Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rapha Festive 500 - messy commute


I had reservations about commuting to work on Tuesday the 28th.  I do not have fenders attached to my 'cross bike yet so I figured if I made it to work I'd be very dirty and wet.  The side roads were still messy and sometimes unplowed.  

The northern half of the path along side the west side highway was untouched by a blade.  So I road past Columbia Med. on Ft Washington then went down the hill to Riverside Dr where I commuted through a very wet, dirty brown slush.

Eventually I arrived at 96th st and the path was plowed that led to the greenway.  I decided to hop on it, mostly to escape the nasty slush, but didn't make it very far before it became impassable.

So I tossed the bike on my shoulder for a little 'cross practice and started running through the snow.  The path opened up again a few hundred meters down so I performed an ugly mount with a bootie hanging off the shoe and was on my way to Riverside Dr again.  At 59th st, I headed towards the bike path and was happy to find it was mostly clear.

Commuting home after work turned out to be uneventful.  I took the same way I came in the morning, and got even more slush sprayed on my rear.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rapha Festive 500 - post blizzard, ride?


Data after five days:
distance - 229.5km
time - 9.16hrs

elevation gain - 3223m

The blizzard came.  It snowed about 20" over most of NYC, and due to the wind there are huge drifts of snow everywhere.  I had doubts that the 27th's ride would be very successful due to the unplowed streets.

Some of the main streets appeared to be reasonably plowed, but not really safe to ride on due to the giant plow trucks.  Once I got to a side street, the snow was now present on the road and I had to dismount a few times in some deeper sections.  Then up the road near where I turned around the snow was unplowed and about two feet deep and a number of cars were completely buried.

So I turned around and limped home down Broadway.

Distance:  1.29 miles

Monday, December 27, 2010

Rapha Festive 500 - the blizzard ride


Data after four days:
distance - 227.5km
time - 9hrs

elevation gain - 2974m

On the 26th, A blizzard warning was in effect starting around noon so we left CT early Sunday AM, and I eagerly anticipated my planned ride along the west side bike path in Manhattan starting a little after 1pm.

The weather quickly deterioated as I headed south.  The nor'easter wind increased throughout the day and made it a quick ride despite the steadily increasing snow on the path.

Eventually the wind grew so strong I started considering the return north to my apartment.  The snow was blowing and drifting and I soon learned that the studded snow tires do not perform well through drifts with depths of snow exceeding roughly 4 inches.  They were ok in deeper snow as long as it was a consistent depth.

I turned around where the path was blocked by construction south of the Goldman Sachs building.  I was quickly greeted with huge gusts of wind and snow.  What followed was an intense battle grinding my way along the path in 38x26.  Icy snow consistently stung my face.

My average speed was 19.4mph southbound.  After finishing the ride my avg speed was 12.4mph on a mostly flat, smooth paved road and I was working hard!  Near the end, my favorite part of the ride, there are some large steps that I ride both ways on my daily commute.

Time:  124 minutes
Distance:  26 miles

Friday, December 24, 2010

Rapha Festive 500

Data after three days:
distance - 186km
time - 473 minutes
elevation gain - 2811m

For the next seven days, I'm going to be taking part in Rapha's Festive 500.

I originally had a goal of 1300km, but after riding on the studded snow tires a few days I quickly realized I would not be covering as many miles due to the very high resistance of the Schwalbe winter marathons. How about 1000km now???

Day 1
I awoke at 6am and was greeted outside by dark skies and a 24F temperature with a windchill of 15F. I headed out for a 2 hour bistate ride before work on Stinky Pink with a backpack loaded for work. I started in the dark over the George Washington Bridge, and was eventually greeted with beautiful views of the Hudson while heading north on River Rd in NJ. I rode about halfway on River Rd then turned around and started towards work. A great way to start the day.


Time: 137 minutes
Distance: 36.1 miles

Day 2

For the second day of the Festive, Stinky Pink was loaded on to the back of the car and headed north from NYC to northwestern CT. Often I ride all the way from my apt in Manhattan to my parents place, but the studded tires make me go so slow I'd be on the road for 8 hours in sub-freezing weather riding in a headwind all day long...wah wah. Anyways, I opted to be dropped off north of the city and get in a nice 40 mile ride through the country to their house.


Lots of climbing averaging 100ft per mile, very cold with a windchill around 20F, and a constant headwind made this a deceivingly tough ride. My avg speed is so low I wonder if I'm losing my fitness.

I arrived at my parents house roughly 3 hours after being dropped off.  I couldn't feel my fingers, but otherwise felt great!

Time:  158 minutes
Distance:  39.8 miles

Day 3

For my third day, XMAS DAY, I took stinky pink out for a jaunt around the Washington, CT area.  Lots of climbing again averaging 100ft+ per mile.  Roughly half the ride was on dirt roads with a smattering of single and double track and big road climbs. Another day of sub-freezing weather, but today I put warmers on both my hands and feet hoping I'd be able to make it for more than a few hours before freezing.  Success!  Near the end my fingers started chilling a bit, but I think I finally have my winter kit nailed.


Time:  177 minutes
Distance:  39.7 miles

Monday, November 8, 2010 sponsors me for my first UCI elite race weekend

After my first weekend of spectacularly fun 'cross racing with the cat 2-3-4 group, an emotional breakup ensued and I decided it was time to face the semi-big boys of the cross world, the elite UCI men C2 category - don't ask me to explain. I just finished reading an essay trying to grasp the UCI's convoluted point system. It's enough to know C2 means bottom of the barrel as far as cyclocross eliteness goes.

Northampton, MA & Look Park were the gracious hosts of the 20th anniversary for the Cycle-Smart International 'Cross Race. A fun filled weekend of 'cross racing in the heart of New England was sure to excite all, me included. I headed up from CT in the 'rents SUV Saturday AM flying solo and arrived 3 hours early which gave me plenty of time to do the proper cyclocross race preparation. What's the ideal race prep? Well, it's still a soon to be released masterpiece in the works, but it goes something like this: sign in 5 (I was already way behind!) hours before your start time, doff your warm clothes for a flattering skinsuit immediately so the chill sets in early, then pre-ride the course 17 times before the race so you know the intricate corners, that magical line that floats you through the sand pit, and what rock or root to step upon next during those dreaded run-ups.

Currently I'm not partaking in my own game plan, and I chose to sit in the car with the heater on high, and eyed my new skinsuit (thanks!) with trepidation while I tried to figure out how to attach the three numbers to the hyper stretchy sleeves and back. I ended up following Mr. Dan Bonedeth's, NYC cyclocross extraordinaire, lead and illegally trimmed my sleeve numbers since my puny biceps are nowhere near large enough to support the 6" wide numbers. The rear I guesstimated, and only tore one corner when entering the lycra cage. My best job yet.

Saturday was a beautiful and sunny fall day, albeit a bit chilly, but I'm sure it classifies as warm in the cyclocross handbook. I drew my number enclosed in an envelope from a big box, and ended up near the back of the grid. Not surprising. Starting in the back sorta sucks in 2-3-4, but I had a hunch it would really stink in the elite category. My hunch didn't let me down.

After getting my tires checked to make sure they conform to the UCIs max tire size, I entered the corral and awaited the whistle. I didn't have to wait long, thankfully, and then it was all out war. A full blown sprint with 50+ guys down a narrow grass track. I got a bit lucky and managed to pass a decent chunk of guys. I probably rolled in to the first bottle neck around 25th place.

The first thing I discovered about the elite men is they are significantly more aggressive. I was elbowed a few times early on. I had a few guys cut me off around corners only to gain nothing. Those same guys dropped off the radar only minutes later never to be seen again. The second thing I learned was they do not like to be passed, and will do everything they can to make the pass difficult.

The first two laps were brutally fast, and I was thinking an hour of this is going to be extremely difficult. Fortunately, it seemed after two laps everything settled down, and a much more sustainable pace began. I was with a group of 4 or 5 guys and we traded positions off and on for the entire race. The leaders were long gone after the first choke point, and I quickly learned catching them was simply not going to happen. The chase group ahead of us was not in sight either so I ditched my aspirations of a top 10 finish, and focused on a top 20. A few guys here and there throughout the race would crash, or go out with a mechanical so my chances were pretty good.

By the end of the last lap we had dropped one guy from our group and another was dangling off the back. I tried to sprint to catch the guy in front of me but could not catch him so settled for 17th place. In the money, $31!

Day 2 can be summarized in a few short paragraphs:

I went to a cyclocross race that was colder than the day before, hated my warmth stealing skinsuit (it looks GREAT though, thanks even more than the day before, and was seriously lacking motivation to get out of the car. Today I had JPOW embrocation to test out on my chilled joints, courtesy of Jeremy Powers himself, who hosted me at his place for the weekend. And does it indeed JPOW! when applied, it's like, mmmm, DAMN, pow!, my skin is on fire but at least it smells nice. I guess that's a good thing. It helped me feel warm and safe.

Anyways, I warmed up a bit then hit the grid. Started in the very back today. Was near dead last going in to the first bottleneck. Passed some guys then my rear tire decided to pop off the rim and burp a heap load of air. Tubeless treated me nice for 3 races but failed miserably Sunday. I went to the pit but entered it from the exit point and was told I'd be DQ'd if I went back out on the course. How many rules this year am I going to break???? Not this one. One does not mess with the Union Cycliste Internationale!

And thus ends the illustrious story of Sunday's race. DNF!

My very first cross race.

Throughout the road racing season this year I was told numerous times by fellow racers I should try out cyclocross racing since I have some modest mountain biking roots. After my final road race at Univest this year, about the last thing I wanted to do was continue training and riding, especially as the temperature dropped and the days grew shorter, but the bug was already caught and I couldn't get 'cross out of my mind so I ordered a frameset and slapped some components on it.

I hate cold weather, and do not fare well in it. So what better sport to try than one that is raced in a warmth leaching skin suit on a course designed to purposely create poor conditions for a bunch of wannabe mountain bikers to muddle around in for one miserable hour, or if you're lucky 30 to 45 minutes, and even better, during the transition months to winter so it's freaking freezing most the time? I'm game. What the hell.

To make things even more interesting for my cyclocross debut, I refused to train for the month leading up to the first race, and was also adamantly against practicing dismounts, run-ups, or barrier hurdles. It seemed incredibly lame, in my eyes, to be in some random park in the city while cool people playing flag football stink-eyed me jumping over rocks, or even worse, imaginary barriers that only I could see. I also haven't run for 27 years, but wasn't about to begin this year.

Ok, a few of you probably rolled your eyes when I said I wasn't going to train. I admit it. I raced Iron Cross for four hours two weeks before my first true cross race, and also commute to work daily for about 40 minutes each way no matter the weather, and, uh, sometimes do intervals on the way to and from work. And then there's that group rocket ride I did a few weeks back, that 70 mile ride I did with a few teammates, and that century ride to Bear Mtn where I went as hard as possible up every hill...and, yeah, well, you get the point. I stopped doing "structured" intervals but never really stopped riding.

Last weekend I signed up for my first two 'cross races in Jersey. They were part of the MAC series and I was scared shitless I would trip and fall on my face going over the first barrier so I signed up for the 2-3-4 category instead of the UCI elite. So on Saturday, my first race, I nervously lined up with 70 or so other guys in the 2nd to last row and decided I would just have fun and see how things went.

The gun blasted and immediately I forgot the fun part and entered race mode and started sprinting up the side passing a good chunk of people, perhaps 20 or 30. When we hit the...hole shot? I think that's the technical cyclocross term... there was immediately a crash that I managed to avoid, and it was in to the woods we went. I picked off a few guys here and there and was maybe in 30th place.

Then came the sand run. Some guy in front of me hit the sand and face planted. I thought it was hilarious and almost stopped and said so, but decided that would further reduce my tiny fan club when word got out. Running through the sand was an awkward experience. It was deep and very loose. I'd liken the action to cross country skiing. After a few of these, my legs would be screwed, I thought.

After some more trail action next came the dreaded barriers. I went around the corner, hopped off, jumped over them and hopped back on. What the hell? Why do people train for these? Anyways, next was a run up an amphitheater. Huge steps, perhaps a foot and half tall. A bit wider than my stride so I was forced to lope or double step it. I live in a walk up so these were no big deal, but they added some spice to the mix and had me struggling to catch my breath each time I hopped back on the bike.

Eventually I caught the lead group and rode behind them in 5th place. They were going kinda slow but I didn't really know if it was a good idea to go solo so just hung around on the back. We putzed around for a few laps, and it was in to a sharp corner and up the road for a sprint finish. Being in the in very back, I had no time to catch up to the 3 guys who really gunned it. I passed one guy for a stellar 4th place finish.

Woo hah.

Day 2. Still stuck in Jersey, this time a little closer to the city, at HPCX I drew an even more awesome position a few rows deeper in to the masses. 90+ guys lined up to ride around in circles on some grass in a fantastically gorgeous Jersey park. No sand this time. Only those not-so-fearsome barriers where the crowd mingled heckling the riders as they passed.


The gun blasted for the 2nd time in two days in my ears, and more of the same happened. Sprint, pass a bunch of guys, and ride very aggressively passing people as quickly as possible. By the second lap I was with the same lead guys as yesterday. I sat on the back for most the lap recovering and when we hit the small climb I passed all of them and kept the pace high. One guy came with me, and I managed to drop him a few minutes later. I rode the rest of the race solo besides one incident where I crashed going around a corner before the barriers. This enabled me to be caught for a bit but I quickly pulled away again. A few laps later I managed to crash in the exact same spot but was far enough away it didn't matter. After 45 minutes I cruised over the finish line for first place. Anti-climactic...I know.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Neil Pryde Alize Review


Over the past few years, I've ridden a lot of different bicycles. Some people might say too many bikes, and it's gotten to the point now where I just receive a roll of the eyes from the significant other when a big cardboard box magically appears in the home. I generally go through a few frames a year because I'm a total bike geek, and love trying the different and new products that endlessly stream on to the market. I've ridden every material out there and even a few blends. From cheap steel to high end custom steel to ultra butted custom titanium to aluminum or aluminum bonded to carbon tubes to full carbon frame sets. These days it's all about carbon, and I'm finally able to comfortably state that carbon is where it's at. The material is lighter, stronger, stiffer where it needs to be, and smoother riding than any material on the market, and thanks to the diversity of carbon available, it can be manipulated in to nearly any shape and stiffness for that ultimate customized ride.

Recently I received a bike from a new company in the bike market called Neil Pryde Bikes. The company itself is not new, but they are fresh on the bike scene with two models introduced this year named the Alize and the Diablo. Neil Pryde is a respected wind surfing company, and they decided to use their knowledge of carbon fiber and mastery of wind to create a top notch frame set that's ready to compete against the big name manufacturers currently on the market. Both frames appear upon first glance to be very well designed and thought out, and are also comprised of very different carbon tubes. The Alize is the aerodynamic model, and the Diablo is their all around racing model. Both frames were designed in collaboration with BMW USA's design team. They were also tuned in the wind tunnel for optimal aerodynamic performance with data for backup to their claims.

The Alize retails for $2250 and the Diablo $2500 for the frame sets which includes a seat post and headset, and both are available direct through Neil Pryde Bike's website. Either frame can also be purchased as a complete bike with Ultegra or Dura-Ace builds, and come with a strong 10 year warranty. I received my bike via DHL Express, and shipping was incredibly fast. The bike was very well packed as were all the components.

Picking between the two frames was a touch choice. The weight weenie within whispered get the Diablo, while the experienced, practical side said get what you know will help you in those breaks you typically find yourself in - every second counts! So, the aero Alize it is. But, after such a difficult decision there's still more to deal with. Which color do I pick?? Neil Pryde offers three choices for each frame set. One with hints of blue and black and white, another with some red and black and white, and another stealth mostly black. I felt the red, white and black would match nicely with my saddle and a few other choice components so the decision was made. I opted for Dura-Ace. The weight weenie could accept nothing less.


The Alize frame weighs a little more than the Diablo, roughly 70 grams, coming in at 1040 grams for a 56cm which was the actual weight I got on my scale. I applaud them for this. So many times I've been extremely disappointed with the claimed vs actual weights. The fork on the Alize is slightly heavier than the Diablo fork at 350 grams, a 10 gram weight penalty.


Starting with the head tube (HT), the Alize has a tapered HT going from 1 1/8" up top to 1 1/2" at the bottom. This is to increase stiffness and offer more precise handling. Not only is there tapering, but Neil Pryde has carved out excess material creating an hourglass like shape for the HT when seen from the front. The fork is full carbon, and utilizes something Neil Pryde calls Rib Technology which adds stiffness to the overall design. The Alize fork is an excellent looking design that's not your run of the mill carbon fork. As you will see, this will become a theme throughout the tubes on this bike. A quick glance is not enough to appreciate the fine curves. The front is rounded, then quickly tapers to a ridge in the rear. The lower half of the fork is shaped nicely curving inward to continue the ridge so there is a smooth transition from the top of the fork legs to the dropouts. Another interesting thing to note is the seamless transition from the HT all the way through the fork to it's end. It looks like one piece when looking from above.


The down tube (DT) is a sight to behold. It's shaped to optimize aerodynamics not only from the front but also from the side. It's slightly twisted looking from the HT then terminates in to a very stout looking bottom bracket. Both derailleur cables are routed internally through the DT starting near the HT.


The bottom bracket area is huge. I thought my two previous carbon bikes had beefy looking bottom brackets, but this one makes them look tiny in comparison. It is also nicely shaped and not just a fat, round tube. Just glancing at it you know it's going to be stiff.

The top tube (TT) is flattened on the top and curves to a ridge on the underside. It also tapers from the HT to the seat tube (ST), becoming thinner as it nears the ST. The rear brake is internally routed through the TT.


The seat tube (ST) is another highly manipulated tube. It hugs the rear wheel so air flows right past the tube, and over the tire and rim to carry on with limited resistance. The tube is also tweaked above and is angled and tapered giving the appearance it will slice right through the wind. The seat collar is integrated and works as it should. I've experienced no slipping of the seat post. A very thoughtful addition above the seat collar is something Neil Pryde calls "QFIT." Whenever the seat post is removed or adjusted, the grey rubber piece stays on the seat post where the post is currently set so you always have a point of reference to work with for saddle height. No more inaccurate measuring!


The seat stays are shaped similar to the fork being rounded in the front and tapering to the rear. Again, heavy manipulation of the tubing is apparent. The transition from the seat stay to the chain stay is yet another area that clearly looks like thought was put in to the design. Often, I see ugly connections here, but the Neil Pryde Alize is rounded and smooth and very clean looking.


The chain stays are very large and rectangular shaped near the bottom bracket and gradually taper as the tube approaches the dropout, but retains the rectangular shape throughout. Roughly halfway back on the chain stay, the tube is carved out on the bottom half leading towards the edge.

The frame set comes with Neil Pryde's own aero seat post. It's slightly setback and offers very simple adjustment similar to other posts I've seen with a bolt up front that adjusts the saddle angle while the rear tightens it down. The post is carbon and is aero shaped. It's blade-like in appearance and quite thin. Compared to other seat posts I've used, I see less flex in this particular design. I generally see a good amount of flex in most posts under heavy pedaling probably due to the fact I have a large amount of post showing compensating for my long inseam. Also included with the frameset is an FSA carbon fiber headset and matching carbon spacers.

Like I mentioned before, I chose the Dura-Ace 7900 build but opted for a few of my own substitutions. I'm using my own saddle - selle san marco mantra carbon fx, wheels - Hed c2 bastogne, and I also used my own cranks - sram s900 w/ quarq - since I use a power meter. The cockpit is comprised of FSA SL-K parts. The stem has a chunky looking carbon face plate and the matching bar is compact. The bar I find particularly nice. I've never used a bar with a slightly flatted top portion and find it very natural feeling and more comfortable than a round bar. Excellent for long climbs. The drops are round throughout, and offer an easy reach to the brake lever. The overall build came to just shy of 16 pounds.

The paint job on this bike is incredible. Every tube has something interesting going on and the more you study it the more you see they actually took time to make this bike good looking. There are pin stripes and panels and other minute details that create an overall eye catching tastefully done design. Everywhere I go on this bike I find people staring at it, and if they get the chance they inevitably start asking questions about the brand, and it's origin and design. I've ridden tons of bikes and this has never happened before on such a regular basis!

The Ride

None of the above matters if the bike doesn't do what it's supposed to do. I've had the pleasure of putting about 500 miles on this bike over the past week and a half. The pedigree of this bike quickly became evident over the first few miles. This bike is made to be ridden fast, taken over the biggest climbs then pointed straight down and tossed in to corners at incredibly high speeds, and, finally, exposed to huge wattage (not mine!) as you sprint for the finish. At all of the above does this bike perform exceedingly well, but to be fair, my sprint is a mere 1250w max so take that for what it's worth. The bike feels incredibly responsive and smooth and I've no regrets with my choice of the Alize.

The first thing I noticed on this bike is the handling in the front end area around the HT and fork. It feels noticeably stiffer and more precise handling than previous bikes I've ridden. This rigid precision inspires confidence during high speed descents and truly earns that coveted line "it corners like it's on rails!" I've had this bike running at speeds up to 60mph on curvy, high speed descents and it never felt like I was pushing it too hard. Extremely stable, always, and ready for even more.

Last Saturday I went for a 70 mile ride and was exposed to extremely gusty winds. The bike gives the impression it's slicing through the wind instead of being caught and picked up by it. And it wasn't something that just "felt" that way. I could even see a difference when my teammates would get blown around a bit more than I. We were all on shallow rim wheels with the same components and we are even roughly the same size at 6' tall and 150 to 160 pounds.


Yesterday on a beautiful fall day, I took the bike for a 100 mile ride with 6,000ft of climbing on the epic NYC ride to Bear Mountain. I finished in high spirits and in great comfort after pushing the Alize to it's limits on a big descent off Bear Mtn and over the rolling hills of New Jersey and New York.

Overall, it's been a joy to ride this carbon wonder bike, and I can't wait to terrorize the race circuit next year aboard the Alize. Every year technology advances, and some companies manage to embrace and utilize it properly. The Neil Pryde Bikes company is one of them. They deserve a strong consideration for your next bike.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Iron Cross VIII race report

This weekend my wife and I headed out to Pennsylvania for some camping and 'cross racing. The race was called Iron Cross and it's billed as "America's longest cyclocross race" at 63 miles. I didn't do much (none) research to confirm that claim, but since most races are usually an hour long there's a good chance this ~4hr minimum race is what it says it is.

We decided to camp for a final dose of nature before the cold winter settled in the Northeast so we stayed at Mountain Creek campgrounds about 1.5 miles from the start of the race. It was a mix of mostly motor homes and trailers with what appeared to be people actually living in the trailers year round - wasn't confirmed though - and a small tents only section on an island surrounded by a forked stream. Our little backpacking tent did not fit in but no one bothered us so all was good.

Stinky pink. That's the name of the color on my Specialized Crux cross bike I built up and finished Friday evening, the day before we headed to PA. I hoped it fit and functioned properly. I ride a 56cm road bike so bought a 56cm specialized frameset. Later, after ordering, I found out often times 'cross bikes are sized 2cm smaller. Oops. I decided to stick with the decision since I saw the geometry and it looked OK, and I have really long legs so even if it was more like a 58cm I'd be OK. Luckily Specialized sizes their 'cross bike by the TT length so the bike fit exactly as anticipated and minimal adjustments were needed to make it work. I moved most the parts over from the Champion System bike so it was decked out in full dura-ace 7900 with an ultegra crankset. I decided to convert the Ksyrium Elite wheels to tubeless with Vittoria XG pro tires even though I read lots of negative posts on forums regarding 'cross setups tubeless. I've always enjoyed jumping in head first to events like this with minimal preparation and learning to swim. In an event like this I'd manage to iron out any sizing, body, or bike kinks and be ready to kick some butt at those silly 1 hour 'cross races coming up.


Sunday AM at 9 was the designated start time for Iron cross rev VIII. It was a balmy 40F upon waking at 7am. I wolfed down some granola and half a PB&J then prepped my bottles and food for the race. By 8:30 I was idling about in the sunshine near the start, staying reasonably warm, and mentally preparing myself for what was sure to be an epic event. Shortly before 9am, the race announcer explained how we would be starting, and tried to convince the slowest riders to go in the back and allow the faster riders to start up front. It seemed to work. I was a few rows back on the gravel road and it turned out to be a non-issue. The start was unusual, to say the least. We went through "the death spiral" before heading out on the course. What the hell is a death spiral??? Yeah, well, it's the weirdest thing I've ever had to ride through and I hope I get to do it again. Near where the race started there's a large field, a bit smaller than a football field, and it was completely taped off with a giant spiral which started us from the outside and worked it's way to a small middle then spit us out the side and sent us on our way. To my amazement, it really worked. I expected mass mayhem, but it was fluid and surreal and really cool seeing hundreds of bikers going in all different directions all at the same time.


After the death spiral, we popped on to a gravel road. I was in the lead group of about 20 riders and we were going at a pace that's...not the same as what I've been experiencing in cat 1 road races. It felt lethargic and my itchy trigger foot wanted to GO! So eventually I decided to hop on the front and upped the pace to around my own FTP. It quickly chopped the 20 or so riders down to around 10. We then rode through a beach...yes, really, a beach that had water bordering it, and everything else a beach usually touts. We wobbled and slid our way through the sand for 100m and the few riders still with us on mountain bikes floated over the sand and pulled away. Fortunately, after that we were back on fire roads for what was to be the first climb of the day. At only a few miles climb, it was easy in comparison to what was to come, but the pace stayed high and riders fell off one after another. By the top, it was down to about 6 riders and two of them were on mtb's. One a full suspension 29er.

After the climb we had a ripping descent on gravel/road and had a few rolling hills on road through farm land. We were down to 5 by this time I think. It was then we hit one of the bigger climbs which was also the KOM/QOM of the day. This was a longer grind of 4 or 5 miles but not terribly steep. I broke away with one other guy and we kept a steady pace a little below my threshold and crossed the KOM together at the top. He sprinted right before the line so got the KOM - had I known it was the KOM at the time, I probably would've tried as well. He then immediately dropped off during the descent and when I noticed I was alone I thought I had maybe missed a turn. I stopped, checked the situation, turned around and started riding back down the trail, and then almost immediately saw the few others who had crested the climb near us. I turned back around and soft pedaled and let them catch me and hopped back in to the line.

We rode together for the next few miles before the notorious very technical single track descent called Lippencote trail. I had read on a few blogs that this trail was treacherous on a cross bike, and have to mostly agree. It was certainly challenging, and not ideal with skinny tires and poor brakes on a drop bar. The two guys on the mtb's blasted by us weenies on the cross bikes and we didn't see them again until a few miles later. I went down fairly fast, and felt comfortable until a really steep and rocky section. This is where I developed a new technique, for me anyways, of using the front brake on the hood with a few fingers, and having my right hand locked around the hood with a death grip not using the rear brake. The trail was very technical with no clear line through the rocks, and I was going too fast to control my bike, so I was forced to grab what little front brake I could in a desperate attempt to keep the bike's speed under control while the right hand kept me a bit under control and pointed in the proper direction. It worked and I didn't crash. I came very close a few times to doing a superman over the bars, though. After clearing this nasty section it was back to some nice, smooth asphalt.

I emerged with one other cross biker, a guy by the name of Gary Pflug who's apparently notorious for kicking butt on a single speed on the NUE 100 mile mtb series, and we worked together to catch those pesky mtb'ers. It was easy. After 5 or so minutes we were back together along with one other cross biker who had managed to catch up as well. And then another gravel road climb began. One of the mtb'ers appeared to have run out of steam and he dropped away never to be seen. And then there were four.

During the climb, we 'cross bikers managed to dump the last mtb'er, temporarily, and it was up to us three to hold it to the finish. After the climb, I recall another ripping fast gravel descent. We then hit a double track trail and I saw way up high some power lines and a wall of rock and I could only come to the conclusion that this was the famed "wigwam" run up. Run up is laughable, truly a joke, and if you run up this you are a better man than I or the three others with me. We walked. Pflug had a trick up his sleeve, literally, a small pad stuck to his shoulder, I learned later on and moved a bit faster than us but not enough to worry anyone. Me and the other crosser kept the same pace while the mtb'er fell behind due to his bulky bike. So, this trail was a true hiking trail. There's no way you could ride up it seeing it was around a 40% grade. It was nearly vertical with loose gravel, sand and rock completely exposed to the sun and nearly a half mile long. If you were having problems before this climb, I'm sure they were suddenly amplified by 10. Quads tight? Let the cramps begin! Dehydrated? now you are truly sweating! I ambled on up the hill feeling decent, but hot from the sun, and finally hit a section that was ridable. It descended a bit then hit some sand so I got to slide around a bit before hitting another walkup. Up top were some folks heckling us or cheering us a long, however your mood is probably how you perceived it, and it was also a checkpoint with a bag drop so I resupplied my ammo.

Me and the other cross bike guy high tailed it after Mr Pflug and caught him fairly fast. The three of us rode together descending a nice gravel section and eventually came to another single track secition.

Now, this is true single track we speak of. Not some wimpy, smooth cruise with grandpa on a groomed gravel path. This trail was ideal for a mountain bike. Not A 32c cross tire with a gearing of 38x26. The three of us plugged along at a grumpy pace weaving and dodging all the nasty terrain. I was number two in line behind Mr Pflug, and at some point we lost number three. I learned after the race his wheel got messed up and then he flatted. So, and then there were two. We trucked along through the single track getting bounced all over the place, climbing the majority of the time, and eventually popped out on a gravel road. Ahead of us was another wicked descent.

I followed my partner in crime for a little while, and the pitch really went DOWN so I let go of the brakes and flew past him. After a minute or so I turned around and he was gone. Hmm. I know I didn't miss a turn since I was still passing arrows marking the course, so I figured he got a flat or crashed. After the descent I saw my moto pace dirt biker and told him he disappeared. He quickly rode back up and found out he flatted while I continued on a rolling paved road through the middle of nowhere country farms. And then there was one.

So, I'm all alone out front in a cross race on a bike I've ridden never before in a position I definitely did not expect to be in. Before this race I was just hoping to finish, and if I finished I was hoping for top twenty. I had not ridden at all for nearly a month and was unsure how my endurance would stack up against guys training specifically for this race. Never mind the fact I hadn't been on a trail since last August when I broke my ribs. Anyways...

I failed to mention, about an hour before this point my legs felt like cramps were coming their way. They never came out in full force but were a presence off and on. As I rode along the rolling road, I felt twinges here and there but nothing significant manifested so all seemed OK. I could not go as fast as I would have liked, but what can you do?? At some point I came across a check point and refueled and was told I was in store for a five mile climb up a gravel road. O, Joy. This climb was a true grind with my gearing. It was really steep, repetitively, and I was spinning away at a ridiculously low leg press-like cadence. Near the top I was caught by the eventual winner. We rode together for a while until he pulled away, and I apparently kept him within about a minute of me till about 8 miles to go before that dreaded section of single track and that even nastier walkup (run up!) and that extra gravel climb and then that rolling....yeah. Get the point? truly epic!

Again, I was all alone, this time in 2nd place. All alone in the woods with nothing but a tiny yellow sign and black arrow pointing me which direction to go. Had they not been there, I'd have been totally lost. That's how dense these trails were. At some points, I had to get off my bike and look around as no discernible trail was in sight. Had a few others gone through, it probably would've been easier, but I was numero dos, and things were very clean still. I hopped around, suffered around, cleared a million logs, hopped off and jumped over a few logs, nailed a few billion rocks, rode through a few creeks and got wet and muddy. It was awesome.

At some point, I emerged from this moving experience, and came upon the final run up. I walked it. I was hot, miserable, and didn't really care at this point. I felt sick having developed a cough and my stomach was a bit queasy. I was passed by a cross biker, and then by the full suspension mtb'er before emerging from the jungle and near the home stretch. All that was left were some rolling gravel hills and a final road section and the game was over!

I pedaled along at a less than ideal pace, and eventually came to the road where I saw my wife cheering me along, a big surprise, what was she doing there?, and I hit the road. I did not try very hard to go fast as there was no one in site in either direction. I limped along at a respectable pace and finished alone four minutes behind first place and a minute behind 2nd and 3rd for a 4th place finish around 4 hours and 7 minutes.

Overall, Iron Cross was a great experience. I hope I can do it again! The race organization was impressive from start to finish. The course markings were flawless, and the moto pacer was a huge help. If you like to suffer and own a cross bike make a note to DO THIS RACE next year. You won't regret it.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Capital Region Road Race Report

Another race of attrition is under the belt, this time with a dropout rate of greater than 50%. Why? The race was only 83 miles with about 5k of climbing. It wasn't very hot, around 85F peak, and humidity was tolerable. The wind...I hate the...yeah, well it was there and very noticeable for half the race course. The hills were steep and packed tightly together during the first 7 miles of the course. A twenty mile loop took us on a tour of the northern Catskills near an industrial looking town named Ravena in New York. We were north of the big mountains but there were hills aplenty, and we managed to hit a few of the good ones. One climb was a 15% switchback for about a half mile that we had to go over 4 times during the course of the race. The other notable climb was not as steep but still no cakewalk, and was twice as long as, if not even more than, the steep one. They came one after another leaving no time for recovery. The second half of the course was wide open and rolling with a stiff headwind blowing straight in our faces. What could've been a very fast and somewhat easy second half turned out, for me at least, to be even more difficult than the hills.

I toed the line with a few of the usual suspects, a smaller group than normal with about 40 starters, but the ones there were all solid racers. Roger Aspholm was the obvious choice for who to watch and follow. An incredible cyclist at the age of 42, he is consistently cleaning up at any race where endurance reigns supreme. I chatted with him for the first few miles about cyclocross racing and his future race plans, and after the 3 mile neutral start we were off. The group stayed together for the first lap but it was clear when and where everything would fall apart, at least to me. Roger said we should attack on the two big hills on the 2nd lap to ween the pack some and I agreed. Coming in to the longer climb, the first of the two tougher ones, I stood up and cranked up the power for about one minute then eased back to a still high pace but sustainable for a longer period of time. About 10 others came with me including Roger while the rest of the pack dropped away. We quickly built a gap, and going in to the 2nd climb we upped the pace again. This shed about 5 more riders leaving 5 in total.

We worked together for the remainder of lap two with the exception of one guy who tried to get a free ride in the rear. Going in to lap three Roger attacked on the hills. He went away with one other guy but didn't get far away from the rest of us. I was thinking maybe he should get away and he'll get tired and since we had the numbers we would catch him later on. Going in to the second climb, the other guy with him fell off and back to us so Roger was on his own. I really didn't think he'd be able to stay away for over a lap by himself. We worked together well for most the 3rd lap then it all started to fall apart. We still had the guy not wanting to help, and now everyone else, including me, was starting to feel the wear and tear of hard climbing and windy rollers. The chase fell apart with Roger off the front by over a minute. Going in to the 4th lap's 2nd, steeper, hill I turned around and saw another chase group of about 6 riders. They looked fresh compared to us, and quickly caught up. We rode together as a nice group of 10 riders and now I thought Roger would be caught. Going in to the rollers 3 broke away while I was at the very rear of the group. My legs were pretty beat at this point, dehydration was taking it's tool, and it didn't seem like I'd catch them so I decided to just stay where I was. A few miles later 3 more went off leaving four of us. We limped our way to the finish and gave a half hearted sprint at the line and crossed at roughly the same time about two minutes behind Roger who managed to solo and take the win. Very impressive!

This race was tough. From registering to racing to results the event was handled perfectly. The power meter software says the effort required was even greater than the previous weeks Tokeneke race.

Stats copied from Golden Cheetah software:

Duration: 3:37:48
Time Riding: 3:36:24
Distance (miles): 81.9 (forget to start it until a bit in to the neutral beginning)
Work (kJ): 3548
Elevation Gain (feet): 4724

Speed (mph): 22.7
Power (watts): 272
Cadence (rpm): 93

xPower (watts): 311 (similar or same as normalized power)
Relative Intensity: 0.840
BikeScore™: 256
Daniels Points: 181

Monday, August 9, 2010

Tokeneke Road Race Report 2010

Starting with this past weekend, and for the next few weeks, I'm in experimental territory, or perhaps it's normal (this is all new to me!) and I'm just fine tuning for the Green Mountain Stage Race coming up over labor day weekend. This weekend started out with a a 2.5 ride on Saturday with 2x10 at what we think is my threshold (since learned it's a bit higher) and then 1 hour at 320-330 watts with a few breaks mixed in to make the hour a bit more enjoyable. On Sunday, I headed up to East Hartland, CT for a race where I was supposed to break away early and hammer away until I couldn't hammer any longer - hopefully that's at the end of the race!

The distance was 66 miles with about 6,000ft of climbing on roads ranging from smooth to very bumpy. Fortunately the bumpy roads were mostly climbs. It seemed to me like the race would be very similar to the Pawling Mtn Road Race I did about a month ago, but with a deeper, stronger field. The course was basically down a hill then up a smaller hill then back down then up a bigger hill then back down then up a big hill then back down. Repeat 3 times.

My lovely wife, looking dapper in her new hat, was there to feed me bottles so I was able to have a nice, cool, fresh bottle each lap! Very much appreciated and it’s noticeably more refreshing to have a cold liquid entering the system. The race started with the sun at its hottest, around 12:55 with temps in the low 80s. I was near the front from the beginning, and had plans to up the pace at the first big climb and see who decided to come along with me. When we hit the first long climb I cranked it up to about 450 watts, in retrospect probably too high, and quickly separated the field. A four man break was formed with me, Emerson Oronte from Team Ora, Justin Lindine from BikeReg, and Jeremy Powers from Jelly Belly. I’ve raced against all these guys a few times now and Emerson I knew to be as strong or stronger than me over a long, hilly endurance based course. Jeremy I knew would eventually drop off – something I should’ve dwelled upon a bit during the start of the break – and Justin was the wild card although I knew he was a strong rider in the hills.

We worked well together, non-stop cranking out the power, and Jeremy was the first to pop leaving us after the first lap. That left the three of us so almost no time for recovery and the course was such that it required nearly constantly pedaling even on the descents. The pace was incredibly high. My average watts for the first 44 miles, about two hours, was 373! I was pretty sure I could not maintain that pace for much longer, and was also wondering how the hell the two of them were managing it, too. Emerson seemed strong and Justin I could not tell. I was beginning to struggle to maintain the pace and was wondering how long I could hold on. Sure enough about eight miles in to the last lap we hit the steep, short hill and my legs said no mas. I was still able to hold about 300+ watts ascending, but I needed 400+ to stick with the two of them. They quickly pulled away and I was on my own. After about 5 minutes I was caught by the chase group of roughly 10 guys. I hopped on the back and was looking for a free ride to the finish. I felt like crap. I managed to stick with them and had enough time to recover so when they quickened the pace I could still hold on. We hit the last climb and there appeared to be no one in site behind us so I just plugged along at a comfortable pace not contesting for 7th place. I’m not sure I could’ve had I wanted to, but I didn’t try. I was shelled. A few guys dropped off but the majority were relatively fresh and pulled away a bit. I finished. That’s about all I can say about that! I was glad it was over.

In retrospect, I see a few things I should’ve considered during the race, and think I could’ve done better had things gone differently. One, when I saw Jeremy was one of the guys in the break I should’ve thought ahead and known he would not be able to hang with us in the hills, so did I want to ride with just two others for 50+ miles at a very high pace? I think it may have been better to ride with them a bit to set them up enough where they would not want to drop back then just fall off the pace and return to the chase group. There I could’ve drafted most the race and really cranked it up in the last 10 miles. We almost caught the two of them near the end so I think I may have been able to do more damage and even pass them for the win. But, it didn’t happen and of course this is only speculation so who knows how it would’ve turned out. Two, I have this fancy power meter so I should pay more attention to it. I know what I’m capable of for an hour at full speed, although perhaps that needs a minor adjustment after yesterdays performance, but, anyways, when I’m running at 100%+ going on two hours I should sit back and think, hey, wait a second, you can’t do this for another 45 minutes!! After the first lap average of 380w, and still only a less than two minute gap on the chase group, I think, again, it would’ve been smart to just fall back to the chase group. With just the two of them out front they would’ve had to work even harder to stay away. And, finally, a major factor to my petering out, perhaps even the factor, was my nutrition. I did not consume enough calories the day before the race for a few reasons, and then I did not consume enough for the first hour of the race. I must focus on calorie consumption in the future!

So that’s it. I’m glad I went, I learned more, and got a great workout that should only make me stronger. Normalized power of 330 watts for 3 hours. 50 watt drop due to the last 45 minutes of poking around the roads of East Hartland, drafting, struggling to maintain even that connection to the guy in front!

An addendum to this, a few hours after writing the bulk of this report, after speaking with my coach, it's been pretty much confirmed nutrition was my downfall and not my legs or the high, constant power output.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Tour of the Catskills report

My first stage race with the big boys in the pro 1 2 field took place this past weekend. My wife and I headed to Hunter, NY Friday AM for the Tour of the Catskills. The Tour consisted of an individual time trial on Friday followed by two ~80 mile road races over the weekend. I was facing my biggest challenge yet with some stiff competition from various parts of the country along with some foreigners from Canada and Europe. Floyd Landis was also rumored to be attending, and attend he did. My biggest concern was the Canadian team Garneau. They’ve been cleaning up at most of the big events in the NE, and their leader is a former Tour de France racer.

I didn’t ride at all two days prior to the prologue time trial. I felt pretty good when warming up, and had an average watts goal to shoot for during the TT. The TT was short, only 2.3 miles, with a steep, short 10% grade at the beginning followed by a false flat uphill. It took me 7 minutes to complete. I did not hit my average watts and really felt spent, like my lungs were lacerated, after finishing. I didn’t really understand what was wrong, but since then I think I’ve figured it out with the help of my coach, and hopefully will not under perform again for such an important event. My time still landed me in 12th position of 102 riders going in to the first road race, and I was 26 seconds behind the leader Passeron from the Garneau team and aforementioned TdF rider. He cleaned up, beating the 2nd place rider by 16 seconds. I was pretty satisfied with the overall results, know I could’ve done better, but that’s how things go sometimes and since there was a wicked climb at the end of the last day I was confident I could make up some time.

Going in to day two’s road race I just wanted to finish with the lead group. I didn’t expect any breaks to stick, but knew the field would be whittled away with all the climbing so just focused on staying near the yellow jersey. The route Saturday went around the Windham, NY area and had a little less than 7,000ft of climbing over 82 miles. I found Saturday to be the hardest day. Lots of climbing, and with every climb came attacks from various teams and individuals. So, basically it went from difficult to very difficult over and over again for a little over three hours. The finish was especially fast with everyone battling it out hoping to squeeze a few seconds off their time deficit to the leader. No such luck. After the 2nd big climb of the day roughly 60 miles in to the race the lead group had been reduced to about 30 riders including me. All the heavy hitters were still present, and the overall leader had great support from his team. It looked like it would be a pack finish in downtown Windham and we didn’t disappoint. Our average speed was probably 30mph or greater for the last 10 miles over slightly rolling terrain. I felt strong throughout but was definitely approaching my limits for how long I could tolerate such a high speed coupled with even greater accelerations every minute by people trying to escape. So, we finished together after an intense battle and all went in to stage three with the same times. All the guys who were above me after the TT were in the group so I stayed in 12th position. Passeron won again so added a 10 second time bonus to us mere mortals.

Day Three. The feared climb 66 miles in to the race had everyone nervous and questioning their gear selection and/or sanity before the start of the stage. The climb has a name, Devil’s Kitchen - a three mile battle straight up the side of a mountain with 15-22% grades all the way up. The race leading up to the climb was relatively easy, a walk in the park some might say, and I found it to be the perfect 2.5 hour warmup for a really hard effort. Leading up to the climb, we were on a narrow country chip and sealed road with unfinished gritty edges. I was roughly mid-pack, perhaps a bit towards the front, and knew that was not the place to be at the start of the climb, but didn’t really see how I’d weasel my way up without a serious fight. Luckily I did not have to deal with the situation, and my teammate Tom Bencivengo took control, had me hop on his wheel, and did one hell of a job depositing me right at the front of the race just when the climb began. When the grade went to 15% Tom rolled off the front and said something like good luck or don’t fall off your bike, or something like that, and off I went. Peter Hurst from Axa set a stiff pace at the beginning, and I followed at his heels along with a few others. The field was shattered in a matter of seconds. Peter eventually petered out along with the yellow jersey, and fell off the front and was replaced by me. I was then passed by Cameron Cogburn who maintained a five or ten second gap over me for the remainder of the climb. So Mr Cogburn cleared the infamous climb first and turned it over to TT mode – something he’s extremely good at – and was probably pipe dreaming a solo win right about then. I gave chase riding at and slightly below my 1 hour threshold throwing an occasional glance over my shoulder to see who might be nipping at my wheel. Sure enough after a few minutes the yellow jersey train, about 5 guys in total, was slowing approaching and it looked inevitable I was going to be caught. I throttled down a bit and let them catch up quicker so I could take advantage of the drafting. After I was swallowed we set our sights on Cameron. We caught him just as easily as they caught me and we were a nice wholesome happy pack of 7 riders heading towards the finish. Pretty much all the guys I expected to be there were with one notable exception being Floyd Landis. The last 10 miles were a bit anti-climactic after such a tough climb – too bad it couldn’t have ended there – we’d have seen some gut-wrenching battles! Passeron won again. Surprise! I finished with the lead group and moved up to 6th position overall in the GC.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the results especially considering the competition, and can’t wait for the next big event in a month – the green mountain stage race in VT.

My coach, Chad Butts, took the time to create some cool info using my power data from the races. Check it out here.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hilltowns Road Race Report

Yesterday I was one of the lucky 60+ participants in the p-1-2 field at the Hilltowns Road Race. Specs for the race were one smaller 40 mile loop for us lucky pros then the 57 mile loop that all the other categories were doing. The name of the race gave a hint to what the course was like - very hilly - with a claimed elevation gain of 8500+ ft. I love these kinds of races! It makes them far easier to win or place well.

Going in to this race, I was concerned about placing high with all the strong legs signed up. My arch-nemesis Roger Aspholm was signed up as well as a few regional level cat1/pros that have been very successful recently.

Weather was soup-like air - new england clam chowder style, cloudy with a slight chance of rain, and temps relatively comfortable in the low 70s. When the sun crept out behind a cloud it felt significantly warmer, but the clouds were in abundance guarding my fair skin.

At 10am, we were off, and for the first 40 mile loop it seemed we were on more of a "tour of hilltowns" rather than a race. The speed was fast but quite easy to maintain and there were hardly any attacks. A small break went off the front early on but no one seemed to care. I didn't. Everyone was waiting for the steep, long climb up Hawley Rd where every year the breaks happen and whoever gets to the top first is probably going to win even though it's still 25 or 30 miles to the finish.

When we got to the aforementioned climb I was a closer to the front, but not in the front, and rain drops were beginning to fall. A few guys I expected to go at the start went and I went around everyone and tagged along. There were five us - Peter Hurst and his teammate Jake Hollenbach, Roger Aspholm, Robbie King and one of his teammates who I don't know. We went up fast but comfortable. I'm finally learning to not burn all my candles. I went at a high but sustainable pace. A few months ago I would have accelerated even more and dropped them but wasted a ton of energy and eventually been caught and riding with them anyways! Near the top of the climb my rear wheel felt a little funny so I looked down and noticed it looked low. Damn! I kept on riding but it was quickly losing air and it was tough to stay on the wheels of the lead group I was in. I eventually fell off and was riding on a mostly flat tire for about a mile hoping the SRAM support vehicle, my savior with wheels, would show up. I lost 2 or 3 minutes waiting for the car. Eventually they showed along with a group of 9 or so guys. I got the wheel change fast and scrambled to catch up to the chase group. I caught them easily and realized they were going a bit slow, slower than I preferred anyways, so I went up front and went flying by them. That seemed to jump start the group and they decided to go my pace. We worked well together for quite some time, but I didn't think the pace would be gaining much time on the lead group I was in. Turns out I was wrong. With perhaps 10 miles to go I broke away from the group with one other guy and we drilled it. I'm not sure if he had a time gap, but the way he was riding it seemed like he was chasing something! We were going over 30mph most the time and it was a tough pace to sustain! My legs were beginning to complain and I told him so. He said something like we were almost finished, which we were, but we still had a big hill to climb! And then we saw the SRAM vehicle and the lead group! I couldn't believe it and thought it was maybe the pro women's field. They appeared to be going slow. In retrospect, they were going slow compared to our speed. We were going nearly 6mph faster than them most likely!

A few minutes after seeing the lead group my partner started dragging, to my surprise, and couldn't make the pass up front to take his turn pulling so I started doing all the work. Eventually he fell off my wheel and I was on my own. But before that the lead group had noticed us and picked up the pace. It was enough to pop Jake Hollenbach off the back. I quickly caught up to him and he jumped on my wheel. I dragged him all the way up the hill. At this point I had given up catching them as the remaining three had really picked up the pace and I was shelled from the effort spent to catch them. Mr Hollenbach decided to attack and I had nothing left so off he went. He got 4th and I finished a few seconds back in 5th place.

I was surprised to check my clock and see we did the 97 miles in 4 hours flat.

A tough race, overall not as painful as Pawling was two weeks ago, but it was way hotter there and I was in a break for nearly the entire race. I'm pleased with the result considering the flat tire and have the points now to move on to category one.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Another race weekend down the drain

This weekend was one of those 'take one for the team' race weekends. Meaning I had no desire to do either race. Saturday was Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Sunday was Floyd Bennett Field in...queens? I'm not sure where it is. It's near JFK airport and it's original job was just that - to give a place for planes and other flying things to take off and land. I suppose NYC outgrew it so JFK took it's spot as the top dog of International air travel.

Anyways, it was rippin' hot here in the city this weekend with temps in the mid 90s both days with a scorching sun relentlessly beating down upon my now incredibly intense farmer's tan skin. When I take off a shirt it looks like I'm still wearing a shirt these days... Have you ever seen a finger tan line? Note just beneath the 2nd knuckle and the obvious wrist line. It's even worse on my legs and arms near my shoulders...


So, on Saturday I woke up at a lovely 4:45am so I'd have time to ride down to Prospect Park for a perky 6:30am start time. Champion System had about 10 riders at this race so we should win, right? ho ho. This is BROOKLYN. Nothing goes as planned. A sold out P-1-2-3 field of 95 riders eagerly awaited the start of what was hopefully going to be a safe race. My past experiences with Prospect Park have been sketchy, at best. Crashes galore with crazy sprint finishes for 30th place. Awesome. Today's race turned out to be on the safe side, for my category race at least, and there was only the occasional shady move, but no kissing of the concrete for any riders. Saturday's race was FAST. Really fast. We averaged over 28mph for the entire 44 mile race. A break had about zero chance of surviving at that speed. Superman I am, I tried to get away about 3/4's of the way through the race but just wasted some energy and fell back in with the front group. The plan before the race from Coach Igor was to have a lead out for our esteemed sprinter Rodney if a break did not happen. The break never materialized so it was time for some lead out madness. I shimmied my way to the front and only Igor was present so, um, do we still do the lead out? I decided to try anyway and dropped the hammer with a little more than a km to go. When I turned around no one was with me. What the hell?? So I decided to just keep on going. I was about 99% sure I would not stay away from the field, but whatever, go for it. I went at 130% and got to about 400m and started running out of gas. I had to downshift a cog and knew I was screwed. Not surprisingly, the sprinters went ripping by me and I fluttered in their draft and limped across the finish line for a top 20 finish but no glory. O well, better luck never time.

Sunday was destined to be even more painful. Today I faced a 25 mile commute to the race through less than stellar areas then a 50 mile race on a 2.x mile very flat wide open course on former runway tarmac. Add cracks and weeds and trees that have a tendency to rip riders from their bikes, and you got a great race course! Wind is famous for wreaking havoc at the mighty FBF. It proved to be an issue on one side of the course, but otherwise was pretty tame. Hot, Sunny, zero shade. Ugh. The category 3 group was a part of our race, but there was a catch. They got a three minute head start on the p-1-2 field. I wasn't worried about catching them. At the start, the race announcer, Charlie Issendorf (best race organizer in the city) seemed to think it would be tough to catch them and it would be with 4 or 5 laps to go. Little did he know they were going to crash and we were going to have 20 hotheads out there TT'ing away up front forcing a blistering, nearly unsustainable pace. This race, just like yesterday, was painfully fast. Perhaps the heat accentuates the intensity, but I did not feel like doing anything special in this race. Just hanging on was good enough for me. We had, again, just like yesterday a bunch of guys in the field, and we should since one of our sponsors was hosting the race. About halfway through the race, I took stock of the situation and realized there were only 3 Champion guys left and more than half of the field had either quit or been dropped enough where we could no longer see them. Eventually we had a break happen and one of our riders was in it along with the other strong teams present. Ahhh, my work was done. I could just sit back,, I could just keep pedaling and finish the race! Long story short: we let the break stick so the top five places were decided and with about 500m to go we cranked up the speed and I gave a lead out to my teammate Igor who sprinted for 8th place overall just getting nipped by two others at the line. But wait, the fun was not over! I got to ride 25 miles back home, after consuming 4 bottles of water, through the wonderful streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan. Now I sit, sipping a great beer, in the confines of my apartment with air conditioning reminiscing and relishing the remaining hours of another fine weekend. Next weekend is the Hillstown Race in MA - sure to be a doozy. 95 miles with nearly 9k of climbing! Maybe I'll get that last point I need to upgrade to Category 1.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Question and Answer Session

What bike are you riding?

When I was upgraded to category 2 the team gave me a Champion System carbon frameset which I believe is made by Pedal Force. It's a bb30 standard carbon frame and is a great riding race bike. The Cervelo I came from was slightly lighter, but other than that they feel about the same. The Champ-sys bike is 2cm smaller, has a 4cm shorter head tube, and 1.5cm less reach. I ended up getting a 2cm longer stem and also have a significantly greater drop. I was skeptical at first whether the bike would fit, but it's turned out to be better than the 58cm RS Cervelo.

They also gave me 7900 Dura-Ace components. I've used SRAM for the past few years, and really like the Dura-Ace. I like it just a tiny bit more than the SRAM. Mostly the rear shifting. It feels smoother and I never miss a shift. Occasionally with the SRAM, usually under very stressful conditions, I would accidentally shift the wrong way on the cassette.

For training or really poor conditions races, I use SRAM S30 sprint wheels or sometimes a powertap sl+ rear wheel. For most races though I use 2010 Zipp 404 Tubular wheels.

How often do you train?

Now that I'm racing every weekend and usually both days my weekdays consist mostly of recovery. I commute to work every day, and get a massage on Monday morning. On Tuesdays, I go to a local circuit race series which I consider training. That's about a four hour day with about one hour of that time actual racing. On Thursdays or Friday I usually have a training ride depending on what races are coming up. Either high cadence drills to get the legs ready, or max power intervals. Today I had the latter, and did repeats up a hill that takes about 5 minutes. I go as hard as possible from start to finish!

What has changed since joining a team?

Honestly, not much. I still end up racing by myself most the time, which is not exactly what I expected. And to keep it clean, for now, I'll leave it there:)

Does your wife accompany you?

My wife has accompanied me to many of the races. She's been extremely supportive, and for that I'm grateful. She's an amazing woman! She didn't even panic when I rolled across the finish line with half my bike going sideways, missing glasses, and destroyed clothing at Killington!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Housatonic Hills Race Report

Roughly three weeks ago I raced the Housatonic Hills road race in the Roxbury, CT region. My team, Champion System Racing, decided to send me to Housatonic instead of the bigger money Harlem Crit in NYC since it had lots of hills. The race was a little over 80 miles long on a hot, sunny Sunday morning. A rider from the ProTour on the Cervelo Test Team, Ted King, decided to grace us peons with his presence so things were certain to be interesting. He just came from the Giro in Italy which most people would probably consider a pretty good training race for something like the Housatonic Hills. Along with Ted King I had to pay attention to a mountain goat named Roger Aspholm.

I had high hopes of a top ten finish going in to this race, and before I had seen who signed up I thought I could even win it. With Mr King present that seemed far less likely, but ya never know!

The race consisted of three loops with quite a bit of climbing. Nothing too long, but enough climbing to make it a race of attrition. About 10 miles in to the first loop we hit one of the larger climbs and I decided to attack. Why? I really don't know. I'm pretty bad about what to do and when, still. I've always relied on my motor to carry me to victory with strategy and tactics coming in a distant 2nd and 3rd. I hit the gas and quickly pulled away from everyone. No one tried to keep up with me. Why? Because no one knew who I was. A newbie nobody in an orange jersey struts away and is going to burn his self out...have fun! I decided to carry on - big mistake - and eventually caught the 4 man break a few minutes ahead. At the end of the first lap I hit a big climb that was fairly steep. I kept hammering away and dropped the break. Why? I have no idea. At the time I had decided I could solo the race since it was so hilly. Drafting wouldn't work, right? Wrong. I rode away on my own and did the next lap by myself.

At the beginning of the third lap right before the aforementioned climb began, I turned around and saw Ted King leading a small group of riders in a chase. I knew I was caught so stopped working hard. I hopped in their train and traded pulls. Every climb we hit the pace went up and I knew at some point I was going to get dropped. I managed to hang on until about 10 miles to go when they really cranked it up one of the longer climbs. I gave up, threw in the towel, and just tried to limp to the finish and salvage whatever place I could. Top ten still seemed realistic. I got passed by three more riders and finished in a decent 9th place.

This race finally beat in to my thick skull:


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Return of the blog, a summary of what it's like to go from cat 5 to cat 2 in 3 months

I've been wanting to start posting on this page for quite some time. I've been racing on the road nearly every weekend since March 20th of this year, and my two readers have maybe wondered what the heck has been going on.

So, here it goes, from the top of my head, starting back in late March of this year.

I awoke at an hour no sane person should ever be subjected to on a regular basis. It was very dark outside still and would be still for at least another hour. My eyes popped open before the first alarm hit it's note around 4:25am. I was excited, amped, ready to race on this cold early Spring morning. My first category 5 race - the bottom of the barrel for those who don't know, the beginner category otherwise known as crash 5, the ten race requirement category to move in to the ranks of USA Cycling road racing.

It all started in Central Park at 6:30am with 49 other poor souls. From guys who looked like they'd been racing for years on $10,000 aero machines, to very newbie-looking novices on cheap bikes, I lined up in the front with instructions to sprint from the start and see what happens. I sprinted at the gun. I opened up a big gap, but I also was red-lined, going way too hard even for a 20 mile race, and about half way around the 6 mile loop I was caught by the pack. Huffing and puffing, I recovered. People started attacking and I jumped after every wheel. I rode myself in to the ground. I tried to break away near the end but got caught and passed and finished in the top 10. Not exactly how I thought things were going to go. I was told by a few people I was far stronger than other cat 5's and should dominate easily. It sure didn't go that way at the first race!

Fast fwd a bit, and most the races after that I did totally dominate easily winning solo by quite a bit. I learned a lot from that first race. It's not so easy to solo win from the gun. Draft some, conserve energy, wait for the right moment and things go as they should.

My eighth race was Battenkill. I was still stuck in category 5. Another cold start, we had a 1km neutral roll out before the racing began. 49 others again (50 max in cat 5 races) and we rolled slowly through the 1km. After 1km, I thought things would pick up a bit, but they didn't. So I joked around a bit with the few guys in the front, said I was freezing and needed to warm up so I accelerated. Stories after the race from others said I "sprinted" away from the field and disappeared. My story says I bumped the speed up from 16mph to 25mph and went in to endurance cruising mode hoping to warm my numb toes and hands. I was shocked nobody came with me. I immediately opened up a huge gap and that's all she wrote. I soloed the entire ~63 mile race and won by nearly 10 minutes. My time would've beat every cat 5 and cat 4 race and landed me in the top ten in cat 3.

I applied for my category 4 upgrade early, but meanwhile, the day after Battenkill, I raced my last cat 5 race in Bethel, CT. A criterium of some silly distance, say, 20 miles, around and around a 1 mile course with a small hill, I was again with 49 others and by now they recognized me and feared the, uh, orange jersey. On the first lap I sprinted up the hill and broke away. I rode by myself for the rest of the race and eventually lapped the entire field for another easy win.

Category 4 baby! I was psyched. I was nervous at my first race, another Bethel Crit. This time with nearly 100 guys and a dangerous distance of ~30 miles. I joked at the start I was in over my head and I had no idea what to do. People really liked that. I rode a few laps with the group and decided to break away. This time a guy went with me. He drafted off me nearly the entire time each lap and it really started to annoy me. So I sprinted up the hill and dropped him. I soloed the rest of the race for my first cat 4 victory. 7 points. I think I needed 15 or 20 to go to cat 3. I entered the cat 3/4 race the same afternoon and got 6th place I think. Another point or two towards my upgrade. I was pooped from the earlier solo effort - still hadn't learned how to take it easy and draft and wait for the right moment!

The next weekend I raced in PA at the Turkey Hill race. a 60+ mile road race with some climbing! I broke away with 4 or 5 others on the 2nd of x amount of laps, we'll say 6, and rode a lap with them. They were going too slow on the hills, I thought, and I was paranoid about getting caught so I dropped them and rode off by myself. Why, why??? Why do I ride myself in to the ground when I could easily draft with a few others! So, anyways, I soloed that race too for an easy win by a few minutes.

After that, I think the following weekend, I did the same thing at Prospect park, my last cat 4 race, and got first place by about a minute.

Cat 3! Getting up there with the big boys now... Before I was officially upgraded to cat 3 I decided to enter a pro 1 2 3 race at Floyd Bennett field, my Tuesday night local series with a lot of heavy hitters, and I got 2nd place. They found out I was still cat 4 though so they dq'd me and made me return my money:(

I entered a stage race in NJ called the Giro de Cielo. There were two other guys from NYC there that were strong riders and it was basically us against each other with 50 or so other guys fighting for 4th place. Mr Chabanov and Mr Ingraham gave me a run for my money, but I persevered and came out on top and got first place overall. I got 2nd in the crit, and top 10 in the road race. I also won the individual TT and set a new course record. yay.

Next up was the Wilmington Grand Prix in DE. This was a cat 2/3 criterium with all the big dogs out to whip my little cat 3 butt in to submission. A decent amount of prize money, and a huge pro race so there were lots of fans and sponsors around the course. I had no aspirations of winning this race, and just wanted to finish. It was all I could do just to stay in the front pack as we wound our way around the technical course. With two to go, I found myself in the front and decided, what the hell, go for it, so I sprinted as hard as I could towards the finish line and to my surprise opened a fairly nice gap on the field. Tuck the head, crank it out, hyperventilate, go go go! I'm still amazed I managed to stay away from the field for the final two laps and win the race.

I tried to upgrade to cat 2 after winning two races - one of them a fairly important race with most the strong cat 2s of the region, but was denied by my arch-nemesis Mr ragot. This really pissed me off. I was shy of a cat 2 upgrade by only a few points and it was pretty obvious, to me at least, that I could handle my own against cat 2 guys. So, I called up Colorado, home base for USA cycling, and spoke with the head official of the country. I explained my situation and he put me in touch with the head of the NE, a very level headed individual, and he told me deliver him the GC at Killington the following weekend and cat 2 is mine. GC = general classification, or overall stage winner. I had my first crash at the circuit race in Killington on day 1. A nasty 45mph crash where I managed to only lose a lot of skin and a few minor bruises. I still have some major scars from this one! I did decent in the TT the next day and moved up to around 8th place. the final day was the mountain stage road race. The race ended with a 5 mile steep climb and I thought I could probably win the overall with just that climb. I drilled it at the beginning and dropped the field almost immediately. I passed the few guys who had formed a break and climbed my way to victory and won the overall by about 2 minutes.

Cat 2! I'm still a cat 2...but not for long. I need a few points or maybe one point to get to category 1, but there's not really any rush since all the races I want to do up to September are pro 1 2 events. In September there's UNIVEST which is a Pro-1 only and that will probably be my last race of the year.

I've done really well since becoming a cat 2, but those stories will have to be told another day!