Saturday, December 12, 2009

Athlete Types - Joe Friel

http://www.trainingbible.com/joesblog/2008/08/athlete-types.html

Mr. Friel, in the article above, outlines three different athlete types: artist-athletes, scientist-athletes, and accountant-athletes. It's an interesting article because I can see people who trend these various directions on the team.

I'd like to see myself as an artist, but I rarely am what I think I am. I place value on certain ways of thinking or doing, but don't always act the same way. The first time I was aware of this was when I was on a trip to Hong Kong to visit relatives, back when I was a kid. One of my uncles bought my brother and I table tennis paddles. Real ones, not the "walmart" paddles you mostly find here; blade and pads sold separately. He bought two pads, an "attacking" pad and a "defending" pad, one for my brother and one for me. I thought of myself as a defensive player - I placed value on defensive play, and wanted the "defending" pad. My little brother countered saying I should have the "attacking" pad - in reality, I played an attacking style.

On the bike, I value being an artist: training and racing on instinct. On the other hand, I question if I really have the talent to pull it off.

December Training Plan

After a lot of thinking, here's the idea. If there is one theme for December for me, it is base. I want a BIG BASE this year. Not the little wimpy one I've been working with for the last couple years.

For the four full weeks of December, with one week nearly over, here's the idea:

Week 1: endurance rides. Two hour roller sessions at high zone 2 intensity. So far I've completed the two hour roller sessions on each Tuesday and Thursday, and there is no obstacles to the roller sessions today and tomorrow. This is be a total of 8 hours at high zone 2 this week.

Week 2: endurance and threshold rides. Tuesday and Thursday will be 2x20min sessions on the trainer. Sat and Sun will be endurance. Hopefully outdoors for 3-4 hours on Sat.

Week 3: same as week 1, but with the addition of a Wednesday endurance roller session.

Week 4: same as week 2, but with a Wednesday, 1 hr "sweet spot" roller session.

My biggest obstacle in all this is schedule. Weeks 1 and 3 are my most free, because my wife works late on those days. Weeks 2 and 4 are difficult because I need to dodge her schedule or sacrifice time with her (which are why the 1 hour threshold sessions are on weeks 2 and 4). This has been a constant battle between my home schedule and my training schedule, as it is with many people. This year though, I am resolved to just make better use of my time in general and communicate with my wife better about her schedule and work around it. I am fortunate that my work hours are relatively flexible. Between the flexibility in my work schedule and my resolve to make better use of my time, I should be set for 8-12 hours a week throughout the year.

With December being devoted to base, January will probably be more of the same, but with some more bias towards threshold intensity level efforts. In the last couple years, I have been trying to mix in different training intensities into different weeks. I have not really been that consistent, more like "well, I should get an interval set in today, so let's climb some hills..." That sort of thing. Better awareness, coming from the last couple years, of what is required in my training and what I can do with the time I have is essential to my training this year.

This year, I am making a theme for the week and running with it. For instance, I want every other week this year to be a threshold week. Something like two hours of threshold ever week. In the winter months, this will be a 2x20min trainer workout. In the summer, it will be one hour at threshold workout done on the time trial bike.

The week in between weeks of threshold work will be season specific. December and January, these will be endurance weeks. February and March will probably be VO2max (1-4 minute intervals with short-ish rest). Between all these intensity specific rides, there will obviously be a fair number of tempo rides/races, and I want to keep one endurance ride going every week through the year.

"A" races this year are the Cherry Blossom Stage Race in April and the Cascade Classic in June. These are more like markers for my training progression rather than actual racing goals. I want to have good form in late-March/early-April (Cherry Blossom + Spring Classics) and again in July/early-August (Cascade + Track/Crits). So the "A" races are not really targeted races per se (I am not even sure I can ever be competitive in a stage race), but more like anchors to fix my training progression in time.

All of this is just a rough outline of what I would like to see happen. Day to day training will still be done pretty much on the fly, within a general week-specific goal that fits within a monthly progression. This is because I need the maximum flexibility in my schedule. I need structure in the big picture, but flexibility at the day-to-day level. Time will tell if I can pull it off.

Like making a move in a chess game, sometimes you just have to admit that you can't perfectly predict the future. You just choose the move that puts you in the best position after the next couple moves are played; then pick up the piece and play it. Right now, the best I can do is say I want hours on the bike at endurance pace if nothing else. Build a big base while working on my power at threshold - that's how the next month is sketched out, and that's enough for the moment.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

After all the talk is over...

...there are still only three things I need to do to have a successful 2010 season.

  1. Race. Every chance I get.  
  2. Ride more. Find the time to train. Ride in the dark, in the rain. Train in the garage at midnight if need be.  
  3. Lose weight. Don't we all. 

All else will follow: the power numbers, results, all of it. All this training stuff is kind of confusing when you start thinking about it too much. The last two posts I've published were all about numbers and I kind of got caught up into it. Seems to be a side effect of reading too much into all the training theories about training "with power".

What a bunch of bullshit. When it comes down to brass tacks, it's still all about time on the bike. Yea, yea, you don't want to "waste" your training time by doing the "wrong" thing. But make it too complicated and you end up not riding at all. Instead, you spend all your time talking about numbers and chasing numbers instead of riding and listening to your body. After thinking about it for the last few days, I am of the opinion that all these theories of power meter training are better left to professional coaches. Leave the rider to riding and not bother with the numbers at all. Except for motivation by way of measuring pissing distance of course.

In previous seasons, the two most valuable things I did were to: 1) spend a lot of time on my bike, and 2) 2x20min intervals. My weak points still haven't changed. My FTP is still my limiter. I still need to lose weight (though I am better off by a good eight pounds over last year). Sounds like I need to do more of the same as I did last year. It's not like I hit a plateau or anything yet.

Furthermore, I have to be patient. It's the first week of December and I'm already starting to freak out about my training plans. I almost spoiled a perfectly good (and rare) lunch with my girl because I was obsessing about a ride at lunchtime because I couldn't pull off my training session last night. In reality, it's simple. Ride a bunch. Do 2x20's as much as I can stand. When race season starts, race. That's it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

More on Training Stress

A few more words on tracking training stress before I get back to bullheaded training.

Turns out my training stress score idea, like most ideas, is not original. "Daniel's Points" is a concept that is very similar to the IF^4 stress score I talked about in the last post. Apparently there was a running coach named Jack Daniels (no relation to the liquor, apparently), probably in the 80's, who made an intensity-to-the-fourth relationship between training stress and, in his case, running speed (which is almost directly proportional to power for runners, since wind resistance doesn't come into account). His runners had a fair amount of success on the collegiate scene.

What I like about it is it builds on the concept of NP in a very natural way, mathematically. Basically, with NP, you are defining a stress function that goes by P^4 (after smoothing to get rid of power peaks). NP is simply the steady state power which results in the average training stress. So, every point in time of the training ride corresponds to a stress that is proportional to P^4. The IF^4 proposal for training stress simply integrates this training stress in time.

Put another way, at every point in time during a workout, your body is exposed to a stressor (proportional to P^4) that it must adapt to. Add up all these stressors and you get an integrated adaptation stress, which is your IF^4 training score. Long, slow endurance rides, necessary to prepare your body for the stress of training, naturally don't score well on this scale - I think this is correct; a long endurance ride will not make you fast, whereas an hour of interval training will. This is in contrast to TSS where a 3 hour ride at endurance pace is given the same or better score as an hour of interval training. Threshold intervals will score equivalently on both scales.

Coggan's TSS is based on TRIMPS (you can google it; stands for "Training Impulse" and was designed for training by HR), which apparently started out as a score directly proportional to the training intensity. When this was found not adequate to describe what athletes were experiencing, another factor of intensity was added, making it an intensity-squared relationship. So, it's a guess with another guess added on.  Not the most elegant thing in the world.

This IF^2 relationship makes for a unique problem with TSS; namely, that TSS is a function of overall workout time independent of intensity. If you just add time at zero power to the end of your ride to make it longer, you can manufacture TSS points with obviously no gain in fitness. The IF^4 relationship contains no problem in this respect, because if you run through the math, it quickly becomes apparent that "overall workout time" cancels out of the equation and you just get a straight-up integration of the stress function.

Anyway, like I said, I am keeping track of both this year. I'll watch the IF^4 stress score with the most interest though, because it makes more sense to me than TSS. If training stress can be captured by a single number, it seems the IF^4 has the most theoretical backing and about the same amount of empirical backing as TSS.

At this point in my racing career, I am just curious about these things on an intellectual level. Comes from my engineering background, I am sure. This being my third year, I am just in "watch and learn" mode as far as these metrics are concerned - keeping track of various numbers and correlating them to my race results. I'm sure someone can design a system of training based on any system of keeping track of training stress. The important part, I would imagine, is the athlete's and coach's direct experience in tying training stress metrics to performance.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

TSS, NP, IF - Thoughts about Training Stress

Having a little information can be a dangerous proposition.  Lately I've been reading up on things like TSS (Training Stress Score), NP (Normalized Power), and IF (Intensity Factor).  I have a powertap and no coach, so I get to experiment with some stuff.

See, I'm an engineer, which means that I am naturally curious about the equations that come with having a powermeter.  In case you didn't get the memo, there's a lot more that you can do with a powermeter than just measure power.  The biggest thing that's in vogue at the moment is this thing called WKO+, which is a software program developed by a guy named Hunter Allen which takes all that raw powermeter data, condenses each ride into a single number, then does stuff with that number.  The number is the so-called TSS, or Training Stress Score.  You can read about this elsewhere, but basically it's a number that quantifies how hard your ride was.

I hate to do stuff with numbers that I don't understand.  It drives me up the wall to, say, look at an insurance reimbursement summary because it's got a number added to a bunch of zeros that equal to zero.  Not kidding.  I can show you the paper.  It's even got plus signs and equal signs between all the numbers.  Anyway...

So, I hate to do stuff involving numbers that I don't understand.  First off, the whole concept of TSS starts with the concept of NP, or Normalized Power.  This is your power as a function of time, smoothed out using a smoothing function, raised to the fourth power, averaged, and 4th-rooted.  Still following?  Basically it means that there is some function, call it the "Stress Function", which is directly proportional to Power raised to the fourth.  This is actually supported by some data, so it's not all bullshit here.  Basically then, normalized power is the constant power which, if sustained for the time of the workout, results in the average of the stress function.  Nobody's following now, but I'll plow ahead anyway.  I have no issue with this at all.  Makes perfect sense to me.

TSS is basically the amount of energy the rider expends during the ride, "corrected" by an "intensity factor", which is a function of the normalized power described above.  I happen to think that the TSS concept is wrong.

The first clue is that a three hour ride at endurance pace will net the same TSS as a one hour ride at time trial pace.  Maybe, but consider this: take two identical riders.  Set them on an every-other-day training schedule at 100 TSS per workout.  So far so good.  Now, Rider 1 does his 100 TSS as a three hour endurance ride, every other day while Rider 2 does his 100 TSS sessions as a one hour at threshold interval set.  Let them do this for a month, give them a few days off and then set them against each other in a time trail.  Which one wins?  My money's on the guy who did threshold intervals for a month.

But TSS doesn't reflect this at all.  If you look at a plot of their TSS, it is identical.  You'd think that they are training identically.  But it's been well documented by Friel and others that interval training is much better for training racing efforts than just riding around for a few hours.

So here's what I propose.  TSS, when it's normalized to the rider's functional threshold power, becomes the equation: TSS = T*IF^2, where T is time in hours and IF is "intensity factor" which is NP/FTP.  Let's go back to the original derivation of NP.  NP is the constant power which produces the same average "stress function" value as the raw power function.  The whole point of TSS is to incorporate training "volume" with intensity.  Andrew Coggan says on the Wattage Forum that "work" (derived by multiplying NP with time) is the volume component and IF is the intensity; he multiplies these together because he can't really think of anything better to do to combine them.  The big problem with describing his formula in this manner is that IF and work energy are not independent.  They are both dependent on NP.  This is sort of a problem if your starting point is assuming that "volume" and "intensity" are independent concepts.

Now imagine a new TSS* formula which simply multiplies the average "stress function" value, which is proportional to NP^4, and time.  Normalize it by dividing it by the average stress function value at FTP and you get TSS* = T*IF^4, where T is time in hours.  Let's put it to the test:

Rider 1:
TSS* = 3hr*0.6^4 = 39%

Rider 2:
TSS* = 1hr*1^4 = 100%

Isn't this more of what we expect?  Rider 1, following his 3 hour, endurance ride schedule, will be vastly undertrained (61% less) compared to Rider 2.  This isn't a new concept: Coggan himself considered this formulation briefly after noting that data for time-to-exhaustion vs. power (which is kind of like the TSS concept) followed a near 4th power law form.  He dismisses this out of hand though for some reason involving the hypothetical seeming equivalence between the recovery time from a 12 hour ride and a track pursuit effort.

Food for thought anyway.  Myself, I am keeping track of both TSS and TSS* and will see how well each correlates to my form through the season.

PS. If you don't know who Andrew Coggan and Hunter Allen are, they wrote a fairly widely read book about training with a powermeter.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Puzzle Pieces...

...are falling into place.  For the last two weeks and change, I've been doing nothing but endurance, low paced rides.  A majority has been on the rollers in one or two hour sessions.  Team rides of 2.5-3 hours make up the balance.  Five rides a week with two days off.  I call these "movie intervals".  Boring as all hell, but put a good movie on the TV or a good football game (is it coincidence that the Pats/Colts game netted me my best training ride of the year?) and it becomes tolerable.

My weight is coming under control.  My off-season high was 184lbs.  I am now back down to close to 178 and have hit that zone where my appetite doesn't lead me to pack in the food in response to training.  From previous experiences last year and the year before that, this should result in a solid pound a week give or take for the next couple months.

I feel good about this season.  I feel strong and now that my weight is dropping again, I am reasonably confident of reaching my weight goal for the season.  I am starting with a true base this year, instead of just jumping right into intervals.  My plan is to continue the five day a week endurance rides until the first or second week of December.  After that and through January, I'll add in, with increasing frequency, threshold intervals and the so-called "sweet spot training" sessions to replace the endurance rides.

Important for this year is to train the intermediate intervals in the 1-5 minute range between sprinting and threshold.  I think coaches call this the "anaerobic endurance" range.  I did zero training in this power range last year, and I suffered a bit because of it.  It's not so much that I am not "good" in that range, but by not training, I don't know how to judge effort during those intervals.  Thus, bridging efforts are hard for me because I am afraid of going too hard.  I get dropped on the start of climbs because I can't push my limits because I don't know if I can recover.  I can't accelerate properly out of corners in a crit to allow me to move up and get out of the yo-yo part of the pack.  This kind of training needs to be done closer to the race season.  I will work these in starting in February.

Lastly, I am shifting all my training backwards about a month from last year.   Last year at this time I started threshold work in November and continued it until racing scuttled those efforts in March.  I was burnt out by April instead of being good.  This year, I hope to have a much better endurance base going into interval training, and not be in such a rush to get into form.  I have to bang it into my head that I don't have to have form until racing season starts, and even then, not until late March and April where the racing really takes off.  It's not about flexing muscle in training rides with the crew.  It's about being good for races.  So patience and faith in training is key.  Build up the base and hit the intervals in stride and everything else will fall into place.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bullheaded Training

An anonomous person on the internet at bikeforums.net asked a general question:
Trainer vs. new wheelset vs. Powertap - What's most beneficial to an aspiring racer?
This person is new to the sport side of cycling and is looking to take up racing next season. Here's my take on the issue, posted in the same thread:
Trainer first. Then powertap. Then wheelset.

Ride the trainer hard and long, doing threshold intervals over the winter. Get strong. Refine your training with the powertap. Get stronger. Then refine your competitive ability with the lighter, more aero wheelset. Getting strong and getting any extra fat off your body will go a much longer ways toward making you competitive than some fancy race equipment.

I liken training to sharpening a knife blade. Right now you are simply a blank piece of metal shaped like a knife. You don't start putting the edge on by going right to the fine grit stone. No, you start with a coarse file. That's your trainer and your first foray into interval training and racing. You file on that blade until you can start getting an edge defined, but you can only get it so sharp. So you bring out the whetstone. That's your powertap. You define the blade edge more and upgrade into Cat3.

Only after you've gotten the blade well defined that you bring out the sharpening steel and really get that blade razor sharp. That's when you buy the fancy wheels and unobtainium 15lb bike and start training with a coach. This might be a several year process.

...Until you are racing at a high level, my belief is that the fancy racing equipment is just a crutch. Other racers have other beliefs, but I think most will agree that successful racing is more about the amount of sweat on your garage floor this winter than it is about a fancy wheelset.
What does this say about me.  I have a Powertap and I have a carbon race bike (which means I have some of the toys), but I believe that success in bike racing isn't proportional to the money put into the sport, but rather the time and effort to get stronger and faster.  The strongest cyclists on the team, simply put, are the ones who put the most time and effort into training.  Some have the toys.  Some don't.  Some have a coach and a highly regimented training plan.  Some make it up as they go.  But the common denominator is that they ride hard and often.  They turn themselves inside out in training so they can see red in a race.  I read books by Bob Roll, Lance Armstrong, and the new one by Joe Parkins.  Amongst the pros, they all share this common denominator.

So this is my overriding training goal this year.  Less futzing around the edges, obsessing over training plans and equipment.  More hard, long miles on the bike.  Less shying away from a training session because I am tired from work, hungry, or "just don't feel like it".  Eat a candy bar, slap myself into shape; lower the horns and plunge ahead.

Right now I am reading a book by Bob Roll, which is essentially a bunch of his journal entries throughout his career peppered with some stories from his racing days.  He tells of one ride he did when he just plotted out a course for a 6 hour ride in the mountains on a clear and cold early spring day.  He gets out and he's flying.  One of those days.  He is so high on his good form that he ignores the traditional signs (such as a gate barring the road and two foot deep snow) to turn back in the mountains.  Figures he can hike his bike over the pass, through the snow and catch the road on the other side to continue his ride.  He ends up lost in the forest, and after tromping around for hours, finally gets picked up by a couple in their car who know him as a pro.  Finally gets back to his house at 1am after something like 12 hours lost in the snow.

It's not the snow or the getting lost that struck me, but how he just got out on his bike to train.  Just a general route laid out and he put his head down and got to it weather be damned.  The bullheadedness of his training. Seems to me to be something to emulate.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

And the New Season Begins...

First workout of the new season: 2 hours last night on the rollers watching V for Vendetta while the rain pored down outside.  I averaged 205W, which for me is smack dab in the center of my endurance zone.  I plan on spending the next three or four weeks with rides that are just like these.  Long, slow; just get my legs turning for a long time and do a real base period of training.

December will bring out the trainer and mark the start of threshold intervals.  Last year, this was the start and the end of my training regimen.  My goal back then was to simply raise my threshold power.  Which I did, but my middle power suffered a little because I never trained it.  I couldn't get to the front of a crit to save my life because I didn't have the 2-3 minute burst to make it up there.  This year, after getting my threshold power to where I want it, which should take a month or two after the base period if it happens at all, I will focus on training my strengths instead of just focusing on my traditional weakness at threshold.

Being that this is still just the start of my third season, I am still building my long term base fitness: the fitness base that takes years to build and is required to undertake still more rigorous training.  This year, I have a weight goal: 165lbs, and I have a threshold power goal: 360W, to be attained by March/April when racing starts in earnest.  Instead of being just a fuzzy wish like it was last year, these are now attainable goals.  Last year, in June, I touched down into the high 160s (169lbs or so) for a short period before regaining 5lbs to even out at 175lbs at Cascade, and my threshold power grew from sub-300W to 330W over the course of the season.  165lbs is not far from my low mark of weight, and 360W is a "mere" 10% increase in power over my last season's FTP.

Combine these two goals, and I should be able to hang with the Cat3 pack even up some of the longer hills.  I won't win up the hill, but to just hang will get me to the finish of a fair number of races which I can win with a sprint.  It was eye opening for me at the Cascade Classic last July when I was almost able to hang with the Cat3 pack at 175lbs and the threshold at 330W.   In fact, I was hanging, but made a tactical mistake that popped me off the back.  I was even mid-pack on a time trial that was uphill for the first half (and me on a standard road bike that saw me losing a fair amount of time on the way back down).  165lbs at 360W will put me at 4.9W/kg.  If I can do that, I might be able to make a serious run at upgrading to Cat2.

But now's the time to get to work.  2-4 hour rides, four days a week or so, are the name of the game at this point.  If I can keep myself from dying of boredom in the winter months ahead, I can reap the benefits with a good season.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Experiment in Cross is DONE!

Suffice it to say, I suck at 'cross, but it's a ton of fun and now it's time to exit the party and let the people who are actually good at this sport do their thing with the championships and USGP and all that while I go and restore the "home goodwill fund" and "work goodwill fund" so I have lots in the bank by the time the road season starts.  Also, I'm slow and fat and need a good head start on the rest of the Cat3 field so I can actually be competitive come March.

Astoria was a blast with the team all holed up in a house on a pier.  I drew one of the lucky straws and got to sleep on the floor.  I had assumed it was carpet... but everyone knows that hardwood is easier to care for and prettier to look at.  Let's just say I awoke on Sunday morning with a real straight back.

Saturday was the serious race... which of course meant that it was this race where I blasted past people on one of my better starts and into the first section of mud and promptly flatted my front tire.  Talk about taking the wind out of your sails.  Since I was on tubies, I can still ride, so I rode the bike to the pit where neutral support took a gajillion years to put my new wheel on (which was pumped up to, like, 100psi) and included a full brake job along the way.  (Even if it sounds like I'm complaining... well, they were actually great and having neutral support is awesome even if I found first hand why it's probably of some importance to bring your own wheels to the pit.)  When I finally made it back on course, there was no one in sight.  I eventually picked off 10 of the weakest 'crossers in the B field and called it a day.

Sunday was a blast.  I had a great costume that was totally team spec'ed and B. Johnson doctor-cum-engineer modified so I could actually see and breath.  It was a "Guy Fawkes" mask, wig, and hat a la "V for Vendetta" and even though I could see and breath, unlike some of my other teammates who were without the Doc. Johnson approved modifications, it still sucked to race in it.  Astoria convinced me that I am just bad at all the things 'crossers are supposed to be good at, and I'm not like some of my teammates who have the fitness to make up for it.  But I had a lot of fun.

I have a feeling that, in the future, unless I have a series standing that I am protecting, my 'cross season will end with Astoria.  The costume race is an awesome cap to the short off-season-season and there's some good symmetricality (I think I just made this word up - probably supposed to be "symmetry") to the season with it being on Halloween.  Now to hunker down in the bat cave and start doing intervals and suffering through 3 hour rides in the rain.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Year Review and a Look to the Next

I left the road season this year in a blur of track frenzy and exhaustion from the road.  I haven't ridden a road bike in a couple weeks and the 'cross season has started with a bang.  What to make of all this in the whole scheme of my amateur racing career?

For one thing, I've matured as a racer.  My equipment, after two years of upgrading and buying, is finally sufficient for all aspects of road competition.  I have two road racing bikes - solid, fast steeds; three specialty bikes (cyclocross, time trial, and track); and my trusty commuter.  All the components on these bikes are sufficient; they are not holding me back.  I feel like I am in a good spot, equipment wise, between top-of-the-line and budget.  That means that until my results catch up to my bikes, I am down to spending only on consumables, clothing, and races.  If I play it right, the sport should be getting cheaper for me.

In competition, I'm racing in the Cat3's on the road, Cat4 on the track, and CatB in 'cross.  I still have upgrade aspirations for the track, and with 'cross I don't especially care, but for road, I am where I will be for the next couple years at least.

I feel like I have room to improve.  Even after being 20lbs less than I was two years ago, I can still stand to lose another 20lbs.  This is make or break.  At 175lbs, I am an average Cat3.  At 165lbs, I'll crush.  This is not idle tough guy talk.  It's just fact.  Right now, due to the off season, I'm 182lbs... but I'm racing (cross) again, and will soon start building my mileage from the current near zero to 10-15 hours a week.  This isn't a fantasy.  I am still, if not fat anymore, not skinny.  But it will take work.  Now that equipment is not holding me back... I simply need to put in the hours.

And here's the thing.  I have time for that too.  The first year I was racing I was terribly inefficient with training time.  I drove to lots of team rides instead of riding.  I hesitated and watched TV for an hour before hoping on the trainer or rollers.  I scrubbed training rides due to weather instead of simply bucking up and getting out there.  Second year, I am more efficient, but still not as efficient as I could be.  Much of this is simply about knowing what to do and doing it.  Hesitation and uncertainty is the bane of my life.  But with experience, training becomes smoother and more efficient.  I don't need half an hour to get ready anymore because I know with my eyes closed what needs to be in the car and/or in my pockets.  I know what to eat, I know what to drink.

So, the plan for next year, subject to change.  Currently I'm kind of idling myself, merely developing my handling skills and keeping myself sharp by racing cyclocross.  November 1st rolls around and I start ramping up the indoor trainer and weekend rides.  This rolls through January on a gradual ramp; a 12 week program to develop my functional threshold and lose weight.  In February, the long outdoor rides start.  I want to be doing 4-5 hour rides a couple times a week.  I'm not certain the logistics of this yet, but I want to be doing about 15 hours a week on the bike at this point.  Just steady miles to build base with FTP interval sessions in between.  The racing season starts at the end of February.  At this point I start trading training miles for race miles.  I peak first for the April spring stage races.  I want to weigh 170lbs at this point.  At the end of April, I take a couple weeks break and start building for another peak in July.  I peak in July for the Cascade Classic stage race.  I want to weigh 165lbs.  I end the road season with a generous helping of crits and track racing.

That's the plan.  I now know my body, and I know I've executed parts of this plan over the last couple years.  It's year three and it's time to put it all together.  The goal is to be able to win in Cat3 road races.  I don't suspect I'll get the points to upgrade to Cat2, but I want to show myself I have the potential to win in the P/1/2 field in the next couple years.
___________________


As an aside, I almost scrubbed the last sentence of the last paragraph above.  Is it going too far to even state that I'd like to win a P/1/2 race?  I dunno.  Aim to the sky to skim the trees?  Is it a fantasy?

Let me put it to rest.  I can roll with the big boys on a sprint finish.  All that's needed to win a P/1/2 race is to make it to the end with the field.  I won't be the best'est mountain goat.  I won't be the strongest TT'er.  But I can sprint and that's my ticket in the big boy races.

Evolution is...

First race: Pain on the Peak: 2nd to last

Second race: Hood River DX, day two: 5th from last

(Third race: Blind Date #1: DNF -- doesn't count; flat)

Fourth race: Battle at Barlow: 14th from last

Fifth race: Blind Date #2: 38th out of 66, mid-pack


...moving up in life.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cyclocross!

So, with two mediocre 'cross races under my belt for the season; where do I stand in this wild and wacky sport? In the C's last year, I was masking a lot of mediocre bike handling skills with fitness. The guys I was racing against were Cat4/5 riders with not a lot of fitness but perhaps some mountain biking background. Yes, my handling skills were mediocre, but I could compete reasonably well simply because I was fitter than most of the field.

Now, in the B's, that's no longer the case. Everyone is just as fit or fitter (probably the latter), and they have the bike handling skills to match. So I come in close to DFL in both races this year and it's because of my shitty handling skills.

First tick off the list though, came last night. I took my 'cross bike, complete with dirt gearing and tires, on my commute to work. First off, riding crappy roads with big tires is fun! Come the off season, now that I have a real rain bike that is not my cross bike, I'm going to keep the big tires on the cross bike and use it for short commuting and some gravel road rides.

Anyway, though the day I was determined to find some time to practice 'cross, which really was short for "figure out how to get my ass back on my bike after dismounting without killing myself." Days are getting shorter and I wanted to ride the commute, so I didn't get to practice until I got home and was in my driveway.

I figured that what was holding me back with the remount was a mental tick. I was smooth enough at very slow speed where I can get on my bike without my foot leaving the ground. But as soon as I was above a single step, I had to dab my foot on the remount. It's kind of like track standing (which I can do). A rider learns to go slower and slower until he is damned near stopped. But there is a mental catch the moment he has to transition to letting his bike roll backwards on him. Similar here. I can remount as long as my foot stays on the ground as I hit the saddle, but there is a mental catch when I need to actually land on the saddle proper.

Last night, I got over it.

I reasoned that, since it was a mental block preventing me from remounting, I needed a mental trick to get over it. So I stood next to my bike, in the driveway, and mentally drew a line on the ground. Past that line, there is a pool of lava (corny, I know). The only way through it was to roll through on my bike (special bike; must be, or at least the wheels). Dab my foot and I'd lose it. The idea is I'll take half a step with my left foot leading, and kind of hop a little to get in the air and land on the saddle.

First time, lost the foot to the lava.

Second time... holy shit, I did it. Slower than walking pace, but I clearly was past the "catch." It was just a little hop, and I was barely rolling after I landed on the saddle, but I did it.

I do it again.

And again.

Now I add a full stride into the remount. It worked!

I do it again.

And again. The inside of my thigh is starting to get a bruise.

Finally I take a breath, and remount at a full run. Not a full full run like in a race, but a full run.

It works.

Suddenly I'm feeling a bit better about 'cross...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Beer Race


Jeff Harwood from Ironclad and I cleaned up in the Cat5's on the track at the Team Beer Race at Alpenrose. We ended up tying for first, with the tie-break going to Jeff because he beat me in the final race of the omnium.
Felt really good in this race. Felt like I could throw myself around the track and concern myself with only the "racing" part of track racing, and not have to worry about the "riding bike" part of track racing. It's a welcome turn of events. I've finally figured out that my crash last year on my first ever race on the track really fucked with my head. I have been timid and tense when I was out on the track earlier in the year.
Something changed. Maybe it was mashing my bike into a real track bike, from the street fixie it was. Maybe it was just time. Maybe it was the speech on Friday by Luciano, our announcer, who made a point of pointing out that the default line in a mass start race is the outside line, not the inside near the sprinter's lane; i.e. to use the whole track when racing: attack going over the top of the pack, instead of underneath.
Whatever happened, I felt absolutely comfortable out there racing. Fun, for a change, instead of nerve racking.
Next stop: Cat 4. And match sprints. I can't wait!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Track... and Redemption

My last post about the track was a total bitch session. Today, after not racing for the last month and hardly touching my bike the last couple weeks, I went out onto the track for the penultimate race week to get some more experience.
Last time out, I had a bike that had a track geometry but with a road fork, a crankset that was too long and a bushingless singlespeed chain. After that last time, I upgraded the fork to a carbon fiber track specific fork which had a 30mm rake instead of the 40mm rake that my previous one had. I upgraded the crankset to a real track crankset with shorter arms so I could spin faster. And I upgraded the chain to a real track chain. But I didn't get to race. I skipped it the next week, but I would've been rained out anyway, and I was rained out on two consecutive weeks afterwards. That last race would've been my fourth and final race as a Cat5. Then I got off the track kick and started training for Cascade.
Today, I decided to give the track one last shot and cram as much track experience as I could into these last two weeks. And it went so much better.
See, after crashing out of my very very very firstest race on the track, I've been a scared kitten. I didn't so much race to win or even to have fun, but to not crash. Today changed all that for me. I only had to warn one person to hold his line, and besides that, it was a safe race day and I was competitive to boot.
The new bike (the fork changes everything... it's new now, a completely changed beast) handled marvelously. It's a crime that the bike sellers sell track bikes with road forks to beginners. The beginners are the very people who need a well behaved bike. Instead, in exchange for a couple bucks saved, they get a twitchy bike that is even too twitchy for the match sprinters. It's hard enough to hold a line on the bank the first few times out without having to fight the bike as well. My bike, before the track fork, was skittish. I had to fight it on every turn to keep it on a line. Now, with the new fork, it goes where I look. No fighting anymore. I don't have to watch the lines on the track to follow the bank; I just look around the corner and it goes around perfectly. I don't even have to consciously bank the bike into the corner. It goes around like it's on rails.
Anyway, it was a Cat5 race, so there isn't even bragging rights to go along with it, but a couple guys I've met in road races were there in the field, which was good because I knew that these particular folks could ride a bike. The first race was a 10 lap scratch; just a race to the finish line. Found myself at the front after a couple laps. I went up the bank to give a turn on the front to someone else and found I had a gap. So I zoomed down the bank, into the sprinters lane, and took off. Didn't look back. Just hit the gas for the next two laps as hard as I could. A teammate of mine told me once that breakaways were different on the track. You give it a full effort so that you get ahead by about half a lap, then you can back off and just cruise. You don't need to go full bore like in a road race because the pack dynamics are different. It has to be a long points race before you can get a group of even three people to cooperate and chase.
When I finally looked back, I saw I had about a third of a lap lead. I backed down a bit to just match speed with the chasers and rode out the rest of the race. Every half lap, I peaked back to see how the chasers were doing; if they were gaining on me, I'd give it more gas. If they were backing off, I backed off. I ended up holding on for the win.
The next two races... well, let's just say that it was evident that I expended a lot of energy in the first race. I mean, after that first race, I was tasting a trace of blood in my throat from a few burst alveoli from the effort. The second race was a 15 lap points race, with points for the first four positions on laps 5, 10, and 15, with double points at the finish. I wasn't able to do much of anything until the finish, where I was pipped at the line for third place.
Going into the final race of the omnium, myself and two others were tied for first. The last race was a "Tempo" race, meaning it was a race to the line each and every lap, with the first two racers to cross getting points. I got no points. I was fourth or fifth (I think) across the line at the finish, but I was far enough behind the leaders (obviously the race blew apart, which tends to happen on this type of race) that I wasn't even sure when the race ended.
In any case, I had amassed enough omnium points on the first two events to to eek out a second place for the day. And I didn't feel threatened at all. I felt perfectly comfortable in the field and racing, my bike handled great, I had fun, and I wasn't a scaredy cat. A good day.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cascade... and the end of the season

First thing first, the Cascade Stage Race. This is probably the first time I went solidly into a race with reasonable expectations and solid form. Needless to say, in my first half season as a Cat 3, I did not do well. Way off the back of the field in the road races, (surprisingly) mid field in the ITT, and just hanging on by the skin of my teeth in the Crit.
The first stage found me seeing my teammate (the only one with a legit shot at winning the GC) pulling and me slotting in ahead of him on the first two mile climb out of the staging area. I went up there, matched pace which put my heart rate right into my FT, and pulled the field up the hill. I got swarmed at the top, but it was a good test of my fitness in this (still) new field which I've only been part of for three races. I ended up doing way too much pulling in the first stage, which was partially because I felt that my teammate would stick his face in the wind if I wasn't up there, and partially because I knew I wouldn't be competing up the finishing 10k climb and I wanted to test what I could do. I was fairly pleased with my efforts up until the hill, when the field just blew by me on one of the steeper slopes (I was pretty tired from pulling). I ended the stage side by side with a teammate who wasn't feeling well, way down in 92nd place (out of 96!). Because I didn't blow myself up trying to move from 92nd place to 80th, I actually finished the stage feeling pretty good.
I was one of the first to go off for the ITT in the Cat 3 field because of my near lanterne rouge status. I brought two bikes to the race, one my "good" Trek race bike, and the other the my "crit" bike which is my old steel frame road bike dressed up with modern Ultegra components. A little heavy but solid as a brick and just flexy enough to make it corner like it's on rails. I also brought a time trial cockpit for one or the other of my bikes in the off chance that I was doing well. I didn't want to be in the situation where I had a phenomenal day on stage 1 and was out of contention on the TT because I didn't bring a stink'n TT bike. Anyway, because I was well out of contention, I simply used my Trek road bike without any aerobars or anything for the TT.
I started out great out of the holder's hands. Bolted up the hill out of the parking lot and settled into my rhythm, looking at my powertap output and trying to maintain 350W. Being that I had raced hard the day before, I ended up not being able to maintain much more than 320W or so on the way up. I caught my 30s man almost immediately once I got out on the road out of the parking lot, and I immediately zeroed in on my 1min man. I could see him up there in the distance, but was closing very slowly. He, I think, caught his 30s man, and after the turnaround, I think I caught him as well. Flying down the hill (out was uphill and back was downhill) as fast as I could push the 53/11, I couldn't quite get up to the 1m man, but I got close by the turn back into the parking lot. Accelerating out of the turn, screaming from the effort, I was sprinting for the line 400m away. Almost caught the guy.
I didn't know the time until later, but it turns out that I ended up beating one of our best TT'ers by 2 seconds (he was having a bad day, obviously) and getting roughly mid pack in the field at 50th or so place. Not bad for a recently graduated Cat 4 sprinter on a road bike.
The crit was uneventful. I got a great start and was in the top 20 or so in the field for the first few laps. Then it went like this:
grab that wheel...
losing it...
getting passed - PUSH IT! - grab that wheel!...
losing it...
etc.
I finished with the pack, but never saw the front and was never doing anything but hanging on by the skin of my teeth. Terrible performance for an alleged sprinter. Something to work on for next year; gotta make it to the finish at the pointy end of the pack before I get the privilege of contesting the sprint.
One good thing to come out of it was the realization that my discomfort in small spaces in the pack was mostly due to the very little details of my positioning. I have been crashing a lot, which is mostly because I am contesting the sprints, which means that I get to be in those tight positions when everyone's all crazy and stuff. We had a bike handling class the previous thursday which showed me two things:
First, that it's not such a terrible thing to lean on another rider. You just need to guard the handlebars but aside from that, everything is all fine - lean all you want.
Second was just a little thing that our team's coach mentioned during the clinic a couple times, but almost in passing. If your bars are in front of the rider next to you, you own him. I put this theory to to the test in the crit and as a result, I never, during the entire course of the race, even running into the corners 3 or 4 wide, felt threatened. It works both on the inside and outside guy. If you are able to get this bar forward position, you can take whatever line you want in the corner. If you don't get the position, try to get at least even so you won't get pushed around. If you fail to get the position, back off so you don't get pushed around. Positioning becomes a perennial battle where you want to lead going into the corners, and if you fail, you either accept the risk of getting pushed off your line or you back off. Even if you accept the risk, you go into the situation eyes-wide-open, which in itself lessens the risk.
Anyway, finally, the last stage was all that was ahead; a circuit race - four times around a 17 mile circuit which the first half featured a nearly constant downhill and starting around mile 10, a nearly constant uphill with a "wall" at about the mile 14 mark followed by more climbing. Just a really tough course, and something which was surprisingly suitable to my style of racing. I was inspired by Thor Hushov's ride in the Alps a few days before where he, a classics sprinter, went on a rampage off the front of a field packed with climbers on a climbing stage so he could soak up 12 sprint points and all but wrap up the green jersey in the Tour de France. I was determined to try to make it to the end of this race with the field. If I could survive the hills, this was a course with a real sprint finish!
We coasted down the hills and I got up near the front for the first uphill at the 10 mile mark. Remarkably, mostly because I am used to being blown out of the water on the climbs, I stayed right with the pack, not even giving up too many positions. I was right at my FTP heart rate (I don't wear my powertap in races; too heavy) of 170bpm and it was pretty uncomfortable, but I was hanging. Pat on the back. At the wall, I enter it in the top five or so spots and almost sprint up the wall, in the process finding on the fly that it is possible to shift the front ring while standing, if you are really careful to back off the chain tension first. Probably not the best place to experiment with this, but it is what it is. Then the long grind up the hill on top of the wall and I start giving up lots of positions. Eventually the hill ends though and I am still at the tail end of the pack. A second circuit earned.
The second circuit went the same way, except that I lost momentum on the wall when I had to dodge a guy who put his chain into his spokes (and I was tired, of course, too) and found myself somewhat off the back about half way up the grinding hill. The ground leveled out a little though and I was able to make it back on before the top of the hill.
The third circuit, I got popped at the feed zone. I went back for a third bottle to dump on my head and lost track of the peloton. Looked up and found I was 100m back. Chased, along with several others, but to no avail. I ended up not getting back on and rode the rest of the third lap and the fourth with a guy from Therapeutic Associates who had also been dropped.
Overall, I was extremely happy with how the stage race turned out. I learned that I was not as far behind with my fitness as I thought. I also found that I steered my training pretty much correctly to peak right at the race. It was not a sharp peak, but I didn't go into the race unprepared, nor did I go into it overtrained/burnt out. Now, as far as I am concerned, my road season is done. I'll take some time off of serious training, for a week or two, then start in on long endurance and tempo rides (and just having fun with commuting and such) and start losing weight for next season and building base, with some 'cross races thrown in to keep myself sharp. My goals are to raise my FTP another 10% to about 350-360W, and drop my weight another 10lbs to 165lbs. We'll see. This is the first time I've ended the season on my terms and on a relatively high note with a definite plan on what needs to be done for next season.
I also spoke of Thor; that guy inspired me. I now know what kind of rider I want to be. Everyone needs a focus, and now that I have two years of racing under my belt, I think I have a good idea of what kind of rider I am. I am a natural sprinter. That is one thing I've learned. I have a great kick. I could be a crit or track specialist if I wanted to. But I don't want to. I'm going to be a "classics sprinter" like guys like Thor, Boonen, Zabel and O'Grady. My focus of the season will be the spring classics with the peak in the spring stage races in April. I'll be working primarily on my aerobic base so I can motor with the best of them on the flats and climb reasonably well. If not well enough to chase the little sprites up the 10 mile climbs, then well enough to stay with the pack to contest the sprint at the end of a long classic style road race.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Suffering

10 miles left.

No water.

Cramping legs.

Never before have I been cursing society more for making us fear drinking from nature's streams.

Friday, a group of 10 of us from the club and the team decided to migrate over to Mt. Hood and climb some real climbs. Not these little prissy 2-3 mile climbs like we have around Portland. Real hills. Hills that you climb for a solid hour or more.

The ride started well for me, with the first climb being a few miles into the ride and lasting a good hour. My heartrate was high; not sure if this was from the heat or the elevation (probably the heat), but it was a consistent 10bpm higher than normal for the power output. Then a hair raising descent along a narrow, gravel road for five miles; full of potholes and teeth rattling washboard.

We make it to a store at the bottom of the descent and restock. Each of us have three waterbottles, except for one of us, the smart one, who brought a camelback. He was the only one of us who didn't run out of water on the following monster of a climb. The climb in front of us now is 25 miles long. I don't comprehend this. I don't think I've ever done a climb that's required over an hour to ascend.

We start out at a hard pace. 90% of ftp, is the number I am looking at warily on the display of my powermeter. 90%. Can I hold this for two and a quarter hours? Really? 300W and I am keeping up with the group. Then I drop off, my heartrate, which is still higher than I am used to for the power output, at 180bpm. 270W and I am losing ground. 250W and I am starting to suffer. My heartrate isn't dropping with the decreased power. I look at the readout and do a quick manual reading of my pulse. Yup, I'm really pinging 180bpm.

I am going through my water at a worrying rate. Then the first twinges of an impending cramp. I pry an electrolyte pill out of my jersey pocket. Hopefully that will keep things from cramping up completely. I am starting to get chills. That's not good. It's a sign of impending heat exhaustion, when the body temperature starts rising because the body can't regulate it's temperature anymore.

I can barely eak out 200W now. Then the full cramp. I wait it out, stopped, straddling my bike. My plan is to wait for some of the guys I know are behind me, but I wait and wait; they are very, very far behind. One guy, the guy with the camelback, passes me and declines my invitation to stop. He's probably the smart one. Legs tend to seize up if you stop for too long. I have the opposite problem. I pop a couple more electrolyte pills, this time chewing through the capsule to make them take effect faster. I get going again, start catching the guy who passed me, then cramp again. 10 miles of climbing to go and I have 2 inches of water in two waterbottles left.

I round a corner and find the team regrouped and waiting. We stop and wait for the rest of the group; two more who were behind me, one with a flat, and one who was suffering worse than me. All regrouped, I get another waterbottle filled with stream water and iodine from one of my teammates. At the behest of another, I put in some Alka Seltzer, which is rumored to buffer against cramping. Off we go again. Feeling better, I still get dropped, but I'm no longer getting chills. Probably because there is a headwind now keeping us cool while obliterating the legs. Exchanging one poison for another, I walk a fine line between making progress up the hill and cramping.

Finally, it ends.

I reach one summit, go downhill for a ways, then climb over another, smaller summit and there's the rest of the group at a store. Then 8 or 9 miles of downhill back to the start.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Another Crashed Helmet

I started this blog while I was on a layoff from biking due to a bad crash at PIR where I landed on my head and suffered a hip hematoma the size of a volleyball. 21 days off the bike and I was playing catchup fitness-wise for the rest of the year.

Now, I write again after crashing at PIR again. This time I landed on my shoulder, not my head, so I actually remember the series of events in full color. Basically, long story short, I was in the Monday PIR 1/2/3 masters field two mondays ago and on the final lap, some guys got excited on the backstretch and all shifted left towards the paralleling concrete wall separating the course from the infield. I happened to be next to the wall; everyone wanted to be where I was, and one guy got a little too excited and came down on me and put me into the wall.

Getting up off the ground, I immediately noticed my left pinky finger was screwed up. Turns out that I must have caught it in the fence topping the wall. I had what is called a boutonniere deformity when a tendon across the top of the middle finger segment is ruptured. Other injuries include a sprained shoulder, several patches of road rash, and what looked like a sever cut in the webbing between my left pinky and ring finger from the fence. A teammate and another rider in the field who happened to be an ER doctor (I found out later that this person was no less than OBRA's very own Mike Murray; thanks!) helped me back to the start/finish to get cleaned up.

Anyway, now I am recovering and back on my bike, but this incident makes me think a bit about risk and why I am in this sport in the first place. It makes no rational sense to keep with a sport where I keep on getting injured. I risk my work and I risk my health. All this BS crap about how I am keeping my weight down and keeping healthy and physically fit is just that: crap. It's a rationalization. As my boss pointed out when I showed up on Tuesday all bandaged up, I can just as easily keep fit by going to the gym, or just riding to ride.

So why do I keep racing? There really is an answer, but it's not a rational answer and I have trouble putting it into words. It is similar to the reason why I ride in the first place.

Some people ride because they are looking for something. They are looking for a fun way to exercise. They are looking for a vacation from their brain. They are looking for an experience. But I don't work that way. 

Exercise, to me, is a chore, anyway you put it, on the bike or off. I can take a vacation from my brain by reading a book in a coffee shop much more effectively than all the rigamarole that goes with cycling. I can get "an experience" by going for a walk. And I do all that on many an occasion for those very reasons. These are all rational reasons to ride a bike, and I can't say I adopt any of them. I ride and race now, and I have always ridden because I love to ride. It is an unconditional and unrational love. I don't love it because it makes me fit, though it's a benefit. I don't love it because of what it does to my mental state. I just love it. It's just as unrational as the love I have for my wife.

It's not so much about the big things, about the big epic rides or the big risks and rewards in a race.

It's about the little things.

A gray sky and sputtering drizzle with a backpack on. Swooping through a sharp corner. The brief flash of the finish line at 40mph. Squeezing water out of your gloves. Sitting on a stationary, spinning wheel, 4 inches away from yours. Coffee and conversation with teammates. Looking at the sharp lines of your road bike sitting in the garage. The steady grinding rhythm of your body up a long hill.

When I crash, there is a period of time where I am desolate. Pain, bandages, limitations in my movements. Showers and basic hygiene are a bitch. Equipment has to be repaired or replaced. But never is there a time when I think of giving up this sport. It's irrational, of course. Don't know why.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tired

For the past few weeks, I've been working hard on my cycling, losing weight and getting stronger.

That all started falling apart a couple weeks ago. I got very few miles in. Then I raced Silverton and was dropped. I used to pride myself on not getting dropped in races, then I started getting dropped. My motivation is low.

Then yesterday, after track, I was bushed. My ear was (and still is), for some reason, clogged up like it was when I had the sinus infection earlier this year. I went to bed right after I went home, without even brushing my teeth.

It started on the last omnium event. I didn't even try. The thought of putting out that much effort was too much and I just soft pedaled the event.  I was tired and sketched out. I had a close call when someone shot up track almost taking my front wheel out in the first race. Then in the second, one of the guys inexplicably came down into the sprinters lane after finishing, forcing me off the track onto the apron to take the corner at 20-30 mph on the apron. I came out of it okay, but I was praying the whole time that my pedal wouldn't ground and my tires would stick. It didn't and they did, so okay.

But the third event I couldn't get it up. Started out strong, then just gave up. Didn't even give it a go. Getting up at 6:00 this morning, I couldn't muster the motivation to get ready to either race the rehearsal road race or ride with the team on their epic 90 some odd mile ride today. I turned my alarm off and got up again at 10:30, over 12 hours after I went to sleep last night. I feel better now though, so I'll probably go out for a 50 mile ride after I finish breakfast.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Silverton FAIL plus Track Rant

The race report for the Silverton RR is a short one: FAIL.
Got dropped after a lap and a half, then rode the rest of the lap with John Kim, a friendly sprinter type who is a monster on the track, but hills, like me, not so much. Quit after two laps of three; no point in thrashing myself on another lap after the hammering I took on the first two.
I did do a little racing early. It's not like sat in the pack and waited for my turn to be dropped. After we started up the first hill of the day a break formed. I got Mitch into a chase group which didn't quite get away, but the fireworks started by the chase led to both the break and the chase being swallowed briefly and the break reemerging with Mitch as one of the members. So, after that little amount of racing, I went to sit in in the chase group. Actually, I drifted almost all the way to the back of the field, and was just getting my breath back when version two of the breakaway went off.
I learned some little things about myself in the race. I learned that my training (and weight loss, I now tip the scales at 180lbs, 5-6lbs less than a couple months ago) was working incrementally. I was able to dig harder than I have previously to keep on the wheels, and I think I stayed on much longer than I would have two months ago. Who knows though. Two months ago, the guys racing now were not in as good form as they are now, so perhaps the tide is raising all boats and I am just trying to keep up.
Also, I learned that the trick to squeezing though narrow gaps just wider than your handlebars is to look at the wheel you are following through the gap, instead of looking at the handlebar you are trying to avoid. If you look at a handlebar on one side of the gap, you'll hit it. If you look through the gap and just move through, you'll go through without the slightest problem. Another thing about moving through gaps is that it is safer to move through them than backing off and exposing your front wheel to someone's rear wheel. Better to be squeezed with your shoulders between two hips than having your front wheel trapped between two rear wheels. I think that's what is meant by "protecting your front wheel". You place yourself such that any swerve on anyone's part will be met with your shoulder or hip, not your wheel.
So, a little racing before I got dropped, some deep digging, and a little more pack riding experience is my takeaway from Silverton. It's a tough course.
On a final note about track.
It's a tough community to break into. The Alpenrose track is a hard place to race because of the high banking so a high level of experience is necessary, but getting that experience is tough. There are classes, but you don't get the racing experience you need from a class. So to protect the Cat4 racers and up, everyone, from Cat3 roadies making the transition to complete bike racing noobs who have never turned a pedal in anger are thrown into a novice field. It's almost a gauntlet with the range of bike handling skills ranging from okay to mediocre to absolutely dismal. Survive the gauntlet four times and take a class and you can get upgraded to race with the guys who actually know what they are doing. I've got to make a decision soon whether to press further into track racing or just shit-can the whole endeavor for being too risky. The way it is now, the noobs are left to fend for themselves; any that survive can race with the real racers. I'm not sure if I am willing to go through with that.
Last race, last Friday, I was criticized a little for riding off the front when I asked a question about the upgrade requirement. The organizers basically said that I didn't show any bike handling skills in a pack because I was off the front the entire time. Now, that's not entirely true, but it's true enough, by design really. I raced that way because I don't trust the other riders to be good bike handlers. I know that I am a decent bike handler, at least enough to keep a line and avoid dumping the bike if I get bumped. But I've seen enough in my first race last year to be really suspect about the others' bike handling skills in the novice field. They'll let pretty much anyone race in the novices with a helmet and $10. If I ride this next Friday in the novice field, I can't say I'd ride any different. The upgrade criteria is basically subjective, and I don't know if I can satisfy their bike handling requirement by riding outside or on/off the front the entire time. At the same time, I don't think I am willing to just soft pedal in the field, just to display my bike handling skills, and risk a crash.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Track

Finally got back on the track today. Last year in my very first race, a 12 lap (2 mile) scratch race, a crash took me out and ended with me landing on my head and shoulder.

So today, I'm still a Cat5 on the track, so I raced in the novice omnium to see what it was all about. The first race was a 10 lap "tempo" race, meaning that first person crossing the line every lap got two points, and the second person got 1 point. I started the race at the back and almost riding the rail to stay out of trouble. I started moving up, which was hard because I was still staying up-track. But I eventually got to the front with, I don't know, 5 or 6 laps left, and managed to drop everyone in the race.

Second race was a 10 lap "scratch" race, meaning that it was 10 laps and first to cross wins. Very simple. This time, I got to the front in two laps and proceeded to just hammer. I managed to drop everyone but one guy. I just kept pulling him around the track and he came around me at the end for the win. I'm second. Not a great strategy, just leading around the track, but the intent is to learn my limits on the track and this is a decent way of doing it. I found that for an eight lap TT, the 49/15 gear I was running is a bit steep. Anyway, got second.

Third and final race was an "unknown distance" race. The racers don't know how long the race is until the bell is rung marking the last lap. I got up to the front with the racer who beat me in the previous race and we traded pulls for a total of a single exchange, and then I managed to drop everyone again. The bell was rung at lap 4 and I won easily enough.

Obviously, I'm not a Cat5. Next week I'll try some match sprinting and then request an upgrade so I can race in the Thursday omniums.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

PIR 4/28/09 - win but an acid aftertaste

My second win of the season, with a big assist from the team as per usual. But not the ending I would have preferred.

The day wasn't looking too good from a weather standpoint. I got to PIR and while it wasn't raining, it was threatening to. The field was really small, only about 40 people, instead of the 70-100 we've been getting used to. Counterclock-wise is the direction, which usually means a tailwind at the finish, but not today; it's a headwind from the right.

Our crew consisted of six of us. I was sitting first place in the April series; Matt was third. The team plan was to get me the win in the race and the series.

An Ironclad guy was sitting in second, only two points back from me. I had a suspicion that he was going for all the primes this day, so my goal was to shadow him and follow him out on the prime laps, hopefully to deny him an advantage, or at least mitigate the damage to my lead.

So I find Ironclad guy during the warmup. The Ironclad boys were out in force this day with 11 riders to our six, in a field of 40. Between the two of us, we are nearly half the field. As we roll out, I find out quickly that it's much harder to hide in a field of 40 than it is in a field of 100 like last week. I'm actually doing work rather than just sitting back and watching.

A group gets off the front almost immediately and sucks up the first of the prime points. So far so good. I'm starting to admire the Ironclad guy for the way he moves around the pack. Very smooth. Hard to follow around, especially considering that while I was watching him, he and his teammates were watching me and it might have been my imagination, but were doing some boxing of me as well.

By now the break is sucked back in and the bell rings a second time for the second prime. Better get on Ironclad guy's wheel. He's moving well through the pack because he is following his teammates around. Myself, I'm getting boxed in everywhere. Down the finishing stretch, he's got a leadout from about 3 Ironclad guys, and I'm still untangling myself. I am left in admiration of their organization. Ironclad and his leadout gap the field a bit; I surge to get back on his wheel. He kicks, I kick and I am gaining, but the line comes up out of nowhere and we go 1-2. My lead is now down to a single point. Shouldn't have let off after I got on his wheel. It's a mistake that will be remedied with experience. Just get up there, coast up to his wheel to catch a breath for a moment and immediately kick again to avoid killing my momentum.

We get reabsorbed. I follow him around the group some more. The bell rings a third time and it's game on again. I'm getting tangled up again, boxed in trying to follow his wheel and end up losing it again. I get Matt to help take me up to the front and lose his wheel. Not going well at all. I finally get back up to Ironclad guy as we turn onto the finishing stretch. Matt's up at the front now, looking to lead me out, but I am trapped in the middle of the group. Matt goes to plan B (get the points himself), but Ironclad guy times his move just right and pips Matt at the line. Now I am two points back to Ironclad guy. I have to win the race to win the series, and I need him to get third if I want to win the race.

One lap after the last prime, the bell rings again. WTF! Turns out that the race is being shortened by one lap. There is a group of four off the front who went off after the last prime as the sprinters were getting reabsorbed. Unbeknownst to us, one of our teammates was in the break. Ironclad just materializes all over the front of the field, forming a leadout train at least six guys strong. Alex and Matt find me and we start forming a miniature leadout train of our own. Going into the final 'S' curves before the finishing stretch, Alex takes our little train right up the left side and past the Ironclad train. Just an awesome pull to get that done. Now we are finally in control of the race. Alex pulls off right as we get on the finishing stretch and Matt takes over.

It's Matt, then an Ironclad leadout man, then me, then, I assume, my Ironclad competitor. Matt takes a super strong pull to about 300m out and he's off, leaving the rest of the leadout to Ironclad. Ironclad leadout guy keeps the pace high and I am waiting for the launch point.

Then a sickening sound.

Like a corrugated metal sheet being run over by heavy wheels.

The line comes up and I sprint around the Ironclad leadout man to claim the race win and turn around. My Ironclad competitor is nowhere to be found. We coast to the end of the straightaway and turn back around to see what happened. Obviously a crash happened at 35+mph and we are all asking around to figure who was involved. Turns out that Ironclad guy was one of the principle victims, locking handlebars with another rider while fighting for my wheel and coming down on his head and shoulders. One of my teammates was also involved as well (and maybe another, I'm unclear on this right now) and got pretty banged up.

Suck.

I hate this. A grand sprint battle fucked by some bad luck. That's racing, I suppose. I didn't cause the crash in any way, so it's not like it's unsportsmanlike to claim the win. But I don't like it. I'll leave it at that.

Friday, April 24, 2009

April Doldrums

Last year at this time, I was recovering from injury; the crash at PIR that put a big volley ball sized hematoma on my left hip. But I was feeling it then before the crash, and I am feeling it now, a year later.

The April doldrums.

It's the transition between the spring season and the summer. All winter I've been hacking out small hours on the trainer after work and rainy rides on the weekends. 2x20s, 6x5s etc. Threshold intervals and very few miles because of the short hours of daylight and cold, wet weather.

Now it's spring. I can ride more, and I should. Because of this, the makeup of my training miles changes. I inherently do less intervals because I cannot stand to be on the trainer anymore, and riding intervals on the road is more difficult. Structure comes easily on a trainer. On the road, it takes some real motivation and discipline to do intervals.

And I've been racing a lot. Every weekend for the past month or more, and PIR during the middle of the week. It's a lot of thinking about racing and training and riding.

The April doldrums. Seems like it's going to be a regular part of my season. After the spring races and before the summer. I've been dealing with it these last couple weeks by just getting solid miles in without worrying too much about competing. I am trying to lose some weight and get stronger by putting in more miles. Starting next week, I'll put in some regular, structured intervals. Racing at PIR or on the track will suffice for the shorter interval sets. We'll see how it works.

Yin and Yang of Road Racing

In participating in this sport for the better part of two years now, I've come to a realization: the yin and yang of road racing.

The sport of road racing takes on two face. One is speed and efficiency. It's all about keeping in the draft. Using energy wisely. Sprinting at the finish. The other is suffering. Riding hard in the gutter until there's only one lone man behind you. Shedding him like a used tissue in one, final, devastating attack.

The pure sprinters, or the purest of the pure, the trackies, value speed and efficiency. Racing to them is a constant battle of energy conservation and position. All the effort in the race is condensed into the last couple miles. There is no suffering because there is no time to suffer. (Suffering is not just effort. It's effort in time. A 1500W burst is effort, but it's not suffering.) A win is a combination of outright strength and tactical skill. It's a chess master maneuvering himself in a sea of riders at 30mph.

And then there are the climbers and time trialists. These riders aren't concerned about speed; they are purpose built to suffer. Winning a race is to suffer the most for the longest. A sprinter, if he could hang with them to the finish line can plink them without trying. But hanging till the finish is the trick. These are the guys who ride people off their wheel. They don't nip people at the line for the win; a burst of speed from a sheltered position. They bludgon their competitors with hammers and attacks until not a one of them is left standing.

Two sports within a sport; within the same race even. Even the flat races are a constant war between the hammers and the sprinters; the guys who flog themselves (and others in the process) for their bread and the ones who snatch it like a thief. I've played both ends. I've played the strongman, and I've played the sprinter. I've been the hammer and I've been the sneak. Oh what a rich sport this is!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

PIR 4/21/09

First win of the season!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nothingness

So, fuck it all.

Fuck racing. Fuck training. I'm in the Ultimate Cat now and I can relax a little. Train a bit and get better. My family would enjoy seeing me around more on the weekend; I'll enjoy not competing as much for a little while. I've been racing since late Feb, almost every weekend, for the past month. In fact, for the past month exactly, I've been racing every weekend and once, all weekend, and a couple times, twice a week. I'm tired. Tired of getting my ass kicked. Tired of squeezing training in between work hours and racing on the weekend. I can win in the 4's, but I'm in the 3's now and overmatched. Track season is starting up. I'm going to get some long rides in. Get some hard rides in. Start up my interval training again: the scheduling of which has been shredded by racing and work. Reevaluate my form and my racing schedule. Do some track. Start training for the summer stage races.

That is all.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cat 3

Well, I've arrived. Senior Men Category 3. It's a big step. Most guys moving into this category, once arrived, never move out.

It happened the Monday after the Cherry Blossom SR. I wasn't feeling like I deserved it, but I had the requisite 25 races and was only two points short of the upgrade criteria. So I asked and received. Didn't really think about it. Too scary; those guys are faster and the races are longer. If I thought about it too long, I would have chickened out.

But eventually you can only be a big fish in a small pond for so long. Eventually the pond, the talent pool, has to be opened up. I am not one of those people who can do well in a race knowing that there is a more challenging race I should be racing. I'll be beat down, and I'll get back up, and I'll be stronger for it.

This weekend at the King's Valley RR, I'll get to test drive my racing skills in the new pond. A win for me is to not get dropped. A wet dream is to contest. Here's to moving up!

Oh, one other thing. I was a bit disappointed to get into Cat3 while still 2 upgrade points short. It's a point of pride, perhaps, to earn your way in instead of just surviving in the sport for long enough. Well, fear not, the very next day after requesting the upgrade, I got second place in the PIR circuit race in a field of 77 cat 3/4 men. That settles any upgrade point questions. I both survived long enough and earned my way in with results. There is no question that I don't belong anymore in the 4's. The question now remains whether I can find a place in the 3's.

Sprinters

"I'm fascinated by the sprinters. They suffer so much during the race just to get to the finish, they hang on for dear life in the climbs, but in the final kilometers they are transformed and do amazing things. It's not their force per se that impresses me, but rather the renaissance they experience. Seeing them suffer throughout the race only to be reborn in the final is something for fascination."
--Miguel Indurain

The reason why I love bike racing is because there is a place for everyone.  It's not a sport that penalizes whole segments of the population.  There are big people like me who can sprint and (one day) time trial, and there are little guys who can climb hills.   It results in a richness of strategy and tactics to make use of strengths and weaknesses that isn't seen in any other sport.

When I despair about my climbing ability or my power numbers or my power to weight ratio or any such measuring stick bullshit, I remember the quote above.  I am a sprinter.  It's my lot as a bike racer to suffer like a dog on the climbs so I can taste the finish.  Don't ever give up, because if I can get there to the line, I can blow the doors right off of all those little climbers without even breaking a sweat.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

PIR - 4/7/09

Pic is from: http://aggregatecyclist.blogspot.com/2009/04/comeback-complete.html

Racing out at PIR is always fun, unless, that is, you end up on the ground. Fortunately, that didn't happen this time, unlike last year about this time, when I broke a helmet and gained the inspiration for the title of this blog.

Yesterday was the first PIR of the season. I started the day loading the bike in the car thinking I was going to do a group ride in the afternoon. Halfway thorough the day, I said "what the hell" and ended up at PIR. We had large group of 10 guys: Matt D., both Jasons: Feig and Flemming, Alex, Ty, Johnny Rockets, Jeff Henderson, Mitch Lee, Mitch Gold and myself. Pitted against us were ten guys on the Ironclad team, as well as 57 other racers. Only 10 clockwise laps to account for daylight, which doesn't mean an easy race, it means a fast race.

Everybody marked Mitch Lee. He went off at the gun and everybody chased. He's got himself quite a reputation. Ironclad and Portland Velo were in a Steel Cage Death Match of breakaway and bridge attempts. We would send a guy off, and they would chase. They would break away and we would chase. So it went for the entire race, all 26.5mph average worth of it. It was a fast race.

The big moment for me started in the last lap. I had been covering breaks, bridging and chasing all race. The last lap started like this with Ty and I moving up to the front to chase back a lone Ironclad guy on a bell lap breakaway. Getting around to the back side of the course, the Ironclad guy safely back in the field, everyone started positioning themselves for the sprint.

I was up against the infield wall and made my way to the outside, reasoning that the outside will remain unblocked. I'm coming up the side of the field and I pass Matt D. just sitting pretty on the left side, about 20 wheels back. I get up next to him and get him on my wheel. We move steadily up the side of the field as we make it through some of the preliminary "S" curves; we are sitting about 10 wheels back as we round the final corner. At that point, I just drill it. Just like at Banana Belt leading out Ron, I stayed seated and just started ramping up the torque.

I come out of the corner wide, way wide of the peloton which is hugging the infield wall. It was weird, because we were 20 feet off to the side of the peloton and nobody thought to cross the chasm over to where we were, preferring instead to fight for position out of the wind. Myself, I'm okay out there because I'm not hauling this truck all the way to the line. 200, 300m short of the line is good enough for me, which makes the wind okay.

So there we are, accelerating past the hard charging pack in their own little world way off to the right of us, and then we are free of them with nobody on Matt's wheel. I take a peak under my legs and see a steady wheel not more than 2" away from mine. Sweet. One of the things that riding with Dave Haag taught me was that a good leadout makes the sprint just a done deal. And that's what it was here. I started laboring and slowing slightly, Matt came around with a good kick and there was nobody behind him contesting. I sat up, moved over to the right just a little to get a bit in the way of the sprinters coming up, and coasted across the line in second place. It was a sweet win for the both of us.

Cherry Blossom SR - Stage 4 and recap

Reposted from the Portland Velo website:

Crappy day. 

Crappy weekend. 

Watched the lead group ride away from me 3 miles into today's race and the second time up the hill, watched the chase group I was in (with Matt, Dan, Paul, Sasha etc.) ride away.  Finished a very painful last 15 miles mostly by myself.

Summary of the weekend:

Stage 1: two flats, but not at the same time.  Go off road.  Rear tire flats, chase back on (with Tom Ricciardi's help; much appreciated), front tire flats during the chase (got back on just as the rim hits the ground), get another wheel and chase back on again, and then dropped.

Stage 2: Good data from the TT on the powertap.  Verified my FTP again.  Paced it well.  The lone shining star of my weekend.

Stage 3: Break the rear shift cable an hour before the crit.  Rode back to the hotel to try to fix it but ran out of time.  Raced the crit in the 39/12.  Hurt afterwards, but finished with the pack.  Contemplate borrowing a bike for stage 4 but manage to fix the cable and get shifting back that night.

Stage 4: Dropped 3 miles into the race on 7-mile hill (actually 5.5 miles, but who's counting).   Limp in very painfully.

Cherry Blossom SR - Stages 2 & 3

I'm playing catch-up here a bit.  This is reposted from the Portland Velo website:

The TT went relatively well for me.  I got 15th in the stage and got some useful powertap data.

Going into the crit, I was looking forward to it.  Ron and Alex, our two GC guys, were just sitting in, so I was going to contest things at the end.  All set, in the parking lot rolling around and my shifting is doing funny things.  Ride over to the venue and the right shifter is still doing funny things.  It's not shifting up to larger cogs very well.

Going around the course, I'm rolling and playing with the shifter a bit, and boom, the shift cable breaks.  I've got an hour before the crit starts so I go back to the hotel to try to fix it.  Get there and discover that the cable-stop at the end of the, now broken, cable is stuck inside the shifter.  I play around with it for about 20 minutes, but it's getting close to the start time, so I have to cut it short and single speed it in the 39/12.  As I was riding back to the venue I was kicking myself because I should have adjusted the limit screw to put it in the 15 or 16 tooth cog, instead of the 12 to get two useful gears instead of one.  Next time the cable breaks, I'll know better :).

So I race with a singlespeed.  Going up a slight rise on the back side I was way overgeared, and going down the down-wind section towards the finish, I was undergeared and couldn't move up in the field.  I saw the front once in the last three laps, but couldn't hold the position in the run-in to the finish line.  As it turned out, Sasha took 4th, so the day was good for PV.

I was contemplating the possibility of borrowing someone's bike for tomorrow's stage, but I ended up getting the little end of the cable out of the shifter and re-cabling the bike.  So I get to ride the next stage on my bike.  And damn, my legs are sore.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cherry Blossom SR - Stage 1

Stupid, stupid flats. That's all I have to say about yesterday's stage. The day started with a sea of blue and black of Portland Velo at the start line, what with 13 of us in the field. With a total field size of 86 riders, moving up in the field was a bit tough. That's the start of the story of flats and chasing.

Right off the bat, when I was seeing that the field was so congested, I had thoughts of moving up. I tried the middle of the field, but there weren't any gaps that I was comfortable moving up through. I tried the centerline and same thing. I had more luck over by the shoulder side of the lane. I was slowly moving up through the field led by a large contingent of blue and black, when the field went around a corner and shifted a little, pushing me off the road for a very brief spell, maybe 5-10 seconds tops. I think little of it; it was a hard packed gravel shoulder; get back up on the road and think nothing of it.

Then someone yells up to me from behind that he thinks my rear tire is going flat. I say, "no, my bike feels fine." I bounce on it a little, it feels fine. Then it feels soft. Then I am on my rim. This is 3 miles into the race. Fuck. I drift back through the field to the rear and stop as the wheel car stops right behind me. Shout out to the driver that I need a Shimano 10 speed, and digs one out. I slap it in, do a cyclocross remount and I am on my way. Tom Ricciardi, on of my teammates but one I didn't know very well, offered to wait for me as I was drifting back and I took him up on it. I owe him a beer or something.

Anyway, I am off at a full sprint to get back up to speed and I see him up the road noodling along, waiting for me. I blow by him and then slow a bit so we can work together. We work together smoothly and the field isn't actually that far ahead of us. Midway through the chase though, I notice my front wheel is feeling funny. I blow it off. Can't think about that now; my only thought is to get back to the field, which we are slowly gaining on. Then I start hearing my front tire making a "swish swish" noise. I blow it off again. We are getting closer. Now, along with the swishing noise, the tire is feeling soft. I look down and can see it sloshing side to side as I push on the pedals. Fuuuccck. This can't be happening. Now my entire weekend is in danger because the wheel car is ahead of me and if I get a flat now, it's a long walk and DNF or wait and beg a wheel from the wheel car of the next field, which they are not obligated to give me.

We are getting close now to the rear of the field and my rim is getting closer and closer to the ground. I tell Tom, who is on my wheel, that I'm just going to push it really, really hard and sprint the 100m left so I can get to the wheel car and get a new wheel.

I get to the back of the last car in the caravan and try to get the driver's attention. No response, but as I pass the car to talk to the driver, I find it's just a random car and not the wheel car. My rim is on the ground now. Up ahead of that car is the wheel car. I get up to it and tell the driver I need another wheel. We stop, I get it, and after futzing with the skewer for forever, I am off again to chase, this time by myself.

Now, the story gets boring. Chase, chase, chase. I am passing little fragments of the field who are getting blown off the back. I pass Rob who is dragging a brake pad. He hangs with me up the hill for a little, but he is eventually dropped from the pace. I get up to the top and I join up with a group of 4 or 5 riders, including Tom, who apparently made it on just in time to get dropped again when the course took a turn into the wind and uphill. Dropped riders make for bad chase companions though, and I end up pulling most of them along, with them taking short pulls and myself taking longer ones. One last push, and I am back on the back of the field, just in time to finish the first lap.

Going into the second lap, the pace rockets sky high as the field turns down-wind and starts chasing a couple of riders who broke away. We are flying at almost 40mph over level ground. After chasing the field twice and spending a hour at threshold, this eventually drops me. I limped in about 8 minutes back.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Piece of Cake, it was not...


The graph on the power tap software tells the story. A flurry of activity for the first 13 minutes. Then a line. For an hour.

As a racer, up till now I've been pretty cautious. Stay with the pack. Bring back breaks that look threatening. Maybe attempt a break myself, but always well within my abilities and always pretty short. I've never raced in a way where I just put my head down and went off the front. Till today.

The day was clear, mostly, but pretty windy. A flag near the start was just on the verge of sticking straight out, which according to my father's old rule of thumb (he used to be an Airforce Pararescueman, which means he jumped out of airplanes with a parachute) means the wind is blowing at about 25-30mph up where the flag is atop the flagpole.

The field isn't huge, maybe 40 racers, and the start is casual enough. The course is arranged in such a way that most of the roads have cross winds of one sort or another. This means that there isn't that much shelter. The Piece of Cake is (in)famous for having narrow roads, which doesn't help anything.

It is a typical Cat4 field, which means that everyone is trying to hide, so the pace is pretty slow. A couple of us go up the front to try to make things work a little smoother. I am echeloning with a few other riders, and dealing with the fact that only a few riders want to work, but many people want to take shelter in the echelon.

Pretty soon, I find myself at the front, so I start pushing the pedals a bit harder to up the pace a bit. My intent wasn't to go off the front (we were only about 10 minutes into the race!), but off the front I drifted. Seeing this, I had a decision. I could sit up, let the pace fall, or just start going harder and see where that took me. I decided on the latter. I dumped a couple of gears and accelerated, then, seeing 500W, took it down a notch and let it sit at about 300W. I know from training that this is a pace that I can definitely hold for an hour, and probably longer. I still had 5/6ths of the race to go!

I kind of expected for the pack to start behaving like a Cat4 pack and bring me back in a couple minutes. That's typical. But I look back and they aren't gaining on me. So I put my head down, forearms on the bar tops, and concentrated on making 300W display on my powertap readout.

I look back again, and they are now a bit further behind. The wind is at my back.

I turn the corner and start going into a stiff head-cross wind. The pack is closer because they are still in the tailwind section, but not gaining after the corner.

I turn another corner straight into the teeth of the wind, and I decide to make the display read 315W. I reason that the pack will be less willing to chase hard into the wind (Cat4, nobody wants to pull, etc.).

Another corner and I hear my name and some cheering. Past the finish line. One lap down, two to go.

I am still holding 300W, pushing it up to 315W or so in the headwind sections. I am starting to feel my glutes complaining. I am not used to pushing this much power for this long with my forearms on the bar tops; back completely flat. Down at the bottom of the course, I take a peak behind and see a group of about 8-10 riders going off the front. They are hard charging, but I am not really losing any time to the much diminished main group. I figure this is in my favor as the big guns are probably in the chase group. Once they bridge, I'll be part of a select group with enough firepower to take it to the line.

I am off the front for 1 hour, 3 minutes when the chase group bridges up to me. Perfect, I think to myself. Then I see how dysfunctional this group is. Gaps opening up everywhere. Nobody knows how to echelon into a crosswind. Some big motors are what is keeping it away, but there is no way a 3/4 cooked person like me can keep closing gaps in the group and keep pace.

I fall off. The main group catches me. Yay! I'm safe. I can hide for a little while, get my legs back under me and contest the finish as others in the group do the work of bringing back the lead group I've fallen out of. It's not to be. Crosswinds and narrow roads kill any thought of shelter. Echelons form and break away, always right in front of me, exposing me. I keep pushing the "GO" button to close the gap. I try falling back a little, but the pack is thin. I've promised to lead out one of my teammates. I close a gap or two with him on my wheel, but eventually, we change places. I'm on his wheel. And dying.

I remember an interview I read somewhere of a pro who described racing in Belgium. Knowing that there isn't anyone behind you. Seeing that there isn't a spot to fit into at the end of the last echelon. Watching them ride away from you, the gap getting bigger and bigger and there's nothing you can do about it; you're in the wind, they're not. Now, instead of just remembering the article, I am experiencing it first hand. 10 miles to go in the race, I hit the "GO" button once again, but I don't get the response I want; a drag chute deploys instead and I am officially off the back. With no motivation and the race out of reach, I can only get the display on my power meter to read 200W.

51 miles, 2 hours, 20 minutes. Of that, I spent 1 hour off the front and 35 minutes off the back. I was only part of the peloton for 45 minutes. Certainly a record for me. There is a silver lining though. I know, for sure now, that my FTP is well over 300W, and the 330W assumption that I've been using (I've never formally tested myself), is right about right.