Thursday, December 30, 2010


I had a pretty good season last year (or rather, for another day at least, this year). The one thing that put a damper on it all was my performance with cyclocross. I was terrible. Cornering was my a-specialty.

Anyway, so I suck. But one day driving home from work, something hit me; I am looking at curves wrong. I am looking to the inside of the curves instead of the outside. I am imagining that my bike (or car, as it may be) is on a string, and that string is attached to the radius of the corner and pulling me around. Thinking about it, there are many reasons why this is bad practice.

For one, the "center" of the corner is always changing. It is never constant except in the easiest of round corners. The second reason is because the "center" of the corner doesn't actually tell you about the corner itself. You have to take the actual radius, translate that to find the center, then translate that back into the radius. Doesn't sound terribly efficient, now does it?

So, instead of eyeing the corner, translating that into a center, and translate it back to a radius to follow on the bike, why not just actually follow the corner? Specifically, why not just put the outside edge of your vehicle on the line you need to follow and let the vehicle go 'round?

I tried this in the car, and lo and behold, it worked like a charm. The outside tire is the tire that follows the most outside line, so just putting the outside tire on the outside line, the car just went right around the corner. No muss, no fuss. Now to translate this to a bike...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Bit of a New Direction

Powermeters, computers, heartrate monitors, oh my!
I think it's time to simplify...

Selling the powertap. What a thought.

I have alternatively thought that it was an invaluable tool and an overrated money sink.

Every racer, when they start racing, starts as a blank slate. Maybe they were a sort of competitive recreational cyclist. Maybe they were a crossover athlete. In any case, it is pretty rare that they know what kind of racer they will be. Racing is a three legged table; you have your time trialists, your sprinters, and your climbers. If you've never raced, then you don't know where you fall on this plane. Just because you weigh 130lbs doesn't mean you are a climber. Just because you enjoy riding hard doesn't mean that you are a time trialist.

A powermeter is a great tool for determining just who you are. It reveals your threshold power, and it reveals your sprint power.

Also, a new racer doesn't know how to pace themselves. If you've never done a 20 minute time trial, you don't know how much it hurts. Is the two hour group ride going to help your training or hurt it?

A powermeter is a great tool for pacing hard efforts. Turn the dial to "11" and use the powermeter to keep it there.

Over the last couple years, the powermeter has been my coach. I use Golden Cheetah to log my power data and I have a beautiful critical power curve telling me the size and dimensions of the sandbox I play in. I used it to determine that, yes, I can hold my own in a sprint. And, no, I really cannot climb on pace with a real climber, and will never be able to. It tells me I can time trial well enough to be a breakaway threat if I so choose. And it got me on racing out on the track, telling me that I can sustain over 500W for a minute and a kilowatt for 25 seconds.

Lately though, it has been a less used tool. I haven't been riding much with it. It's still useful for all those things, but my personality doesn't jive with knowing, to the last decimal place, my exact abilities. I look at data from a ride and instead of feeling what my body is telling me, I see I haven't broken any power records; or that I didn't work hard enough. I look at the numbers in a breakaway, and if the numbers are too high, I stop the effort and give up. I am not one of those people who is motivated by a number.

Reading an autobiography is always more interesting than reading biographies. The author in an autobiography is living the words he writes. The latest book I am reading is Flying Scotsman. Everyone knows the story, but what strikes me is his first, crouching, time trial position on the bike, a big part of the story as it normally is told, is a footnote in the book. He devotes maybe a page to this, and the rest of the book is about how he feels when he is racing and training.

In the section where he is describing his first world championship in the pursuit, he talks about the "groove". He mentally recreates the ride, from start to just before the finish (because the finish only happens in real life). He mentally constructs the feelings going through his legs and body, the pain and suffering, the purposeful ignorance of his body's warning signals.

What he doesn't talk about is numbers. Now then, he wasn't in the era of powermeters; on the other hand, he wouldn't be using one anyway. He didn't even use a HRM. He used a watch and trained on feel. And then he broke the hour record turning a 54/12 gear on a homemade bike.

Last year, I raced exactly one race with the powermeter. In the other races, I didn't even have so much as a cyclocomputer. I didn't even train much with the powertap. I did a few interval sets in the winter, but those were just using gearing I knew on a trainer I knew; I didn't use a powermeter on those either. One of the last races I did, the OBRA crit champs, I was in a breakaway with a dozen or so laps to go. I had no instrumentation on my bike; I stayed away. But how fragile was my mental state during that ride! Had I seen that I was over threshold for that effort, that I was putting out, probably, 350W or so for those 10-15 minutes, I would havepsychedmyself out and gone back to the pack and probably lost the sprint. All it would have taken is the slightest hesitation and lapse in will power, that's how close the pack was on my heals.

I know my sandbox, I know how to pace myself. Time unchain myself from the powermeter.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stone Soup (or how a little here and a little there wins a BAR)

So, how's this for weird. I sign into the team forum last night and discover that someone is congratulating me for "winning". Odd, being that I haven't raced in several weeks and haven't come close to a good result since the end of the road/track season back in August. Click on the topic and find out that I apparently won the overall Cat 3 BAR (best all-around rider) for the state of Oregon. I knew I was high up on the list... last I heard I was fourth because of the good results at the track and the podium from the OBRA crit. The three guys above me were all upgraded to Cat 2 and standing still, but they had a pretty good lead on me. Apparently what pushed me over was two 'cross races I raced where the B field had only a dozen give or take people in it. BAR points go to the top 15, so even though I finished second to last and last respectively, I scored some points and got myself onto the cyclocross BAR, pushing me to the top of the list on the overall BAR.

It's kind of fun knowing I won something. At the same time, it is a reminder of how close I was this year to breaking through. I was riding well, but apart from a few races, I wasn't getting results. One key moment this year was when I rode away solo from the field one rainy night at PIR. It was a small field and in the cat 3/4 group, but still, I absolutely demolished them; finished over two minutes up after breaking away in the first lap. Up to that point, I had felt good on the bike, and was riding well, but no results were forthcoming. I had high hopes for the Banana Belts; I couldn't finish off the sprints. I was getting absolutely taken to school by the cat 1/2s in the PIR 1/2/3 field. That was the first and only win in a road race this season.

Some things I did right this year. I got stronger. Much stronger. I can win races on a breakaway now; something that just wasn't part of my arsenal last year. The things I did wrong were numerous. I had a hard time finishing off sprints on the road. On many occasions I couldn't get to where I needed to be to contest the sprint, and when I did get good position, I held my guns until it was so late there was no use shooting them; the race was already over.

I never peaked, just kinda keep getting slowly stronger as the year progressed. Basically I raced my way into shape. Old school, I guess. And hills are still mynemesis. I couldn't lose weight.

And now it's back to the grindstone. Two weeks ago, I started training for the 2011 season. Rollers mostly; a solo or group ride on the weekend. And dieting. It seems to be working. It'll take a while for the pattern to become established, but it seems I am losing about a pound a week. There is hope I can hit my goal weight of 170lbs in time for the season start. I opened the throttle a bit in the PV ride over the weekend; haven't gone completely soft over the last couple months. Felt good.

Here's to the new year!

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I should expand on the last post, since it was one made out of frustration. I thought I did okay in the last race, Blind Date; it turns out I did pretty badly. I am just not very good at this subset of the sport. I am not aggressive enough on the terrain; I am not fit enough to sustain the effort necessary to finish anywhere close to the front. These are just facts.

Can I do better?

Who knows. And at this point, who cares? I am having fun, of sorts. I am learning to control my bike better. I get a weekly hard workout to remind my body and mind how to go hard. That'll be essential when it comes to intervals in a few short weeks.

I have been racing since February this year. So I am not talented in cyclocross. Should I downgrade *gulp* to the C field? Hell no. I am a cat 3 on the road, I'm not going to race with the noobs just because I might finish closer to the front of the field! Am I going to quite racing 'cross? Well, I'm not going to go out of my way to race like I do for road and track, but I'll race when I get the chance. It's a fun time and it's a fun style of race. I wish I could get out more to the Cross Crusades, but they are on Sundays and, like I said earlier, I am not really going out of my way to race; I nominally work at the restaurant on Sundays and asking for a traded day will be going out of my way.

Ultimately, while cyclocross is fun, it is not a focus of my bike racing. I ride a crappy bike, I ride like a crappy rider, and I have no fitness at this time of year. But fun is fun and not every bike race has to be about winning. That said, my bike is gradually becoming less of an agglomeration of random parts and more like a race quality bike, and my skill with riding on dirt is gradually, slowly, getting better. Who knows, next year I might actually train a little for this time of the season. I mean, I can peak three times a year, right?

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Countersteering helps a lot, but it's no panacea. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that my 'cross results are so poor, since I haven't done any real training other than racing since July.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The 5 and Dime

Laying down loads of Rule 5 in the wholesale commitment to Rule 10.

Monday, October 18, 2010


After practicing on some trails today, I am now convinced that this, or rather the lack of this, is 9/10ths of the reason why I suck at cross.

Road racers don't really pay much attention to it, except in crits when you are trying to corner at 30mph. On a cross bike, it's much more important because everything is so floppy. The tires are floppy, the terrain is floppy, and so you really need to flop the wheel over in a turn. I can't believe I haven't thought about this before! I went through this whole cournter-steering thing before when practicing crit cornering earlier this year.

Why is it so important? When you turn, your center of gravity needs to be to the inside of your wheels. Now, if you are to turn at all, you have to counter-steer at least a little; it's the only way you can possibly stay balanced in a turn. However, if you set into a turn without an explicit counter-steer, you end up very upright and are essentially balancing your bike by moving your body around. SLOW. Any bump or rut and you have to physically shift positions on your bike to stay balanced. Not terribly stable.

Contrast this to setting into a turn witha good counter-steer. Your weight while your body is neutral on the bike is already inside the tires. To counteract any bump or slide, all you do is steer, which your reactions do automatically.

That's my theory anyway. We'll see how it works come Blind Date on Wednesday. It's very possible that I really do just simply suck at this.

Friday, October 15, 2010

As the World Turns

So, I haven't written here for a while.  Long story short, I've been racing a lot.  The track has been good to me (found that I have a bit of talent for sprinting) and the road hasn't been that bad either.  Finished the season with a good start toward a Cat 2 upgrade on the track, and even a few points toward a Cat 2 upgrade on the road.

Big accomplishments...

Had a really good OBRA Track Champs race.  Upgraded from Cat 4 to Cat 3 right at the start of the weekend, and ended up with three gold medals in the kilo, pursuit, and match sprint and a silver in the points race.  All in small fields though, which tempers the glory.  But hey, my times in the kilo and pursuit weren't terrible, and my match sprint performance was not bad either.

Got a silver medal on a breakaway at the OBRA Crit Champs.  That was fun.  Spent over 10 laps off the front; at 5 to go, had a guy bridge up to me and we ended up finishing just ahead of the pack.  The other guy got first, I got second.

Final decent result was a second place finish at the kilo in the OBRA Masters Track Champs.  I raced the match sprints as well, but I really mis-timed my eating (didn't have anything to eat but a bowl of cereal between 8:00am and 3:00 when the race was over) and didn't win a single match.  I could've done better for sure.  On the other hand, there are a lot of very fast guys in the 30-39 age group I was racing against.  Fast and savvy...  I might be somewhat fast, but I have a lot yet to learn about match sprinting.

With that, the 2010 season comes to a close, except for cyclocross, which I suck at.  Base training for 2011 is right around the corner, and I am in the process of deciding whether to obtain some coaching.  I want to make a serious run at Cat 2 on the road.  A coach will be useful in this.  On the other hand, Cat 2 isn't a destination, it's a threshold.  The aesthetic side of me wants to cross the threshold on "natural" talent (a better term might be "uninvested" talent); the thinking goes if I can do this, I stand a chance of being competitive on the other side of the threshold with the benefit of coaching.

I also have to decide what I need a coach to do for me.  A "generic" coach I have less use for.  I can pull workouts out of a hat more or less the same as any other person.  A "real" coach would be working with me across multiple seasons and get to know my abilities almost better than I know myself.  That might be too much to ask though, either for a coach I hire or for myself and my own commitments to what is still an amateur sport, regardless of category.

Anyway, it's enough to make my head spin a bit.  Having a little talent is somehow vexing.  It seems the path is pretty clear if you are dominant.  Likewise if you suck.  Having a few little successes as I've had this year makes me want to see where the rabbit hole leads, but it also makes me question how much time and energy to place into the endeavor.  But this is the time of the year (with the non-existent training and the play-in-the-mud 'cross fun) to be philosophical.  Wax poetic and philosophical now, put the head down on the trainer in a few weeks.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


The Busted Helmet crash two years ago.  The Pinky Finger crash last year.  The Puff of Dust crash this year... PIR has been more than a little unkind to me.  I've never been fully comfortable at that venue.  It is different than a road race.  It is so wide, the pack is unconfined, able to wind and weave around the 60 foot wide track.  At a road race, nobody is really moving around too fast because the road is so narrow.  It's easy to just hold a position relative to another person and keep people from penetrating your comfort zone.  But at PIR, everybody is pretty much free to ride anywhere they want.  They come over the top of you, sweep around you in corners, cut close through a gap near your handlebars.  Especially in the fields with Cat 1/2 riders.  Nobody seems to respect your space, yet everyone but me seems to be comfortable.  Obviously I am doing something wrong.

Today, in the 1/2/3 field at PIR, it all clicked.  I mean, it CLICKED.  I was perfectly comfortable.  I was at the front of the field, at the back, in the middle.  Last week, in the same field, I was a wreck.  Totally sketched.  A head case.  I surfed the back basically the whole race.  This week, none of that.  What changed?

First thing was, I started worrying about what the pack was doing 10-15 rows ahead rather than being paranoid about what individuals were doing right around me.  Contact is normal in racing.  Not something to strive for, but it happens, and it's not a big deal really.  My problem was I was anticipating potential contact, rather than letting it happen.  Looking around at the riders around me, I would hear and see out of the corner of my eye that someone was coming up around me and I would shy away.  This is what caused the pinky crash into the wall.  Or I would be riding between two people in a gap and one would move towards me and I would shy away from the movement.  This is what caused the puff of dust crash.  I shied away right into the other guy, got tangled up and slid down on my ass.  Maybe it's a subconscious response to my busted helmet crash (of which I remember nothing) but it is perfectly unhelpful and sometimes downright dangerous.

Today I flowed.  I sat up on the hoods, looked up ahead and I flowed.  I got up to the front with no problem; even sprinted unsuccessfully for a prime (turns out, trying to come around a pro leadout train is hard) and spent some time off the front.  I held position around corners and only got yelled at once for a totally unsatisfactory reason.  Things are coming together.

Monday, May 17, 2010

On Form

Form.  This is what racing cyclists chase.  It is a concept unique to competition.  A recreational cyclist never talks about his "form".  He talks about how "in shape" he is, or how he "feels" during a ride; the concept of "form" doesn't exist for someone who doesn't race.  "Form" is so much more than a measurement of pure fitness.  It encompasses the whole range of competitive skills, including fitness, but more important than that, it refers to the athlete's competitive fire, the certainty that he will be competitive in a race, the urgency he feels to compete.

A bike racer who is not on good form fears the race.  He goes into it begrudgingly, as if someone is forcing him.  He goes through the motions and rides at the back, fearing the inevitable moment he is dropped.  Inevitable because he knows that at some point, he will drop, so he will.  He is apathetic.  Everyone around him has better fitness.  Everyone has been training more hours.  Everyone is more talented.

When a bike racer is on good form, nothing can stop him.  He takes chances.  He goes off the front, not just because it is his style of racing and he's just plugging his calling card, but because he believes he can win with the attack.  He enters the sprint looking for gaps to move up, rather than trying to keep out of people's way.  Up a steep pitch, if he can't keep pace, he doesn't stop pedaling, but starts calculating, knowing his body intimately, measuring his efforts to recover before the back of the field passes so he is not dropped.

But most importantly, form suggests strength.  Raw power, combined with the winning mindset.  Where instead of dragging yourself to a training ride, you have to force yourself to rest.  You are not panicking that others are training more than you.  You are enjoying your rise in strength and have to use your rational mind to check yourself from overexertion.

The last couple weeks at Alpenrose.  The Tuesday before on the solo breakaway.  The weekend time trial before that.  I was getting good results but I didn't really feel good.  I didn't feel like I was training appropriately.  I wasn't feeling like I was on good form.  Yesterday, at the hilly Silverton Road Race, the one race that has consistently kicked my ass, the race I've raced twice and never finished with the pack and last year didn't even finish... I not only finished but I placed in the top 15.  Now, normally I don't get too excited at anything out of the top 10, but this race is a different beast from the races I normally contest.  The accelerations that would normally kick me off the back; the hills that would gradually grind my legs to cramping, quivering sticks of meat - didn't.  Not that day.  I sprinted uphill at the finish.  The 50-some-odd miles seemed short.  If somebody handed me another waterbottle, I could've raced another lap.

On form.  I can magically climb.  I can magically time trial.  And I can still sprint.  Time to see what's down the rabbit hole.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Nobody Else in the Photo

Tuesday PIR was a wet affair with spring thunderstorms lashing the Portland area.  It was sunny down in Wilsonville, where I work, but looking up the freeway up north, it was like PIR had it's very own dark cloud over it, kind of like those cartoon scenes where the single character is followed around by his own rain cloud.  Still, I wasn't worried because the weather report suggested that the rain was just passing through and it would be out of the area by the time the race started., you suck.

At PIR, I found Jason and a couple other hearty PV riders willing to brave the rain.  Originally Jason and I were planning to do the 1/2/3 race, however, seeing as we had teammates in the 3/4 race and it was raining and cold, we figured it was worth getting off the road 20 minutes earlier and switched our registration to the 3/4 race.  I figured I would just attack a few times to keep the pace high and the race interesting; try to win a different way and have some fun without all the stress of absorbing Cat 1/2 hammer blows in the 1/2/3s.

The 3/4 field was tiny.  About 20 riders.  We go off and almost immediately, I attack around the first corner.  I don't expect this attack to succeed.  I am not known as an attacking rider and even in the 4's I wasn't the type that goes off the front with any success.  My previous big race attack had me going off the front and dangling out there for an hour before getting caught and blown off the back for about an equal amount of time.

So I attack and I can see a chase developing behind.  I concentrate on pushing the pedals, holding a pace I can sustain.  If I'm caught, I'll just attack again.  That's the plan.

I look back around the last corner before the finishing straight and I still have a pretty good gap.  The guys in the field are all strung out.

Another lap and the gap hasn't changed.  I can see two or three guys gapping the rest of the field.

Another lap and the gap is the same.  I dig in and concentrate on looking forward.  I'm paranoid that at any moment the pack will engulf me.

Another lap; it appears the chase has been temporarily put on hold.  The gap is getting larger.

Another lap and the gap is definitely growing.  Good sign.  I'm surprised at myself.  This is new territory for me.

Another lap and the elastic has officially snapped.  The gap explodes.  Holy shit I might hold this!  Immediately followed up by the thought: Holy shit I still have almost 20 miles to race!

Lap after lap, I collect primes like punching tickets.  I use two gears: 53/13 and the 53/14.  I can see the bottom of my cleats in the reflection from the water on the road.  The gap grows to the point where I can no longer see the pack when rounding the final corner.  I figure they've been neutralized by the 1/2/3s by this point.

The laps count down and I keep my pace.  22-23mph in the back stretch.  26-27 in the S-curves and 24-25 in the finish straight.  Those are my numbers, lap after lap.  My feet are numb and I'm paranoid about crashing in a slick corner.

Finally the bell lap.  I debate a finishing salute vs. doing all this work only to get disqualified.  Rounding the final corner, then 200m, and I finally sit up.  No salute; too cold, too wet.  27 miles, solo, for the win, with nobody else in the photo.

Monday, May 3, 2010

One Good Weekend

Sometimes one good weekend is all it takes to get things moving again.  Such was last weekend.  About the time of the last post (April Slump), I was down in a funk.  Since then, I had a fun time (but unremarkable on-bike performance) with the Ronde of West Portland - one of those uniquely Portland rides where silly people go ride up all of the insanely steep hills they can shove into 45 miles, and the Cherry Blossom Stage Race came and went the following weekend; also an unremarkable performance.

After Cherry Blossom, I took a full week off.  My motivation was at an all time low, and it was constantly threatening to rain and blah blah blah <insert excuse here>.

About half way through my nadir, I told myself that I would ride my sixty mile Hagg Lake loop on Saturday and then race the Estacada TT the next day.  About Friday I started questioning whether it was wise to ride sixty miles the day before a race, but I said "f- it" and told my rational mind to shut the hell up.

Saturday comes, and after getting off work at the restaurant, I head back home and gear up for the ride.  I've done the loop four or five times before, it is becoming one of my regular routes and is almost exactly 60 miles on the nose.  I decide that I won't push myself; I'll just get out there, get some miles, and get the mojo back running again and gear up for the summer push of the road racing season.  From past experience, it takes me about four hours at an endurance pace.  I take off at 3:30 and figure that 45 minutes before sundown is sufficient margin.

Milestone #1 reached: I got on my bike instead of finding an excuse to get out of it.  100 pedal strokes out the door and I am coasting for five minutes to get down into the valley.  One nice thing about living on top of a hill: after the initial 100 pedal strokes, no point in turning around and cutting the ride short.

I start the ride at a good clip.  I set a power target of about 250W just to keep things moving.  I'm experimenting with a new handlebar position.  I've moved the bars out and down to get myself more stretched out.  Turns out that I like it.  Should've done this a long time ago.

I get out to Hagg Lake and I'm starting to feel good.  I absolutely fly around Hagg Lake.  A later look at my powertap data shows I spent a full hour at 300W, which in the middle of a long ride, means I've got some good form.  At this point, all by my lonesome, I've averaged 22mph.  I'm just having one of Those Days.  If you've read Bob Roll's book (Bobke II); if I were as crazy as him, this would be the day I would've gotten myself lost in a snowstorm in the mountains.  Mr. Roll described it as when you push and push on the pedals and your body just keeps giving and giving without a complaint.  Perfect description.

I finish the ride in 3 hours and change, which considering that I have an 8 mile climb to finish the ride, is a pretty fast 60 miles.  On the way back I had some tailwind help, but still.  A Good Day.  Just what I needed.


Going into the TT the next day, I was a bit sore, but told myself that it should go away later in the morning.  It did.  I was sore when I woke up, but by the time I got to the race venue, all the stiffness was gone.

I rode in with Ron, so all the talk was about time trial warmups and racing strategies.  The best advice being "go hard when it's hard"; of course, because you end up spending more time in the slower (thus harder) sections of the race and you minimize time by powering through these sections and recovering on the faster sections.

I hop on my bike to warm up about an hour before the race.  45 minutes of wiping sweat off my computer later, I'm at the start line.  This will be the first time the bike's been out in anger and I have no idea how my body will handle the aero position I have set up.  The warmup wasn't promising, but then again, warmups never are.

The countdown ends and I pull out of the holder's grasp and I'm off.  I get tucked, and wow, I feel good.  Soon enough I am flying downhill at 30 almost 40 mph.  Flying.  The bike's comfy, or as comfy as one can be at 350W and on the very tip of the saddle.

Interesting sidebar: the TT helmet I was borrowing from a teammate had a useful "feature".  Probably wasn't planned in the design, but every time I looked to the side or down, it'd whistle.  I kid you not.  You think about the damnedest things when you are flying down the road all by yourself at 30mph.  Good reminder to keep my head up and straight though.

I pass my minute man after five minutes.  My power numbers are good and I am flying.  I've never felt this good on a bike before.

After 20 minutes, I'm thinking that a 20 mile TT is a long time to be on the tip of a saddle.  I pass a couple more people.  I'm thinking the turnaround point must be around here somewhere.

I see an orange "bike race ahead" sign.  Ah.  That must be it.

After a turnaround that would make a monkey look smart, I'm off on the second leg.  I'm still flying, and nobody's passing me, so that must be good.

I pass the pockmarked section of road a teammate warned me about.  I experience the pleasant sensation of having both my wheels jump sideways half a foot.  In opposite directions.  In the aerobars.  Curiously, it turns out the bike is actually pretty stable.  Not bad for a $300 Performance Bike/Scattante/Made-In-China-Generic frame.

40 minutes in and my mouth is gaping like a fish out of water.  Mucus runs indiscriminately down my face as I don't even turn my head anymore.  Through my sweat stained glasses I can only barely make out the first two numbers on the powertap readout.  It's all I can do to make the first number read "3" instead of "2".  I'm falling apart.

An orange "bike race ahead" sign.  Hallelujah.

The 200m sign, conveniently placed 400m from the finish.  Almost there.

Pound up to the top of the hill; hit the top; back in the aerobars; click click click the gears.

Look confusedly at a row of orange cones near the finish line tent.

Decide I should probably pass between the cones and the tent even though it looks much too narrow and maybe I'll crash into someone but if I don't maybe I won't get scored and I can't see much of anything through these damned glasses so I'll push the pedals and pass by the orange cones and...


It was a good day.  A good weekend.  I feel the season's back on track.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

April Slump

It's happened enough that it's time to give it a name.  The April Slump.  The last three seasons now, my fitness and motivation have fallen off a cliff in April.  It's a combination of things really.  A long off-season spent doing hours upon hours on the trainer or rollers in the garage.  A fairly race-heavy March with the Banana Belt series and the rest of the early spring classics; big events taking up nearly every weekend from the middle of February to the end of March.  And finally weather that is as fickle as a bride on her wedding day.

I've come to terms with it.  Think of it this way: I've been training since November.  By April, that's five months of almost pure training under my belt, most of it indoors or slogging through the rain.  So by April, month six of training, my body is saying "fuck it" and my training hours fall to essentially zero.  I think the only way around this slump is to start training in February; the downside being that my form will suck in the spring classics, and those are really fun races I love and have loved doing since I started racing.

To get through it, I have to remind myself the facts of the matter.  Summer, when the racing fun is in full swing and I can race practically every single day of the week if I so desire, is still months away.  I have time to take a little break and recover my form.  Truly, as the Training Bible (and just about every other training source) says, fitness is always changing.  It's either going up or going down; keeping a high level of fitness for a significant amount of time is impossible.  It takes too much energy and puts too much stress on your body.  Eventually you need to recover.

So, recovery it is.  I figure that I'll lay off a little; ride when I feel like it and kick the trainer and rollers back into a dark corner of the garage and make them not appear again until next November; and in a couple weeks, after the Cherry Blossom Stage Race, really get back in the swing of things.  The timing will be right about right.  Don't fight the slump.  Understand it.  Let it happen.  Let my body tell me when it's ready to get lean and mean against for summer.

PS: Definitely a trend.  Check out the post I made right about this time last year: April Doldrums.  Forgot about that.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring Classics

March is the season of the spring classics here in Oregon, primarily populated by one, three week race series called the Banana Belts.  Don't ask; I have no idea why the name.  There are bananas on the registration table when you sign in, but the course does not resemble anything like a banana.  Racing is every Sunday for three consecutive weeks.

The Cat 3 field does races of 44, 55, and 66 miles respectively.  The first and third feature a sprint finish, while the second is run the opposite direction and features an uphill finish.

Race 1: I had high hopes for myself.  I was feeling good in the first two races of the season, and this one would resolve in a sprint finish after a fairly short race.  Hopes dashed - a third place prime, and nada on the finish.  It was a fun race, but man are there a lot of good sprinters in the field.  I finished nipping at the heels of them all, beating not a one.

Race 2: Didn't know what to expect in this one.  I've raced the Banana Belt series for the past two years, but this was the first time the road was in good enough shape to run the opposite direction.  Found out the hard way I still suck at uphill sprint finishes.  And that the course running five laps in the counter-clockwise direction is a lot harder than four laps in the clockwise direction.

Race 3: Sat in the field while Mitch the Man went out and crushed all from a breakaway starting at mile 2 to win the race.  Good times; hard race because of the climbs and the distance.  Lined up for the sprint.  Suck again.  No legs for the sprint.  No finishing speed.  No kick.  Nothing.

A weekend off of racing and then it's the infamous Piece of Cake road race.  This race would be a parade if there were no wind; basically completely flat.  But there was wind, and rain.  Belgium classic-like conditions: crosswinds complete with spitting, windblown rain, gray skies, and farm fields.  In the first lap, I tried to get off the front a couple times.  I had a hunch that the win would come from the breakaway given the crosswind conditions.  The whole race was one of suffering, looking for wheels to follow and for shelter.  A group eventually got off with a member of a big team and they just shut the thing down.  The pack was crawling; no team willing to bring people up to the front to bring back the break.  A few others got off the front, making a total of 10 people, fragmented in several chase groups.

Finally the sprint comes for 11th and I have nothing.  Again.  This lack of form at the end of the race is getting just a bit irksome.  Just a little.  I even had a good leadout this time... couldn't capitalize.  I should've picked a strategy and stayed with it.  By expending energy early hunting for breaks, I doomed my sprint finish.  Now I know what all fuss is about swinging for the fences.  These short, punchy fliers do nothing but wear down the legs.  I'm not off the front and too fried for a fast finish.  Either stay with the pack and sprint, leave it to chance whether I am sprinting for 1st or 15th, or try, try again for a breakaway.

I'm being owned at the finish because I am expending too much energy during the race.  Maybe it's as simple as that.  Maybe I'm not as good a sprinter as I think I should be.  Maybe I just generally suck at racing.  I don't know anymore.  All I know is that Cat 3 is for real.  For the first time, all these tactics, strategies, everything that everyone tells you about racing; it all starts in Cat 3.  In Cat 4 and below, you can get away with surfing through races. The guys with natural abilities come out on top more often than not.  In Cat 3, you start specializing.  You don't see the sprinters out in breakaways anymore.  You don't see the climbers in the bunch sprint.  Whereas it might be you and three other guys contesting the sprint at the end of a road race in the 4's, in the 3's, there's 15 guys just like you who are fighting for position right up till the end.  You don't see them during the race at all.  They are like ghosts drifting around and through the pack.  But the 1k sign appears and all of the sudden the front is swarming with them.  The last five minutes of the race are a constant battle for position.  Squeezing into gaps just wider than your bars to get to the front of the field (but not too far to the front!).  You get within sight of the finish and it's a game of chicken to see who jumps first.  Fourth wheel turns into 15th in the span of about two seconds when you're the chicken.

I feel like these March races have been my first real exposure to road racing.  Everyone is good.  Some are really good.  Mistakes in strategy or execution are punished.  Teamwork is alive and real; if you don't have it, you are at a distinct disadvantage to those teams that are organized.  Cat 2 is a dream that, for this year at least, is slipping away.  I have too much to learn still about racing.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I entered Sublime Sublimity Road Race for one reason only.  To see where my fitness sat relative to the field.  It's a race that requires no strategy except to conserve energy as much as possible and keep near the front to cover breaks.  For me, there wasn't even that.  I just wanted to shake the legs out before the Banana Belts and test the fitness against real competition.

Given this, my race turned out good.  First, I found on the first lap that it didn't require that much of me to keep position in the pack on the climbs.  Yea, it was hard, but I wasn't redlined or anything.  Just on the first hill; no warmup and some hard tempo on the climb made for a rude awakening, but other than that, everything was good.

I ended up off the front once with two others at one point.  I got caught.  Stayed back with the pack until half way through the third (and last) lap.  Then dropped up a steep climb out of a gully.  A bit more attention on my part to pack positioning going into the gully hill might have seen me pack slide my way up the hill and keep contact.  As it was, I was a bit too far back in the field and I wasn't able to chase back on the following downhill.

So, the verdict?  I feel good about how my form is coming along.  I didn't like how I got dropped; I would have felt better if I hadn't, but a sprinter getting dropped on this course is not totally unexpected, even if I am a little disappointed at allowing it to happen.  Makes for good motivation to keep hammering those interval sets and getting in those hours on the saddle.

Next up: Banana Belt.  This course has treated me nice in the past... but the Cat3's are a new field.  Should be fun.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Training Update

A couple minutes to type out a training update for a little motivation before getting it up to sit on my trainer for 40 very painful minutes...

Basically, up till about a week ago, I've been doing only base.  This cumulated in a 45 minute private time trial test to see where my fitness was.  For that 45 minutes, I averaged 330W, which is better than last year. Pat on the back.

Last weekend was the first race of the season.  You can read all about that in the previous post.

Now, it's back on the saddle to do interval training to try to increase my threshold power.  The last couple years, I've been doing 2x20min intervals, with 5 minutes in-between.  Compared to last year, I am starting my interval training waaayyy late.  I was doing this stuff in November last year.  This year it's February and I still haven't strung together any significant interval sessions.  Another difference is I am trying a new workout.  8x5min with 1 minute between each interval.  It's the same 40 minutes of pain, but with the rest periods evenly distributed throughout.  It's supposed to be better for race power development than the 2x20min sets.  Or something.

Anyway, makes sense to me.  Only in the breakaway or a long climb are you doing 40 minutes constant, and even then, the pattern is more akin to the 5min on/1min off pattern than it is to a time trial.  I'm not focusing on time trials this year, so it makes sense to be focusing on intervals that more readily duplicate race conditions.

Plan is to do this until two weeks before the Cherry Blossom Stage Race in late April.  That gives me 7 weeks to get my shit together and bang my way into race shape.  No 7 mile infinite hill at Cherry Blossom this year... maybe I'll have a shot at the overall (really?).

Sunday, February 14, 2010


First race of the season!  Cherry Pie in the beautiful gray skies and wet roads of Corvallis.

PV brought out five riders to play.  The field started off about five minutes early, meaning we didn't have Team Ironclad to deal with.  The rollout: stop and go as per usual.  It makes me wonder when the lead cars at Cherry Pie will figure out that they need to go a bit faster down the hill and a bit slower up hill during the neutral stretch, rather than the other way around.

The race started red hot as everyone uncorked their legs from the long slog of winter training.  This lasted for several fast miles before people settled down.  I can't lie, it felt good to let out the leash in anger for the first time of the year.

After that, the pace settled down, a smallish group of six got off the front and I concentrated on staying up in the top 30.  Nobody was in the mood to catch the little group, so things kind of bumped along for a good half hour, with lots of slowing and speeding up, brake grabbing, and a bit of bumping as people tried to move around in the bunched up peloton.

We get to the finish hill for the first of two times and it's time to test my legs against the competition for the first time of the season.  Surprisingly... the legs are good!  Last year on this hill, I was pack surfing like mad; going from the very front to the very back and not making it back up to the front until the very end of the second lap.  Not the best thing to do in a race (apparently, all us pack surfers going backwards get in the way of the guys with actual fitness), but us sprinters, man, we've gotta hold onto the pack using whatever means necessary.  This year?  I was surfing up the pack(!) and went over the hill at the tail of the front group.  Only a true sprinter can know just how pleased I am by this change of fitness.

The second half of the race featured a successful effort to bring back the breakaway, who I found out from Mitch, contained a guy who was some East Coast State TT champion.  I was able to organize a good chase effort and we caught the guy fairly quickly.  From then on, it was covering attacks and trying to keep Mitch in position to attack the finish hill with the front group.  The East Coast guy attacked several times.  The second or third to last time this guy attacked, Mitch was ready and right on his wheel when the guy took off.  It was about five or eight miles from the finish and it was a good move too, if it were anyone but Mitch who went with it.  Nobody in the field knows the East Coast guy (Mitch knew of him from the internet; Mr. East Coast is a regular contributor on the site ""), but everyone knows Mitch...  The collective opinion of the field was if Mitch was marking this guy, then everyone else should too, and so the move was brought back in a real hurry.  But besides that, Mr. East Coast was the feature of several breakaway attempts, so it was obvious he was a strong TT type fellow who would be dangerous in the closing miles.

Mr. East Coast went a couple more times; the last time at about 3 miles out.  He made a strong move that nobody followed.  At that point, I was on the front with Mitch on my wheel.  For the next near eternity, it was me on the front with Mitch flogging me for more speed at 24.9 mph into a headwind (I remember the "24.9" number very distinctly...), while Mr. East Coast slooooowly increased the gap, foot by foot, minute by minute.  I finally fell off the front a few minutes before the base of the finish hill and limped home.

In epilogue, Mr. East Coast was finally caught with 200m to go (which means my efforts were not for naught), right before a freak crash-that-can-only-happen-on-the-first-race-of-the-season brought down 10 or 15 people and kept Mitch from a good finish.  As for me, it was a good race: a good test of my fitness and a good indicator that this year should be a pretty good year for me.

Friday, January 1, 2010

First Day of the New Year

First day of the year and I had to get outside for a ride. I was originally going to go to the traditional Portland Velo First Day of the Year ride. I was even going to go rain be damned, and I was going to ride from home to boot to get in some hours. The only problem was it was going to be raining hard, and the club was meeting at 9:00 in the f'king morning, and to ride over there I would have to get started almost at daybreak.

My alarm goes off at 5:30 and I say f'k it and decide to go to a different ride starting somewhere in Portland proper at 10:00.

My alarm goes off at 6:30 and I again say f'k it after hearing the rain lashing the windows. I concede. I'll ride the rollers.

About 12:15 I look outside and see it's stopped raining. F' the rollers, I'm going outside.

Four hours and 60 miles later... awesome ride. My feet are numb, but 100 times better than yet another indoor ride to nowhere. It stayed dry for all of 30 minutes and then rained for every minute thereafter. It was wet, cold, windy... a slog at times. Worth it.