Training, racing, gear, facial hair styles and thoughts from my push to become an elite cyclist.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shoulder Season Riding, or How to Avoid the Dreaded Muffin Top

The end of the cycling season is always an interesting time. Most recreational riders pick the end of their season based on when they decide that the weather has gotten too cold for them to ride comfortably outdoors. By November, you’re pretty likely to only see pretty serious riders out and about in New England.

Riding this time of year can be fun- it’s unstructured, flexible and entirely determined by what the most enjoyable option is. In my current mindset that’s mountain biking, and fortunately we’ve had a pretty snow-free November and I’ve been able to sneak in a few more rides.

For me (and this blog is after all, about me) this can be a tough time as it’s hard to find a groove or establish a routine when the weather is in transition. The shoulder seasons are brutal in Vermont because there’s often nothing to do outside since the conditions are often shitty for both riding and skiing. I’m also not very good at changing gears.

Somewhere in the bike-to-ski transition I always pick some extra ballast, usually because of my Grandmother’s excellent Christmas cookies or my mother-in-law's pecan pie. My rides this time of year are best described as obesity resistance intervals. There is no specific focus for each workout other than making sure I can button my pants throughout the holiday binge eating season.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Moots YBB X0 10 Speed

Here it is after I got the 10 speed kit installed. I went for the all black version of the X0 kit with the exception of the XX crank which I chose for its narrower 155 q factor. I also went for a KMC X10SL-Ti chain which has performed amazingly well in my brief tests.

The ti frame is very subtle, and the black gruppo adds to the understated nature of the bike. The two things that pop are the white Ergon GX1 grips and my gold KMC chain. I've also gone with some alt placement for my pro-35 stickers which hopefully doesn't make it look hokey or overdone.

My initial impressions of the group are very good. I went for a couple short rides over the weekend and had to relearn the gear spacing. The 2x is great for racing, but I'm still figuring out which gears to use when I would have normally been in the 32t middle ring up front but have to choose a 26 or 39 up front.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Moots YBB Post VT 50, Pre 10 Speed

For several weeks I've threatened to get my YBB cleaned up and rolling again so I can get some time on it before the snow flies. In true obsessive fashion it wasn't just cleaning and lubing the bike since that would have taken about ten minutes, but rather cleaning, lubing and installing a new 10 speed Sram X0 drivetrain.

Here's the starting point- dirty but well-functioning and still covered with a mix of dust, dirt and dried energy drink spatter. Regardless of what parts selection I run I've always been happy with this bike. It is the smoothest and most predictable mountain bike I've ever owned, and that group includes top-flight race machines from Specialized, Trek and Gary Fisher.

Since I was seventeen I've wanted a Moots YBB, and in 2007 I got one. It's been my number one mountain bike ever since, and I liked the brand enough to sell my Serotta Legend Ti and get a custom Vamoots CR built to replace it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Julien Absalon

I took this picture of Julien Absalon at the Windham round of the World Cup. 4x World Champion, 2x Olympic Champion, 17 World Cup Wins and countless other cross country victories make him a living legend. In Windham he had a string of mechanicals and dropped out of contention, but he made a huge effort to climb back from the middle of the pack to the top 10 by the end of the day. He was in full flight and rode this short technical section with the remarkable skill you'd expect from a rider of his stature.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

2010 Season Analysis: Power Output Part 2

The downside of ending your season on a low point is the lingering aftertaste of a poor performance. I won't race my mountain bike again until May, and that's six months away, so I have six months to let the memories of a poor last race rattle around in my head.

I've defined mountain bike racing as my primary goal, and my mountain bike results this year were pretty good. When I look at my season like that I feel like Al Franken's Stuart Smalley character from Saturday Night Live with his empty self-important affirmations like "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me!"

In previous posts I've mentioned my Powertap and there's no question that it's been a huge asset for me and has helped me improve over the last two seasons. The downside of having it on the road bike is that I get an incomplete picture of my summer fitness because 40-60% of my rides, most of my hard efforts and all of my races are on the mountain bike.

Looking back, I think my ride on September 11, ironically enough, was one of my best of the season. I stormed up the climb to Trapps and felt like I was flying. My plan was to race that weekend, but a mild concussion and a severely bruised nose earlier in the week derailed my plans. If I had made it out to the race I would have had incredible form, but that's still not a guarantee of performance since any number of external factors can keep an athlete from performing up to their potential on a given day.

Here's a look at my power graph for that day. You can see that I set a new record for 10 minute power which was recorded on the ascent of Trapp Hill Road.

When I compare those numbers to my earlier post you can see that my short term power output was way lower in November than it was in September. Considering that 'cross is all about short term power it's really no surprise that my results started to slide as well. This is only a piece of the puzzle, but it's interesting to note the difference in some fitness indicators before two very different performances. The 10 minute power output from that ride is also from the ascent of Trapp Hill Road and it's pretty far from my best.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Best Part....

The best part of Saturday's race at the Harpoon Brewery was this after the finish.

Now I'm starting the beginning of a much needed rest period. One week of no exercise and completely off the dietary wagon. When bike geeks go off the wagon, look out- it's a blitzkrieg on whatever was off-limits during the season. The non-cyclists in our lives are always taken by surprise because we've conditioned them to expect salads, light beer and no desert, so when it's pizza, burritos, sundaes and pitchers (often at the same sitting) they don't know how to handle it. In the five years I've known my wife she's still surprised when I suggest pizza as a dinner option. To be fair there's Christmas, Thanksgiving, and a week of full-on binge eating, so 9 days out of 365 still makes salads and seltzer 97.5% of the time, so I can understand her thought process.

The week after I finished the Hampshire 100 I had a large cookie everyday for lunch for three days in a row. I didn't have it with my lunch, it was my lunch.

Anyone want to race to the bottom of a bag of Doritos? I've been doing sodium tolerance intervals and my MSG threshold is up 400 calories over last season.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pulling the Plug

My vision for this weekend's races was this: Francis Mourey in full flight.

Instead I promptly made my way to the back of the field on the first lap and stayed there the whole race. I went flat out and was able to hold same consistent miserable gap the whole race.

In that 45 minutes of racing it all became clear: I'm burned out. I've been training seriously since June without more than 4 days off the bike in a row. This 'cross season I've been training well but I'm still going backwards with things progressively worse every race weekend.

The good news is I still love the sport, I'm just not into racing right now. I'll still ride until the snow flies, then throw myself into skiing with the myopic focus you'd expect from a true obsessive like myself.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with my friend Jason about improving at endurance racing. His experience taught him that a break was critical to improving year over year. As I thought about the last few seasons I noticed a distinct pattern: that I get way into three sports (mtb, 'cross, and nordic) and end up not improving at any of them. There are guys that are good at mountain biking and 'cross, and there are guys that are mountain biking and skiing, but there aren't any guys that are good at mountain biking, 'cross and skiing. Winter here is way too long not to ski, so next year I'm going to do an abbreviated 'cross season like most normal people and hang it up in October before the weather goes completely pear shaped.

Endurance mountain bike racing is my primary goal, so I'm going to treat it that way and scale back everything else.

Maybe I should clean off my mountain bike and take it for a few rides before the snow flies. I've got that brand new 10 speed X0 group still sitting in a box just waiting for some attention...and I'm sorry to say that the YBB hasn't been ridden or even cleaned since the 50.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Home Race

This weekend is the race weekend that I’ve built my ‘cross season around- the Windsor & Putney double. Both races feature great courses in interesting venues and are within very reasonable driving distance from my house. In many ways this is my big race weekend, and I’ve been thinking about it for months.

Each spring I get a couple pairs of gloves, or more accurately a couple pairs of 661 Rajis. Last year I went with white, and one of the two pairs I got were reserved for race day. That pair only ended up seeing action twice as the other pair stayed remarkably clean all season, so I decided to keep them for this year’s big races.

While pouring over European Race photos earlier this year I noticed that Marc Madiot’s Francaise des Jeux ProTour team has two different varieties of shorts to go with their white jerseys. First, Madiot is a two-time winner of Paris-Roubaix (’85 and ’91) and since he retired from racing has been widely regarded for his skill in developing young cycling talent such as Bradley McGee and Phillipe Gilbert. He’s also been a consistent supporter of clean cycling (as opposed to simply being anti-doping) and his was the first team to prominently feature predominantly white kits not because they were cool or practical, but because of what the color represented. Before CSC/Saxo, AG2R and Quick Step, FDJ wore white.

From what I gather the FDJ squad wears navy colored shorts for events outside of their native France (or in bad weather for obvious reasons), but when they race in France they switch to white shorts. Different “home” and “away” uniforms are common in most sports but otherwise curiously absent in cycling. It’s a subtle way that they put their best foot forward and demonstrate the pride in what racing at home means to them.

So this weekend I’ll be featuring my version of the home kit- my white gloves. I know they won’t help my performance, but when I pull them on at the start line I’ll remember the time and effort I’ve made to prepare.

Like life, the little things in cycling are what I savor the most.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Snow- Just What I Needed...Not

Good thing I got that nice, long “wow I love cycling” ride in on Sunday. No sooner had I mentioned the variability of the weather then we get smacked with a fall snow storm. Good thing I got the driveway drainage fixed, too.

Of course this means that snow tires were not on my agenda either. The old Vermonters always make sure they’re on by mid-November, and if you live in the hinterlands or at any elevation you have them on by mid October. That’s right- if you subscribe to that school of thought then you’re buying Halloween candy and shopping for snow tires at the same time.

In my mind that isn’t being prepared, it’s being afraid. While I think it’s important to respect the weather it’s ridiculous to feel like loud and ugly snow tires are necessary from October to May. It's a small thing, but snow tires are one of those things that I want to run only when it's necessary. That means that the night of the first snowfall of the year I end up scrambling around an abandoned parking lot in the dark dropping wrenches in the slush and swearing at myself for not being better prepared.

Fortunately it will be in the 50’s later this week on the days that I’ll be riding outside. This weekend is the Paradise ‘Cross Frenzy and the West Hill Shop Cyclocross which is the race weekend I’ve been looking forward to for months. Both events feature the best that local racing has to offer- reasonable field sizes, good courses and short drive times.

Hopefully the snow will be gone by then, too.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Power Output, Part 1

Posting power data is like pulling your pants down at the doctor's office- no matter how impressive you think you are, it still never looks like much when you put it out there for everyone to see.

I've been in caught in the riptide between the ebb and flow of my training program and I've felt oddly disconnected from my bike. My race results have been OK, but I've expected better since I put in such a solid training block. This season I've been squarely mid-pack, slightly better or worse depending on how I felt on a given day. I haven't really had any great races yet, and with only three to go it better come around soon.

Work has been stressful, life has been busy and I've been distracted. All of those things piled onto a general feeling of burnout made me feel like I was ready for my season to be over. I was signed up with 150 of my closest adversaries to race the 3 field at Northampton. Given that my new carbon race wheels weren't enough to make me excited to race I decided to skip it. As soon as I made that decision I felt a sense of relief and that I had gotten my weekend back. Three weekends in a row of prep, driving and racing is hardly herculean, but it was starting to wear me down.

When I got out of bed this morning I was more excited to fix the drainage in my driveway than I was to go for a ride (more on that later). 300 pounds of sand and two hours worth of raking and shoveling later I had made some progress and I was begrudgingly ready to go for my ride.

The forecast was for mid-to-upper 40's and clear, but it never got above 39. It's November in Vermont, so anything can happen. It could be 30's and a foot of snow or 60's and sunny. It's what we call stick season since there are neither leaves nor snow. Usually it's when we get a brief respite from tourists and have our state to ourselves for a little while.

I rode north to Stowe and was treated to some scenic views of the snow-capped Worcester range and Mansfield. I've never been to the Alps, but the backdrop of the snowy mountains against the green grass of the valleys makes days like today a rare gift that can only be appreciated if you live here full time.

Somewhere on the road today I got my stoke back. I remembered that one of the main reasons I ride is for the sense of clarity where all of the background chatter goes away and I can slowly untie the knots in my subconscious. The sad part is that my power chart doesn't show that. My hilly route meant that my average speed was...less than 15 miles per hour. Yikes.

Power output is only one measure of a ride. What you saw, what you thought, how you felt were also part of the experience even if you can't pick them out of the torque, heart rate, cadence, wattage or speed that were recorded.

Today I needed to recharge, and the Powertap was just along for the ride. I didn't break any records, and realistically my effort was far from my best. Next time I'm grinding away on the rollers through 10 x 1 minute intervals at 400-whatever watts I'll remember today. Maybe then I'll have a better power graph to whip out.