and one of their guys was unable to bridge, so the break failed, but it took a heavy toll on me.

Then another break, which I was content to let go until I heard "Adrian, go!" shouted from behind me. That one fell apart as quickly as it started, but constituted another wasted hard effort.

Then a couple of laps later another small break tried to form on the back straight, and I chased that down, bringing the rest of the leaders along. By this point, I was dangerously close to bonking and needed to fall back into line and focus my efforts on the final lap.

Only I didn't know what lap it was. The primes were rung late, and I'd lost count early on with the wreck. I glanced down at the Garmin, but someone had chosen that time to call me, so instead of a lap count, I got a phone number neatly displayed on the screen (fuck you, Garmin, for not making that an expiring notification--who has time to clear that in a race??).

The board said two to go, but for 4 of the last 5 races, the leaders have seen "2" when it should have said "1", and another dude I'd never seen was trying to take a flyer off the front. Failing to use all my tools (no bell!), I thought it was game on.

Phil was on the point running down into the hairpin. He started to back off halfway down the straight, but I begged him to go, which he obliged (sorry Phil!). Pulling around on to the back straight, he led me out for the first 3rd, and I jumped. I put everything I had into the jump with about 100' to the final turn. Coming through, I tried to stand to sprint, but the legs rebelled, so I sat back down and plowed out the hardest seated sprint my body would allow, and to my astonishment the howl of carbon grew more distant behind me. Surely they weren't going to let me win that easily?

When I crossed the line, I was so confident I'd won the race that it took a good second to realize the bell was ringing, and not for my amazing awesomeness.

But I'd spent everything. It was all I could do to even push the pedals. The field caught me before I even got to the hairpin, and by the time I made it back to the start/finish line, I was in absolute last place.

So now I've blown up two weeks in a row at Bryan Park. The first time was defending for my teammates, which was fun and felt contributory. This time was not fun, and likely cost Phil a shot at a good finish, too. My take-away is that I need to focus on running my own race. Two of my jumps last night were defensive, but my overall strategy was not, and it cost me.

I spent years teaching drivers the importance of ignoring what the other drivers were trying to do--that they had different goals, different horsepower, different whatever. Now it's time to instruct myself and hold myself to those lessons. I just have to figure out how to do that within the construct of a team effort.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

New Uses for Old Tools

July 4th was not a good day for my poor put-upon racing bike.

With just shy of 2000 miles on it since buying the thing, I'd already replaced just about every single moving part except the crank, chain-rings, and brake calipers, but the team had decided to have a fun ride in the rain. Since I had some weird internal personal rule about both road bikes having similar mileage, and with the cheap-o Fuji well in the lead, I figured I'd put some miles on the Blue.

Oh what a mistake.

We rode just shy of 50 brisk-but-casual miles with a couple of bursty efforts near the end, all in varying levels of precipitation from "moist" to "holy crap I can't see". It was fun, and afterward I hung the bike on the wall as usual and got back to my normal life.

A few days later I pulled the bike down for a quick cleaning. The first indication that things weren't going to be great was the sloshing sound. Inside the frame. Uh oh.

I put the bike up on the stand, turned the crank, and winced: the bottom bracket had a nasty grind. Pulling the NDS crank-arm revealed a ton of grit, which I cleaned as best I could, but for the life of me I could not remove the drive-side arm. Too much crud was packed into the bearing interface. So I cleaned and cleaned and whacked with the deadblow hammer until it came free, revealing STANDING WATER inside the bottom bracket.

This is no ordinary bottom bracket, mind you. Blue chose to equip the 2011 Axino with a BB30, an odd choice for a dedicated racing bike, and a curious cost-saving measure in a bike that retailed new for about what I'd like to get in selling the race car. BB30's are not compatible with Shimano cranks, but somewhere in the bike's history it was equipped with a Dura-Ace 7900 crank. That conversion was done with a cheap adapter that leaves the bearings inboard, where they can flex and apply less optimal sideways pressure. When I first felt a grind in the bike last year, I decided to run a proper conversion bottom bracket that put the bearings outboard, stiffened up the lower end, and was directly compatible with my Shimano crankset. With those parameters in mind, and with an eye toward reducing future costs, I went with the nuclear option and got the PraxisWorks ceramic bearing BB30-conversion bracket. A $200 part that, based on online reviews and product descriptions, should have been damn near bombproof.

Only there are two problems with this particular nuclear option: it's not serviceable, and any attempts to service it render the 2-year "warranty" null and void. Why the air quotes? Because that 2-year coverage only extends to materials and craftsmanship, and as it turns out, ceramic bearings require periodic service, so screw you, consumer.

I weighed my options for resolving the bracket issue:

  • Do I spend another $200 and just vow never to ride the bike in the rain again? That's ridiculous, as sometimes rides can cover 100+ miles, and you can't control the weather.
  • Do I pull the trashed bearings and press in new ceramic ones at $80? The warranty would be gone, but the performance would not diminish.
  • Do I pull the ceramic bearings and put in cheap steel ones? They're consumables, after all, and maybe one season is all they have in them. Better to blow $30 every year than $80.
  • Or do I try to rebuild the non-serviceable bearings? Well, they're trashed anyway, and if it doesn't work, I'll still have to replace them. Sounds like a winner.
I took the bike to the team mechanic for a once-over, and he confirmed the bearings were likely trashed, told me not to hold my breath asking for warranty coverage, and wished me luck.

In the meantime, I'd also discovered that the headset was grinding again, and in spite of pulling it apart, regreasing it, and putting it back together, it was also not getting any better. Worse, the yokels who replaced the first failed headset bearings didn't add any spacers, so the fork always flexed a bit under braking (attempting to resolve this resulted in a bound-up steerer). I knew I couldn't service angular-contact bearings, but that they were going to be cheaper and easier to toss than the BB bearings, so I ordered a set of Cane Creek 41/52mm series 40 bearings. There is no flex in the fork now, and sizing the correct bearings meant no need for shims to keep from locking up the steerer. Yay!

So after taking a day to calm down, I rolled up my sleeves and tore the bottom of the bike apart. Water was everywhere and had fouled every scrap of lube and grease, so the first thing I had to do was a thorough cleaning of the inner parts of the bike, along with rotating the frame around to get all the water out.

After that, I put a big socket on the inside of the bearings and popped them both out with a hammer, then pulled off the outer faces. There was standing water INSIDE both bearings, and rotating the inner race forced even more water out.

I'd never torn down bearings so small, so it took a while to figure out how to remove the retainers and balls, but everything came apart and got as cleaned as it could be. I repacked the whole thing with Redline CV2, a fully synthetic grease I'd used to pack Miata front hubs over the years. I figure if it can stand up to the rigors of jumping on the brakes at 120mph, it can handle the occasional burst of power through a bike frame. Even so, it's probably way too thick for this application, but it's what I had.

After getting the bearings fully re-packed, the grind was almost imperceptible. There's no question that crud was etched into the inner and outer races, but given the incredible hardness of ceramic, I doubt the balls were etched, so if the repair does not hold up, I'll buy and gut a pair of steel 2437 bearings and transfer the ceramic balls.

I went out and put down a couple of test rides after getting everything patched up, and almost instantly realized the Shimano Ultegra 6800 chain was binding at the connector pin. No matter how much I've lubed and cared for that chain, it just keeps jumping on the 11 & 12 cogs. Can't have that during a race, so I ordered a KMC X11.93, which came with an unexpected (and minimal) 2g weight savings.

So now this bike is on its 3rd headset, 3rd chain, and functionally 3rd bottom bracket in just over 2000 miles. Going fast costs money, but it's always nice when it costs money that was already spent on the hobbies of yesteryear.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

BPTS#5 - Domestiquerie

After a 3-week hiatus to allow clean-up from a significant summer storm, Bryan Park was back on the Tuesday night schedule last night.

Three weeks off posed an interesting set of questions. Who had taken the time to train up? Who had gotten lazy? What teams had worked on strategy and communication? Who would even show up?

I took the break to start a mileage blitz and get Alastair into road cycling. My blitz and my vacation started with the hiatus, which was pretty convenient, and I've been getting 150+ miles per week, with at least 100 at speed. There have been a couple of pace-y rides with the team, some decent strategy discussion, and the legs came into this week feeling pretty good.

But I decided to commute on Monday, to get more of my blitz in before things happen next month that will significantly impact my riding availability.

And while I was pretty good about not using explosive power on the morning commute, I foolishly chased a KOM on the way home. A 4.1 mile KOM. I got it, but at substantial cost.

Tuesday I was feeling pretty flat all day. My legs just felt heavy, and work was pushing pretty hard for some tight deadlines.

So stressed out and tired, I headed over to Bryan Park with a head full of questions and no gas in the tank.

I gridded up near the rear so as to be less tempted to blow up off the front, and rolled around near the back of the pack for 2 or 3 laps before getting bored. As I was getting to the front, I saw one of our guys join a break.

It was too early for a break to stick, and I didn't really have the legs to chase it down, but I decided to see if I could impose a pace on the peloton. They obliged and I was able to build a 6-second gap for the lead-out group. It fell apart after a lap or so, and I dropped back through the pack.

During the women's prime lap, I was amazed to hear a bunch of racers shouting to let up the pace and let the ladies through. That's ridiculous, because they're scored based on wherever the hell they are--they don't have to be off the front. So I found Maggie's wheel and chased her to the front and held out there while another teammate started a break.

Once again I found myself hanging off the front, holding up the pack through the turns. Nobody seemed eager to pass, but with the breaks being one or two riders, none were destined for success.

We had a rider tear off for a prime, late in the race, and then later one of our guys tried to make a break that would stick. I held off the pack as long as I could, but with two laps to go I knew I was done.

I made it to the final turn before the bell lap before the group consumed me, and ended up finishing just about last in the peloton.

But we put together a hell of a team effort, sending guys off the front, blocking, winning primes, and ended up with at least two riders (of 8) in the top 10. It felt really good to finally be a part of something strategic, rather than just a privateer in a team jersey. And I should now be two races away from moving out of Cat 5!

Friday, June 17, 2016

BPTS#4

Monday I rode 50+ miles at a pretty decent pace, all on the commute bike. I dealt with asshole drivers and was directly threatened, which was cute. But I was spent on Tuesday, going into the race. I even went so far as to start selling excuses about upcoming vacations and risk aversion and all sorts of dumb.

And when I got to the starting grid, all the usual fast guys were right up there in the front.

But last week there were wrecks, and those wrecks were NOT at the front. So all that talk about being risk-averse meant it would actually be pretty dumb to fall to the back.

So with no cogent plan and sore legs, I rolled off with the group and battled to stay in the top 10 for several laps.

About 8 laps into the race, I thought my legs were giving up, and they rang the second prime. One dude went for it on the back straight, and coming around the last turn, nobody jumped to follow him. With a pretty sizable gap to make up and no real sense of where the start/finish line is, I figured if I was going to flame out it might as well be for a prime. So I pinned it and shot off the front.

As soon as I could make out the start/finish line, I knew it was going to be close, but I just gunned it harder, shifted, and blew past the guy with about 3 bike-lengths to spare.

And for the next 1/3 of a lap, nobody caught up. I figured I was done, but instead I got a nice little rest off the front, and when they did pass, I was just able to hang on.

As the laps wore down, I started to feel like maybe I could actually go the distance, but I had a new problem: my fingers--all of them--were numb. By lap 13 (of 15), I had to look down at my hands to shift. And because the rise into the final turn requires 2 down-shifts, it was costing me valuable time and position.

In the final lap I just couldn't find an opening to get out to the front, and the shifting struggles were overwhelming, and I let off a bit coming into the final turn. 10 bikes were ahead, but two riders didn't look strong. I gave it one final go and picked both off, finishing 8th for the night.

My prime winnings turned out to be $15 cash, so obviously this whole bike thing is going to start paying for itself: only a few thousand dollars more, and I'll break even! And while 8th wasn't what I wanted, it's pretty consistent with my last two 7th place finishes.

The rest of the team finished well in the pack, with DR just a couple of spots behind me.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

BPTS#3

Last night we ran Bryan Park clockwise for the first time. It was an experience.

For the first time, I decided to ride to the event, since my company just moved to offices 3 miles from the park. It seemed like a decent choice, even though I knew I was going to have to change tires before riding over, and even though we'd been forewarned to get there early for administrative stuff.

Somehow it took me almost 25 minutes to change the tires, which put me waaay behind. I'd gotten a small gash in the rear tire in the first race, and it opened up a bit between the 2nd race and the team ride last weekend, so there was no chance I was going to just wing it and hope for the best.

But the 3 mile ride turned out to be just about the perfect warmup distance, and I got a quick couple of laps in to judge the course.

Then came the DARK CLOUDS OF DOOM. As we were lining up for the start, big winds were blowing and a few fat raindrops hit us. The coordinators announced that the race could be called at any lap if the weather turned super gross, and then they let us rip.

Somehow I'd found my way to the start line relatively early, and actually started from the front row. And somehow I clipped in faster than anybody else, because within 60 feet I was leading the race.

Going into the first turn I felt pretty good until SNAKE!! Right in the path of my wheels while leaned over pretty steeply for the turn. Brake and I'd likely roll the snake and give up traction, not to mention getting plowed from behind. Hold the turn and I'd likely wreck, too, so I sat up a bit, aimed right at the dangerous berm on the outside of the turn, and crushed the snake. You're welcome, everybody.

That trajectory turned out to be a boon, because not 100' past the snake a large tangle of limbs had fallen. So I went from shouting "SNAKE SNAKE SNAKE" to "DEBRIS DEBRIS DEBRIS".

And still I had the lead, so I backed it down. And then I backed it down some more. And more. I did not want to blow up pulling the crowd through the hairpin and up the hill to the kink, but nobody else wanted to, either. They let me drop the pace to 22 before pulling past, and we were on.

Several laps went by at blistering pace, but without incident. Then Eddie charged off the front, because that is what he does. I was pinned 10 deep when he jumped, but found an opening and gassed it as hard as I could. It took about half a lap to bridge, but we were clear. Waaaay clear. And then Eddie sat up, because that is also what he does.

The first rider to catch us asked why in the hell we would give up the breakaway like that, but Eddie is smart and powerful and knows how to wear out his competition. So once again that work was all thrown away, but frankly I'm not sure I could have endured another 5 or 6 laps at that pace.

A few more laps of jockeying and pacing with nearly constant shouts for dropped riders to hold their line (one swerved right into our paceline at one point), and then calamity: the guy to my immediate left over-corrected in the hairpin, and his bike leapt up in the air and stopped. How nobody hit him is a mystery, but it pulled the peloton apart and nearly allowed for a proper break at the bell lap.

By some mystical miracle, once again the lap-board wasn't updated in time, and half of the leaders saw "2" when it should have said "1", ignored the bell, and didn't push. USE ALL THE TOOLS.

Coming into the hairpin for the final surge, the wrecked rider was still slightly on the pavement on the outside, so the run through the turn was a bit dicey, and the hammers dropped too late. The first 4 were through and away, and the next group of 10 were all bunched up. I got clear of a few of them and had a real run for 5th place, but realized I was on the losing side of an argument going into the final kink and backed out just a touch, putting two riders through and out of my reach.

I ended up settling for another 7th place finish, the final scoring position.

I think I like Bryan Park clockwise. I'm not sure if I like it more or less than CCW, but there is no braking at all into the hairpin because the exit is uphill. And that uphill exit caused me to do something I'd never ever done in a race: stand up. I tried my usual seated sprint in the first lap, found it just didn't work, and resigned myself to the extra effort of the standing attack. I expected it to blow me up, but it really didn't. And doing it for 14 laps gave me the confidence to stand on the final blast to the finish line. I know I picked off 3 riders in that final surge because of my willingness to try something new (before judging me for not standing, know that ~2/3 of my miles are commuting with beefy panniers--they functionally prevent me from doing a standing sprint, so I've gotten used to just not trying).

The rest of the team did well, too, with Patrick winning a prime and nobody getting dropped. FSR rocked the frog!

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Bryan Park Training Series #2 - First Road Points

Another Tuesday night means another crit at Bryan Park. This one was a bit softer-paced at 24.3 mph average, as at least one of last week's juniors skipped it. Thank God.

For the first time in maybe forever, I showed up with plenty of time to warm up, and yet still managed to get to the starting grid too late to secure a good spot. That meant the first few laps would be thrown away efforts just trying to jockey toward the front. But this time I managed traffic a bit better and found the leaders within two laps.

Once again this race settled into a pattern of blasting out of the hairpin and sitting up on the back straight, a behavior I simply do not yet understand, because on several laps we gapped the field, only to let them reel us back in. In fact, on one lap the peloton nearly freight-trained past us on the inside.

The race was full of the usual aggressive antics of Yellow Armwarmer Guy from February's William & Mary race, but people are learning to stay away from him, which means when he makes a move, a hole opens behind him. I jumped through that hole a few times last night before folks wised up to that maneuver.

As the race wore on, I started really doubting my ability to hang on to the end. I hadn't put in very many miles last week, and had just done Wintergreen on Saturday. So I just made it my goal to hold the draft off the leaders and not get swamped in the peloton, and suddenly there were only 3 laps to go.

Coming around to the 2-lap mark, I knew to expect a lull and a formation for a big sprint finish, so I put myself on the outside of the back straight to prevent getting pinched, and as we came back by the line, the commissaires had forgotten to flip the board from 2 laps to 1. Even though the bell rang, a bunch of folks went by what was on the board and set up another lull & formation attempt.

Around the final turn, half of the leaders jumped. As I was hammering, I heard a bunch of exclamations that it wasn't the finish, but it was. And I was in decent enough position to make a go of it. Unfortunately YAG was directly in front of me, and either blew up or misjudged the lap number, too. It took me a moment to find space for the pass, or I might have been a bit further up the order.

As it was, I crossed the line in 7th place, my first points!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Wintergreen Cliffhanger MOUNTAIN BIKE RACE

40 days. That's how long it took from buying my mountain bike to racing it. That sounds like plenty of time to prepare, except that's about how long the biblical rains have been coming down in the area, too.

As such, I had only managed to put about 20 miles in on the thing, and only 6 or 7 on the converted 1x10 drivetrain, and only 2 of those on the extended range 40T cog. I was not feeling prepared when I rolled up.

But I ran into two of my teammates who helped put my nerves at ease and warmed up a bit in the morning sunshine.

At 10:15, about 15 of us lined up for the Beginner race, a 4 mile loop down the slopes, through the woods, and up up up on single-track and scree. As soon as we were rolling, I knew I was in trouble. The loose stuff was so loose, and I was soooooo stiff, that I couldn't keep the bike on the course going downhill. I overshot almost every switch-back and really got aggressive on the brakes. By 0.5 miles in, I was where I expected to end up: dead last.

But then came level ground and the first slight incline, and instantly I started reeling people in, like to the point where I was worried I was working too hard. By 1 mile into the race, I was squarely back in the middle of the group. Then came the trails. The unending twisting trails. Switch-backs, roots, rocks, constant grade-changes, and trying to make passes stick on the tight single-track.

Fortunately, everybody out there recognizes the inherent risk of this kind of racing, so passes (at least at the Beginner level) were very cordial and carefully coordinated--not at all like out on the road.

After a mile or so of constantly unclipping and coming off the pedals, I finally got to freedom, and The Hill. I couldn't tell when I first saw it, but it looked like The Hill was a bit on the steep side. It also appeared to be wide and gravelly, so I was optimistic. But when I got to it, I realized it was more of a wall than a hill. Thank God for the 40T cog!

I got a running start at it, shifted onto the 40, jumped up over the handlebars, and just focused on putting out the best circular pedal-strokes I could. One by one the other riders came to me, 3 on the steepest part of the climb (24% at one point, on frickin' gravel), and another two at the crest, and I was up! 15th fastest rider on that climb, according to Strava, which I'll happily take for having so little experience.

After that meat-grinder, there was another downhill section that I was too tired to fight, and actually managed to ride pretty well because of it, and then another 500' or so of climbing through more single-track and scree. Through all the climbing, though, I kept catching other riders. Even coming unclipped over and over on those loose switch-backs (and nearly pitching off the side of a couple tiny bridges), I still kept reeling them in.

Then I heard Alastair shouting for me to go go go, so I put my head down and struggled through the last few hundred feet to the end, where there were only 4 bikes scattered around in front of me.

Somehow I'd managed to pull off a 5th place finish!



It's worth mentioning that there was a little boy lined up with us at the start on exactly Alastair's bike: a stock Specialized HotRock 24. That bike is HEAVY (~29lbs), has only 7 speeds, and that little boy couldn't have been a day over 8. How he managed, I will never know, but he finished that 4-mile lap in just over 80 minutes. Mad props to him!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Bryan Park Training Series #1 - B Race

Last night was the rescheduled start to the 2016 Bryan Park Training Series, and it was awesome, with a big asterisk. Like maybe this big:

Probably bigger, honestly. And definitely redder. But we'll come back to that.

I got to the event at my usual time: entirely too late to warm up, and with barely enough time to pin on numbers. And, as usual, I could barely satisfy the self-identification requirements at check-in. One day I'll get that stuff right, but it wasn't last night. Fortunately, because I have a season pass, I can pre-pin my numbers from now on and arrive at least another 3 minutes later.

I'd not done Bryan Park before. I'd ridden the course a couple of times with my teammates, but that was months ago, and I was suitably nervous about the quasi-hairpin and long uphill back straight. I was busy worrying about that at the back of the starting line-up when I realized the guy in front of me was in a very high and aggressive gear for starting off, so I shifted my worry to getting around him and clipping in. And with good reason, because dammit: both were tough.

But then we were rolling.

And I mean rolling. ROLLING (average speed for the race was 26.2mph). The first 4 laps were spent moving from the back of the pack to the front 15 or so. I like sitting about 10 - 12 wheels off the lead so I can respond to an attack if necessary, but not blow up. My concerns about the hairpin were perhaps a bit unfounded, as it turned out to be easy enough to roll through 2 abreast with the leaders, but the back straight felt like I was riding across a rock garden. The patches of pavement were extremely disruptive to the bike, and the pace we pulled out of that turn was staggering.

Each lap would see a run through the turn at just a tick over 20mph, then a blast up to about 32mph up to the dog-leg, then a lot of sitting up. I spent a lot of time on that back straight on my brakes.

The front straight was much the same, with a tight exit from the final turn, a blast of power, then a whole lot of nothing past the kink.

Team orders for the race were to not allow a breakaway that didn't include one of our guys, and since there weren't any of us ahead, I stayed GLUED to 10th wheel, responding to every attack, lap after lap. When I finally saw one of our guys pass me, I was ready to sit up and drop back, but then he did the same (I found out later he was going for a prime). So I stayed on the back of the lead group.

In the 10th lap, disaster struck: reaching down for my water bottle, I hit a tiny bump and heard the sharp, unmistakable "ting, ting, ting" of my wedding band bouncing down the road. I nearly stopped right then and there, but realized that there would be no better chance of finding it then than after the race, so I just shouted profanities for the next half a lap and rolled on. FWIW: you will never find a better group of people to call teammates. They helped me comb through hundreds of feet of grass & gravel after the race, but the ring is gone. Fortunately I am married to a wonderful woman who was not angry about it.

Regrouping, I realized I'd let a bit of space form in front, so I powered up and caught on to the draft again. By this time I was joined by most of the team, but no solid breakaways were happening with the blistering overall pace. Since we were collectively positioned well, I fought on.

On lap 14, the pace slowed a bit in anticipation of the bell. Tragically, the front guys dropping pace meant a bunch of riders were able to move up from the back, and the bell lap was just a hot mess. What had been 4-wide on the back straight became 8, and my plan of getting a solid run up the inside was summarily cut off, forcing me into the grass for a second before rejoining. As we rounded the last turn, I knew I'd been pinched and put out of contention.

I hammered as hard as my 15-lap, 40-year old legs would allow...seated...and managed to pick up a position or two as the leaders violently yawed their bikes to the finish.

I finished off the lead group, but still clear of the pack, and once again I think I'm about 15th or so. Next time I'll take that lap 14 lull to move forward. I may not have a solid lap of sprint in me, but I do not want to get caught behind a knot of riders who are all on the brakes again.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

PlaySkool MyFirst Criterium

50 degrees and drizzly, 42 nut-jobs, and 30 minutes on a banked oval that a week before had hosted the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The only way our race could have been more different is if we'd ridden it clockwise.

This was my first crit, the kind of racing for which my Blue Axino is purpose-built. It was cold enough that I spent an hour last night vacillating over what to wear, and just wet enough to make sure you felt that cold. Everything I'd read and been told was all the same: do not crit in the rain. But once the whistle blew, nothing mattered except the wheel in front and the vibe of the pack.

I was just self-aware enough to keep my plan of finishing upright, and while I waited over and over for "the big break", it never really came. There were two juniors running out front. Both were high school students, and in fact just two weeks ago I'd bought a mountain bike from one's brother. They threw numerous abortive attacks off the front, but every time they pulled out a lead, they would look at each other and sit up. At one point they pulled a STRONG charge, and it was all I could do to bridge across, but again: they just sat up after a lap and the group reeled us in.

Once that break failed, we started shouting as a group to let them charge and not chase. Of course, even though everybody was shouting it, they'd still jump when the teenagers said.

After about 8 laps of this, the grown-ups took over and pushed a proper race pace for several laps. It was easy to stay out to the right, safely just shrouded enough to catch a draft, but just far enough outside to avoid disaster.

Each lap developed a rhythm: fast through turns 1 & 2, coast halfway down the back straight, a hard charge on the outside heading into turn 3, and a sickeningly tight bunch through turn 4 with a charge to the start/finish line.

When the bell rang, it was game-on with .7 miles to the line. I honestly did not believe I would have that much sprint in me, so I stayed on a wheel and let the break form around me, figuring some of the early jumpers would pop.

But this was a flat surface, and there was no wind to speak of. My decision took me from about 10th to about 25th in .3 miles, and the guy in front of me was blowing up. I jumped and rolled pretty hard--still worried about blowing up early, pulling in 6 riders and realizing I'd wasted a huge opportunity. I ran the last guy down just before the finish line and was left with nobody but myself to blame for the disappointment. I quickly tallied up the bikes ahead and was convinced that, for the 3rd time in a row, I'd managed 16th place.

But then I learned that the two juniors were running in our class. So, 18th.

Needless to say, this was not the result I had hoped for. I *did* finish upright, and I *did* add to my completed-races count, so I will get to continue toward upgrading to Cat 4 (7 races left!), but I threw away an opportunity to really shine and settled with a mid-pack performance.

Racing must not be about settling. Though it is critical to make a race plan and stick to it, it is equally critical to recognize opportunity and seize it. I need to stop taking such a conservative approach and just let 'er fly.

Next up: the Cap2Cap century ride on May 14. Not a race, but a test of willpower and determination.

Then it's off to the Bryan Park Training Series May 17. It will be interesting to see if I'm even capable of doing a century and a crit in the same week.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Let's ride bikes really fast up hills until we feel like puking

Yesterday I survived the Jefferson Cup in Charlottesville, VA, my second cycling road race, and my first as a member of Full Spectrum Racing.

I managed to arrive in time to get numbers pinned (with help) and have my teammates strip my bike of unnecessary bits (lights & seat-bag), but not in time to get a warm-up ride. My goal for the day was not to win, not even to place particularly well, but to finish. Three laps of that course adds up to 2500 feet of climbing, and I have never done that much climbing in 30 miles. Three laps of one looooong slow climb followed by a steep .4 mile 110' ascent and a couple of beastly rollers was a harrowing thought. Survive. That was all I wanted. And as a Cat 5 racer, it's honestly all I needed.

But just as we were about to roll out for the 2-mile neutral zone, race control stopped us in the parking lot and announced that a power outage along the route was going to force the race to drop from 3 laps to 2.

And in the blink of an eye, strategy changed across the field. The roll-out was actually as punchy as the William & Mary road race, with teammates trying to find each other and folks jockeying for position. I took up a spot near the back of the group, ready to just ride with a group for as long as my legs would carry me, but it became clear, even in the roll-out, that the field was divided between racers and survivors. With 2 laps and only ~1500 feet to climb, maybe--just maybe--I could be a racer. So I moved up.

And I am glad I did.

Once across the start line, the pace quickly jumped from 17mph to 25mph...uphill. We rounded the turn onto Blenheim at 19.5mph and hammered up the hill. And at only 1.5 miles into the race, it was already decided. The field split with 20 bikes off the front, and my choice to move up during the neutral zone was the only thing that kept me in contact with them.

I watched the tete de la course get about a 15 second advantage over me at the start of the descent, and broke out the super tuck, hitting 45.4 mph on the downhill and carrying one other rider with me back to the front. I am really glad I took the time to learn how to do that.

Once back with the lead group, the ride held a strong average speed of 23.7 mph for 8 miles, including the long grind up Carter's Mountain Rd. There were a couple of small incidents, including one of the lead riders wildly veering left in the bunch and going off the road. Fortunately, nobody was taken out. During the Carter's Mountain climb, a rider to my left dropped his water bottle under the wheels of the three following bikes, including that of my teammate Matt.

Then came that beast of a climb again, and this time there was no hanging on. I made it up 2/3 of the way with Matt, but I'd spent too much and fell back 15 seconds again. Only this time the super tuck wasn't enough, as the leaders pedaled hard down the other side. I stayed 20 seconds adrift for about a mile, then two other riders caught me up and we tried in vain to reel the group back in.

After 3 more miles, our little 3-man group broke up on a climb, and having nothing left to spend, I sat up and waited for them. Only one came, and he and I worked hard just to make it to the final turn. A couple of glances back revealed that there was nobody within half a mile, so I let that guy go and decided not to hurt myself any further, riding in at a painful, if somewhat more relaxed, 18.5 mph average.

Only after crossing the finish line did I look down and realize I hadn't had any water in the entire 2nd lap. That is a quick and stupid way to burn out.

I don't know how I finished. I want to say I'm somewhere in the top 20, of 65. I lost the leaders, but I never saw the peloton. By Strava's reckoning, I finished the race in 50:59 at 23.3 mph average. So I achieved my goal, and arguably exceeded it.

I do know that I hurt myself. There is a deep searing pain at the base of my spine that *could* be from a bump while super-tucked, but could also be something muscular or worse. Either way, I'm off the bike for at least a week.

***UPDATE*** Results are in: I came in 16th of 64. That's the same position as last time, but in a bigger field. Right on the outside edge of the top 25%

Monday, February 29, 2016

First cycling road race in the books!

Saturday morning I got up bright and (dark and) early at 5:50am, loaded a sleepy boy into the car, and headed down to Williamsburg for my first ever road race. The morning was cold--24F when we left the house, and predicted to be only 30F at the 8am start time--though the day was supposed to warm up considerably. The car had been packed the night before with all the necessaries and sundries to keep a bike, a boy, and his bike in running order through a long day, and yet somehow we still managed to take a 1-hour drive and turn it into a 95-minute panic attack.

We arrived with only the barest of time left to unpack and get to registration, so it was with great relief that I heard the start had been pushed back to 8:15. I got my bike ready, made sure Alastair was warm enough and knew where to be to watch the race, and gathered at the start for the neutral roll-out.

The pre-race briefing was very difficult to hear, but I heard the guy mention "centerline", which was a term I'd learned literally just the night before while watching race videos. The "centerline" rule means the double yellow line on the road is inviolable, just as for cars, and within 3 miles of the start, I learned just how inviolable it was.

Just past the neutral roll-out, I found myself in the left side paceline, tight on the wheel of the guy in front. We'll call him Yellow Armwarmer Guy, or YAG, because he comes  back later on. The group in front accordions, and YAG zigs left across the double yellow to avoid a collision. Only instead of tucking back in, he breaks and charges up to the front. His break comes maybe 100m from a right turn, and I follow as other riders fight for space on the right (really? nobody wants to widen out that first turn?). Only instead of crossing a double yellow, I'm charging behind him in an unmarked area, and there is no line past the turn. Right as we get to the front (with 1 rider way out front trying to make something for himself), up comes the motorcycle, beeping like crazy. YAG gets dressed down and told to go to the back, and I quickly drop back into the paceline.

YAG is pissed.

The race continued uneventfully for the next couple of miles, with that one lone rider eventually getting reeled in and another pair trying to break at the first climb. This time I was closer to the front and bridged with enough momentum to continue the break on my own. I was hoping they'd chase and make a 3-man break, but they didn't, and after a mile or two out in the air, I sat up.

When the group caught me, I went pretty far back into the pack, pinned down on the right shoulder. Amazingly, for the next 6 miles, nothing happened. Nothing at all. No attacks, no breaks, no nothing. Just a parade of 50 bikes in a tight peloton. I managed to work back up to within sight of the leaders--maybe 20 riders from the front.

Then course is only 9.44 miles, repeated twice, with a 1-mile road off to the left at the end. So as we began the 2nd lap and approached the first climb again, it was clear that everybody had exactly the same strategy: make a break at the climb. But the trouble with the centerline rule is that, because you can only use one half of the road, if the group is still together, the whole group can only move at the speed of the slowest riders up front. So again: no break. I realized I was too far back to effectively counter a break if it happened, so I spent the next couple of miles working back up to the front.

I made it my only goal in life to suck wheel off the lead rider. When any attack started, I'd rob the 2nd rider of the wheel. I must have done it 10 times in that last lap, when YAG came back. First he tried  to break on the right, but the lead rider (6'+, 200lb+) moved right, and YAG went off onto the shoulder. He fought back, now extra super pissed, and decided to try to steal my spot.

This was the first time in my life I've ever rolled 20mph+ and had someone intentionally run into me, and YAG had me by at least 30lbs. But I knew it was coming, so I put myself a few inches ahead of him, making my position more stable and lower on the bike. YAG did not win that battle, but he tried and tried and tried for the last 1/2 mile to the final turn. It was frankly terrifying, but with each failed attempt, I gained a bit more confidence at holding my position.

And even though there was just about a solid mile left at the turn, that's when it happened: everyone broke en masse. My coveted 2nd position was swamped by two pace lines, then 4, then 6. Riders everywhere, all abandoning any sense of teamwork or even wheel-suck, just hammering like lunatics for the final mile to the finish.

And I'd over-spent. I watched about 20 riders pull ahead and was just on the verge of saying "screw it" when we got to the last short climb to the finish. And riders started bonking. Within sight of the finish line, five riders just dropped their pace and slogged up, and I got them all. I'm not sure, but I *think* YAG was one of them. I hope he was.

I was credited with a 16th place finish out of a field of 50, and I learned a TON. I cannot wait to do it again.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Of Monsters and Classics

Last weekend was the first outdoor event of my 2016 racing season. It was not a good start.

The event was the annual MonsterCross race at Pocahontas State Park, a 2 lap, 50 mile mixed-surface event open to mountain and cyclocross bikes, and the weather forecast looked to be just about perfect for the first 3 hours of the ride.

I mounted SPD pedals and Schwalbe CX Pro 32mm tires on the Fuji Sportif 1.1D and headed down last Thursday for a recon ride. Within the first 5 miles, I was already regretting my life-choices. At 12 miles I was convinced the park was trying to kill me, and at 20 miles I was hopelessly lost on a maze of trails that all have the same name, and rapidly running out of daylight.

After a bit of panic in the wilderness, I calmed my shit down and found the way back to the car, displeased that I would have to repeat the activity on the weekend, but taking solace in the idea of suffering with 500 of my closest enemies.

Sunday morning, with the best big-boy attitude I could muster, I packed the car and rolled back down to Pocahontas.

The environment was amazing, and my attitude quickly improved, almost to hopefulness. Almost. I got the bike ready, did a quick warm-up, and got in the corral and waited. And waited. And waited. The race, for whatever reason, started at least 15 minutes late. I've done a fair number of timed competitions in the past few years, and aside from one very small local 5K, none have ever started late. Whatever: that would be the least of my concerns.

The first few miles were exactly as I'd thought: jockeying for any ground to move forward. Being a roadie, I was ill-prepared for the need to keep a constant eye on the ground below the bike for roots. Thursday's recon ride had told me it would be nasty, but nothing like the first 'hit'. At about 5 miles into the race, on a long fast dirt & gravel descent, I hit a root that twisted my handlebars down by about 15 degrees.

From that point on, I was putting extra stress on my back, but I kept fighting and pushing and eventually fell into a really nice rhythm that held up for another 5 miles or so. I got in with a group of CX riders who were on a strong push to the front, and as we made the turn toward the first steep descent & creek crossing, was asked to team up with another guy. As soon as he asked the question, my rear tire went down. Pointed downhill at about 20mph on big loose rocks (I'm sure the rim is toast, but I honestly haven't even looked at it since).

I pulled off and got into my bag quickly, pulling out the tube and tools and just couldn't get the damned thing to mount. I spent 14 minutes stopped by the side of the trail putting on a frickin' tire, which is insane, and then forgot to lock the wheel in place when I got going again. That was caught by total blind luck, and I started on again. And then a mile later, I crashed the bike. ON THE ROAD. The actual paved road. Grrr. I was making an outside pass in a sharp-ish turn when the guy inside casually turned out from the apex, leaving me pointed straight at a ditch.

The impact was very light, with only minimal bleeding and no tears to my kit, but I didn't realize it turned the left brake-hood inboard by about 10 degrees.

So now my handlebars were pointed down and canted inward and my confidence was done. But I rallied. I decided I would likely only do one lap, so it might as well be balls-out. I briefly held KOM in Strava for the next segment, and I blasted through the woods as hard as the bike would allow, heart-rate alarms going off every 30 seconds or so.

I got to the north half of the course--where I'd gotten lost just 3 days before--and picked off bike after bike until I felt like I'd made up most of the time lost on the tire.

And then came the worst conditions I'd seen so far: 3 more creek-crossings I hadn't seen on Thursday, and a muddy road that was somehow muddier than it had been before, in spite of dry weather. But I didn't care. I was flying. And as I was nearing the top of another ascent, 1 gear off the bottom and grinding out those last few feet, a mountain-bike rider took my lane (in spite of a shouted "on your left") and I darted farther left, not realizing that I would have to go through 12" deep leaves. I made it 10 feet before I was forced to acknowledge that the bike couldn't get back up on the trail and rode straight into a tree.

....and scene. Race done. But 4 miles from the car is not where one can arbitrarily declare oneself "done". So against any sense of better judgment, I continued on, *still* rolling as hard as I possibly could, which was really freaking stupid because I knew I have a race coming this weekend, too. Three of those last four miles are not designed for cyclists, and on any other day are explicitly prohibited for cyclists. I imagine the mountain-bike guys probably liked some of it, but the CX guys had to have hated it: sharp climbs, lots of roots, no room for error, really fast descents with loose crap all over the road. It was terrifying, grueling, and with no spare tubes left, I wasn't sure I was going to make it back to start/finish.

But I did, at 1:57 & change on the race clock. I'd put in one lap and had less than no interest in repeating the experience, so I packed it in and ate a whole mess of fry. 1 hour later, it started to rain and the temps dropped. I'm confident I made the right call.

Tl;dr: MonsterCross was awful.

So with only 5 days between that and my first road race, I needed a little boost.

I tore down the drivetrains on both road bikes, cleaned them as thoroughly as possible (why are Ultegra chains harder to clean than KMC?), and signed up for Tuesday night's Zwift ZTR-PDT C race.

I've done a couple of abortive attempts at Zwift races. In the first effort, I over-spent and got dropped on the first lap. In the second effort, I lost my Internet, and Zwift does not appreciate working offline. Plus, the laptop was 3+ years old, so running Zwift at all was kind of a stretch.

New laptop should alleviate such problems, right? And one can foolishly hope-against-hope that the new laptop will somehow...not...lose...internet? Right? Maybe? Well I did. Hope, that is.

Of course I missed the start of the race by 40 seconds, because I am me. And then Zwift started doing its magic: locking up my brand new PC while it tried to resolve rider names. The neat thing about Zwift racing is that results are compiled after the fact by uploading rides and comparing ride and rider names against Strava, so if you go offline, you can still race, but you lose the draft. And without the draft, you have to work really, really hard.

I was not about to have a repeat of Sunday's misery, so with the internet flaking in and out, and Zwift locking up hard from time to time (anywhere from 5 to 90 seconds), I just rolled as hard as I could until 5 laps were done and waited for results. In so doing, I inadvertently increased my FTP to 246W (an increase of 20W as measured by my trainer, or 10W by the power meter) and unlocked level 10, which grants access to incredibly fast wheels in the game.

And when the results came in, I got really weirdly mixed news: one site had me in 12th of 15, and another had me in 5th of 13. Because of my lockups, the site that analyzes my saved ride-file recorded only the time that Zwift was actually working properly: 1:14:11. The other site, however, looks at known GPS coordinates at known times, and therefore captured where my PC clock had me: 1:20:59.8. If, however, I take my un-corrected time of 1:14:11 and subtract that from the race-winning time on the second site, I move to 4th place.

Because the locally-saved ride file captured the actual effort of my ride, I'm going with the 5th place finish. And I'm quite proud of that.

So now I'm getting ready for this Saturday. At 8am I'm scheduled to start my first road race, the William & Mary Tidewater Winter Classic. At 22 miles, it should be over in an hour.

The course is mostly flat, with two short climbs. I've fitted my lightest tires to my rebuilt wheels and my fastest gear-set, and now I'm wrestling with kit and strategy.

It will be cold, but how cold? If it's above 38F at start time, I know exactly what to wear. But if it's much below that there are glove, bib, and jersey choices that are warmer, but at dire cost to weight and flexibility.

It's a Cat 5 race (entry-level), so nobody has a lot of experience. I know I can pump out 22 miles in an hour, but looking at past results, it looks like the Cat 5 typically ends at 1:04 to 1:10. Is that just a conservative pace-line that holds until 20 miles and then breaks? Do I just say 'screw it' and blaze for an hour, hoping the other guys will pop first? I doubt that's the right answer with almost 40 riders in the field, as I'd be giving a free tow to at least 2 or 3 of them. Do I watch carefully for the first rider to break, or wait for the first group to break? I know how many times I can bridge before I'm toast, so I know where I need to stay in the group. What about if I break at the first hill? The second?

The math nerd in me says to break early and hold a 22mph+ pace for the hour. It would be tough, but not impossible, and would put me almost 6 MINUTES ahead of a 20mph pace-line. That's a hell of a lot farther out than any human can achieve in a 2-mile sprint at the end. Even at 30mph for the last 2 miles, you would only gain 2 minutes over a group moving 20mph. Of course that needs a REALLY early break to work, as doing only half the race at 22mph hands back 3 minutes.

I'm so nervous and excited!