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

Monday, June 27, 2011

From the Saddle- Bolton Access Road/Bolton Valley Ski Area

I rode the whole climb 20 seconds faster than my previous best, and I didn't realize that the rear brake was dragging the whole way up until I stopped at the top.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Motivation- World Marathon Championships Video

GRM 2011 - Chasing the Rainbow from pedalidimarca on Vimeo.

This is pure Eurotrash motivation- and I love it.

Mountain Bike World Marathon Championships are this weekend in Montebelluno, Italy, and this video featuring the Italian marathon team highlights the region and some of the luminaries of Italian cycling. 

Two time Olympic Champion Paola Pezzo makes a cameo about halfway through, as do former World Champion Hubert Pallhuber, Italian National 'Cross Champ Enrico Franzoi, retired World Cup stalwart Marco Bui and some ridiculously attractive young Italian woman in a rainbow jersey whom I've never seen before.

Four time World Champion Julien Absalon will take his first ever Marathon Worlds start, and will toe the start line against perennial marathon contenders Alban Lakata, Christoph Sauser, Thomas Dietsch and Urs Huber.  Former XCO World Cup Leader and 29er advocate Jaroslav Kulhavy will also be present in spite of some severe facial injuries suffered in a training crash earlier this month.  

At this point I'm mostly recovered from the very draining Pat's Peak race and some subsequent work travel complications.  If everything goes according to plan I should have some updated content posted within the next week.  I also got my camera back so I can take pictures again.

It's pouring at the moment, but if it lets up I might climb the Camel's Hump access road or Bolton tonight after work.  If not, then it'll be the rollers in the basement in June, and if that happens I'll need to watch this video again and slam a Red Bull to psyched up before I attempt to stay focused on the hampster wheel.

Actually I'll probably watch this video again and slam a Red Bull even if I do get to ride outside.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mountain Bike Vermont

Mountain Bike Vermont has started posting some of my reviews on their site.  It's a cool opportunity for me to get some more exposure for my.....well, whatever Pro-35 is. 

The first posts will be race reports and product reviews like my Kenda Nevegal and Blue Groove posts.  Down the road there will be other new content that will debut on both sites.

Corporate types call it a "win-win," and you can check it out at www.mtbvt.com

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Apparently I'm a Big Deal Overseas


This page is the number 3 referring URL for the blog.  I guess that's what Pro-35 looks like in Taiwan.

Of course a lot of people live in Taiwan, so maybe I'm not really big deal at all.  

Friday, June 17, 2011

Race Report- 6 Hours of Pat's Peak

Last Saturday was 6 Hours of Pat's Peak, and I'm glad it's in the rear view mirror.  The picture above illustrates both the start and how well my preparation went in the week leading up to the race (I'm in the Moots kit in the foreground- notice how far ahead the rest of the field is already at this point).  

All of the other endurance races I've done are the traditional point-to-point format, which is basically one big  50+ mile loop, and although the time on the bike isn't that different for a time-based event, the rules and strategy are.  There are some inherent benefits to doing laps on a 5 mile course, namely that you get to know the terrain and that it's much easier to stage technical support and fuel stops.  There's also less chance you'll go off course like I've done in the Hampshire 100 and the VT 50.  The downside is that you can feel like you're treading ground and it's easier to mentally fatigue once you get accustomed to your surroundings. 

The week leading up the race I was wracked by my usual pre-race existential neuroticism.  Was I ready for a ski area race?  Would doing repeated long climbs really be a good idea?  Was 800 vertical feet per lap going to kill me?  Was I going to get my ass kicked?  Was there anything on the course that suited my strengths?  Would the weather hold out?

And I procrastinated.  It was a busy week with work and training, but I also procrastinated to the point where I was still getting my shit together at 10 PM Friday night.  I made sure the bike was ready earlier in the week, and I made sure I had all of the necessary supplies, but I didn't do much to help myself out otherwise.  Miraculously I got to bed around 11 PM. 

The forecast first called for a high in the upper 60's and a 30% chance of rain.  Then it was high of 65, 40% chance of rain.  Then it was a high of 59, 50% chance of rain.  I had been running the Kenda Karma exclusively, and so far I was happy with its performance in both wet and dry conditions.  With the mixed bag forecast and semi-unknown terrain I decided to stay with the Karma as it's versatile enough to handle almost anything, and it's light enough to climb well.   

On Saturday it quickly became apparent that the question wasn't if it would rain, but rather how much and for how long.  As I drove down to Henniker I was glad that I had packed my PVC rain shell, shoe covers, embrocation and an assortment of cycling caps and other wet weather gear. 

Normally it's important to stay cool during a mountain bike race, and most equipment like helmets, shoes and gloves are designed with that goal in mind.  Fortunately I didn’t have to worry about overheating, but I was a little concerned about how I would stay warm enough for 6 hours riding at endurance pace.  I settled on the usual jersey and shorts combo, but opted for shoe covers, a light wind shell and a cycling cap for my warmup.  Oh, and of course embrocation. 

If you're familiar with the rules of multi-lap endurance racing then you may want to skip down 3 paragraphs, pass "GO" and collect $200. 

The basic rules for a 6 hour are derived from 24 hour race guidelines, and they're an interesting mix of NASCAR-style pit support, Johnny T-era NORBA XC and ultra-endurance.  In a 24 hour race it's likely that racers will take breaks throughout the event to fuel up, fix their bikes or even take a nap- especially if they're competing solo.  Normally the fueling happens at aid stations where prearranged drop bags are waiting for you, and any repairs are done on course with tools you carry or have stashed in a drop bag.  With a 24 you have the ability to setup a single stash for fuel, tools and spare parts, and you can stop on any lap to access it. 

The most notable difference is that you can leave the course during the race, which I've never been able to do for any other event.  As long as I completed at least 1 lap I could leave my bike at my car, take a shower and sleep in the lodge for a couple hours.  The only catch is that you need to be on course when the race ends or you DNF, but how you spend your time between the start and finish is entirely up to you.  Also you need to dismount every lap and walk/run/crawl/trot/skip through the timing tent to record your lap. 

Solo riders were given a baton, which in my case was a small wooden dowel marked with electrical tape with my number written on it.  This baton needed to be shown to the race officials as I jogged through the timing tent pushing my bike.  More on that later. 

The start was a Le Mans free-for-all, with teams and solo racers of all ages, categories and race distances running for their bikes like soldiers in Bronze Age combat, minus the war whoops. 

I'm a shitty runner, as the picture above will show, and I promptly converted a prime starting spot on the front row to the back end of the field.  Most of that was by design- I knew the course was going to wear people down and that this was going to be race of attrition.  I also didn't want to burn too many matches, pull a muscle or god forbid stumble and fall in my superlight carbon-soled race slippers.  Those shoes are wicked light, but they're oil slick sketchy for anything other than being clipped in and pedaling.

So I started up the first climb at the back of the field, which is pretty normal for me.  What I didn't plan on was being behind racers of all abilities (i.e. chuckleheads) being in front of me and slowing me down on the singletrack.   Still, endurance races aren't decided by the holeshot, so I patiently made my way around other racers and slowly moved up. 

The course was actually pretty well laid out, and for a ski area it was not just the typical uphill grinding climb then puckering descent.  There were definitely two major sections- one up, one down, but the course was broken up enough to be interesting.  It didn’t feel at all like I was just climbing, which is a compliment to the course designers. 

Through lap 1 I was mainly just trying to get my bearings and stay upright while keeping the balance between passing riders and not burning too many matches.  My lap 1 time was alright, but it was clear that it was going to be all mud, all day long. 

My first trip around the course was a little unnerving as everything was slick.  I was also a little anxious about the dismount/run/wave baton/remount routine necessary for each lap, but it went fine and the timers didn't seem to care whether or not I could find my solo racer baton- merely the act of fumbling for it was enough. 

On lap 2 I kept a steady tempo and rode slightly more smoothly over the obstacles since I could actually pick my line and wasn't riding in traffic.  There were still some other riders around, but I was starting to settle in and find my groove.  I stopped briefly and grabbed to 2 full water bottles and filled my jersey pocket with GU packets.  I caught a rider on the climb whom I'd passed on the climb on the previous lap.  He'd then passed me on the downhill, and I was reeling him in on the uphill.  What surprised me was how much time he put on me on the downhill, but also how quickly I motored by him on the climb.  That's right- "how quickly I motored by him on the climb."  I never thought I'd write that sentence comparing myself to a mailbox, late alone another cyclist. 

As I headed out on lap 3 I could see that the course was really starting to degrade, and sections that had been muddy but rideable were taking progressively more effort with each lap.  Amazingly enough I was catching riders on the climbs, and I suppose that's mainly because I had settled in on riding steady on most of the course but would go into the pain cave on three distinct short uphill sections per lap.  It wasn't that I was even climbing well, but I was mentally ready for the effort and knew where I could recover.  I also let some air out of my tires and went from being mostly kinda OK on the slick stuff to feeling like fucking Spider Man.  Not Turn off the Dark Spider Man, but the legit web-slinging hero from comic books of yore.  It made an immeasurable difference on the downhill. 

My fueling plan was to grab 2 bottles every other lap, which meant that I cruised out on lap 4 without stopping.  The course itself was slowing down dramatically, but I felt the best on laps 3 and 4, and had the conditions been stable I bet I would have turned in my best lap times then as well.  Lap 4 was otherwise unassuming- I was alone for all of it.  I passed an Embrocation rider when he flatted just moments after he'd motored by me. 

What's cool about the solo category is that people are very supportive.  I had some questionable interactions with some team riders who were out for blood with their hairy legs and 5" travel bikes, but the solo guys were all fit, relaxed and respectful.  

My quick pit stop included a quick bike check, and I doused the drivetrain with some water to clean it before applying some T9.  I grabbed my new bottles from the cooler, chugged a Red Bull, stuffed 4 more Gus in my pockets and took off. 

It all came apart on lap 5.  The fatigue set in, and I felt like I was cracking.  I had to walk a few sections that I had been riding, and I just felt empty.  I kept pushing, and had to walk more than any other lap.  The pain caves were brutal, and I didn't think I could keep it rolling. 

As I bumbled down through the descent and onto the finishing stretch I looked at my watch and thought that I could get another lap in, so as soon as I did the dismount/wave/remount/sprint shuffle I locked out the fork and pinned it to get to the top of the first climb. 

I'd been pounding GU trying to fuel back up, and I knew that the course was only getting worse, so my goal was to ride the technical sections as smooth as possible and to ride all of the climbs no matter how much they hurt.  As I made my way to the top of the second climb the Embro guy caught me.  He wasn't quite motoring, but he was riding quickly enough that I couldn't stay on his wheel.  It was still raining, and he was still not wearing gloves, though honestly I was getting pretty sick of mine at that point as well. 

My lines were smooth and I rode every technical section smoothly, except one.  The wet, sketchy, dual fall line (off-camber) downhills ate my lunch all day, and they continued to frustrate me to the end.  I have no idea how anyone got down them with any speed without being scared shitless.   

As I apexed the corner at the bottom of the last turn I jumped out of the saddle and surged up the short hill towards the finish line.  In my head it was like Rocky, but to the spectators on the side of the trail it was probably more like watching sea turtles coming out of the water and up onto the beach. 

I crossed the finish line 6 minutes too late for my last lap to count, so I only got credit for 5 full laps.  If I had managed to trim off 6 minutes (which over 6 hours is very possible) I would have been 7th rather than 10th. 

Given the terrible conditions and unsure of my form I think 10th is a solid result.  My bike was in rough shape, but the chain is still usable and the brakes still worked.  Remarkably I didn't have a single shifting issue all day, which is a testament to the engineering of SRAM's 10 speed offroad drivetrain. 

The RSL performed beautifully and gave me a stable platform and predictable handling to navigate the very slick parcourse.  Whenever the bike slid it was always controlled, and I felt very confident. 

Maybe I wasn't going fast enough.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Gear Flashback- LeMond Maillot Jaune

While digging through some old files I discovered some pictures of my LeMond Maillot Jaune, my first Dura Ace road bike.  It was one of those interesting carbon spine/steel downtube & chainstays combinations that managed to offer none of the positive attributes of either carbon or steel; somehow it was heavy and dead feeling all at once.

LeMond had been trying to reinvent themselves every year with drastically different graphics packages for their bikes.  The year before featured a baroque-looking panel design that was hokey and overwrought.  In 2004 they went for a more subdued and classic script style with simple panels which I think was an improvement.

The biggest win was the Dura Ace kit, and 10 speed drivetrain was nothing short of fantastic.  I loved that bike, although more for the parts than for the frame itself.  When I was riding it I ran a Ritchey WCS cockpit, a more sensible Thomson post, a Flite saddle, and of course white tape because at the time I only used white tape. 

Looking back this was a great bike, and I really enjoyed my time on it.  After all I was 24, had a full head of hair and had just started my career with my first real job.  What's not to like about that?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Memorial Weekend Power File


Over the Memorial Day weekend I got three rides in- one went well, one went poorly and another went OK.  

That Saturday I took the RSL out for its second ride with the intention of  getting in 2.5-3 hours at tempo pace.  Every trail system was either under water or completely swamped, so I did an extended dirt road warm up and headed for the usual wet weather refuge- Cotton Brook.  The trails at Cotton Brook are really the old roads that serviced the houses on Ricker Mountain before the Waterbury Reservoir was put in during the 1930's.  The gravel surface sheds water well and is rideable when other places aren't.  There are still some homesites, cellar holes and old farm tractors rusting in the woods.  

After about 40 minutes the skies opened up and my new RSL and I got soaked to the bone.  My spirits were slightly dampened, but as I waited for the torrent to subside the thunder rolled in, and that was the end of my day.  Fortunately I was near the car.

Sunday I spent the day at a Memorial Day parade- one of the smallest I've ever seen, and hung out under a large tent trying to avoid the sun, heat, cold beer and hot dogs.  I didn't have any beer (which was hard), I spent most of the day under the tent but still got a sunburn on my neckline.  Eventually I gave in and ate a hot dog.  I do love my junk meat.  

At around 5:00 PM it was still over 80 degrees when I left for my ride.  I really hadn't had a break from the heat since mid-morning when I stuck my head into the ice bin at the convenience store as I pretended to deliberate about whether chipped or cubed ice would be more appropriate for my afternoon adventures.  

My legs felt stiff and weak, and as I turned the pedals I felt like I had borrowed someone else's body for the day.  Normally I can handle the heat, but in late May I was not ready for it and I suffered over the steep undulating roads of Addison County to the top of Brandon Gap.  I refer to Route 73 as the Orwell Ardennes because the short, steep roads wind their way through wind-swept farmland, much like I expect Belgium to be.  The overall vertical gain is minimal, but a race on these roads would absolutely shred the peloton.  

When I got back to the house I was a mess, and my mother-in-law encouraged me to jump in the pond to cool off.  After minimal deliberation, I jumped in still wearing my bib shorts, though I lowered the shoulder straps.
Then came Monday, and somehow the original plan to ride 85 miles home seemed completely overwhelming even after two Red Bulls.  Two hours later I had planned out a route and started the task of getting ready.  Bottles were filled, chamois were put on and sunscreen was slathered.  

After two sub-par days in the saddle, this proved to be the best ride of the weekend.  I took a more circuitous but less hilly route to start, then worked my way down through Brandon towards West Rutland on some of the most amazing roads I've ever ridden.  Minimal traffic is common for Vermont, but pristine pavement isn't, and I had found both.  The miles ticked by as I spun past farms, homesteads and the occasional trailer park.  

About halfway through the ride- at the furthest point from the house- I started to lose ambition.  The pedals were turning more slowly, and my progress became arduous.  I was ready to stop riding, but had two more hours to go.  I pushed through, and was glad I did.  

You can see the power file for that ride above.  It was a good ride, even though the numbers are very uninspiring. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Catamount Race Report, June 1

This Wednesday was my second Wednesday Worlds of 2011, and my first on the RSL.  I would describe racing on this bike with one word- awesome.  

Earlier this week I had done some pretty intense training so I wasn't sure how good I was going to feel.  The usual Saturday MTB ride and Sunday endurance road program got rained out, so I ended up doing a hilly gap climb on Sunday and 65 mile endurance ride on Monday.  Both of those rides were on the deceptively difficult terrain of Addison County, and the temperature was over 80 degrees both days.  Normally I can handle the heat, and I can ride two hard days back-to-back, but I also have Monday and Tuesday to recover.  This week I just had Tuesday.   

At Catamount last week we ran a similar course when I raced the YBB.  Some of the muddy sections had been removed so the lap was a little shorter but with more climbing.  Overall lap times were faster and the field was slightly larger so I didn't feel like I was riding solo for 75% of the race. 

As we lined up I told myself to take it easy and just ride for as long as I could with the goal of finishing rather than setting the world on fire.   I felt fine on the warm up, but wasn't really feeling snappy.  At the start I slotted into a decent spot and cranked up to speed. 

The first thing I noticed was how fast I was going on the starting stretch and up the first false flat sections.  I didn't go crazy and deliberately slotted into the well-worn groove even though it meant staying behind some slower riders while other racers zipped by in the grass.  I maintained my pace, stayed seated and turned over a reasonable gear in the big ring, and all of a sudden I realized that I was flying. 

With the bigger wheels I knew I wouldn't be able to push the same gearing on the climbs and that I might not be able to stay in the big ring like I did last week.  Fortunately the XX 156q crank has a chainline that allows for a full cross chain, so I shifted down to the 39 x 36 and kept it rolling. 

I was pulling a group of six reasonably fast racers as we entered the first woods section.  Normally I can stay in contact in the woods if I push it, but I'm not comfortable leading.  We skipped over the first rock sections, around the roots through the sweeping turns, then up and over onto the slick mud covered rocks.  I was still comfortably leading my group.

The excitement of leading through that section caused me to get a little too aggressive and push it even harder through the next technical section.  I rode it cleanly, but burned too many matches and had to back off going up the steep uphill at the exit. 

With this same feverish pace I pushed through the first lap and was hauling through the sections that had dogged me the week before.  The course was dryer and faster, but I was also more confident and had a level of focus that it possible to sustain my pace. 

Coming out of the last flowing woods section I was pretty smoked and was too far in the red.  The group of six that had been behind me zipped by as we started to work our way back up toward the finish line.  The climbs weren't terribly long, but they were steep and psychologically I was gassed.  I never was able to catch back on.

Last week I targeted one racer who finished two minutes ahead of me, and as we rolled through the start of lap 2 he passed me.  I composed myself and tried to limit the damage and stay in contact.  For most of the second lap I was 15-20 seconds behind him- always in sight, but a little too far ahead to catch. 

Through lap 2 I maintained the same distance, but as we entered the start of lap 3 I could see that his pedal stroke was getting wobbly and that I was slowly reeling him in.  As we snaked through the rocky sections at the top of the course he was maintaining a 10 second gap, but he overshot the exit of the sweeping high speed turn and all of a sudden I was right on his wheel.  We rode together for a few hundred meters before he bobbled on one of the uphill hairpins and I was able to sneak by. 

With a slight gap in hand I pinned it for the last lap with the intention of putting as much distance as possible on my new nemesis.  Some other racers were hot on his heels and I was soon being chased by a small group.  I didn't take notice of exactly how far back they were, nor whether they were working together but rather put as much as I could into the drag strip climb.  Where the course doubled back on itself I could hear other riders behind me and made sure to push as I hard as I could without overcooking the technical sections.

As I hit the last woods section I just tried to stay smooth and keep my gap.  I could hear some jockeying for position behind me and gave it a little extra gas through the G-outs and over the roots.  At the bottom of the last uphill I was already in the red, but I knew that if I could get to the top of the steep grassy climb with a gap that I could recover on the slight downhill before the finish. 

My plan worked, and I streaked across the line with no chasers in sight.  I didn't win, nor even garner a noteworthy place in my category, but I beat a racer who's consistently been ahead of me and put almost four minutes into last season's nemesis.

Overall a great race, and a great start to racing on my new favorite race bike, the RSL. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

From the Saddle- River Rd

This is the first of a series of tumblr-style image posts from my rides.  Now that I have a working camera I'm keen to use it.

These photos are from Tuesday's dirt road warm up ride.  Normally my recovery rides on pavement, but I made it into a recovery/light skills ride.  I really wanted to ride the RSL, so I started off easy on some flat dirt roads, then made my way up into the lower trails at Perry Hill.  

The images are from the dirt road warm up portion of the ride.