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.