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

Monday, July 25, 2011

Quick Review- Answer ProTaper Carbon AM Handlebars


In the 90's the Answer ProTaper bars were some of the most sought after pieces of anodized componentry, and after a hiatus they are back in carbon and aluminum variants.  Being the weight weenie that I am I of course opted for the carbon version. 


Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few years you've probably noticed that handlebars have been getting wider.  The ProTaper carbons are a full 720 mm wide with an 8 degree back sweep, 4 degree up sweep and 1/2" rise.  More impressive is their light weight as they tip the scales right at 205 grams as advertised.  They're also all mountain rated, which isn't a formal certification but does mean that although these bars are relatively light for their size they are intended to be ridden aggressively.


Last season I switched from a flat 620 mm wide bar with Ergon bar ends to a 640 mm wide low riser, then a 660 mm low riser.  Although I missed the bar ends at first I got accustomed to the increased leverage and really liked it.  With that in mind I decided to go wider still and am currently running the ProTapers at 680 mm width. 

Some technical riding and downhill experts recommend running bars as wide as possible and the ProTapers are certainly wide at a full 720 mm. Given the frequency of closely spaced trees on our local trails and my comfort level with 660's I opted to cut down the ProTapers to 680 mm as that seemed to be a good compromise between increased width and tree clearance.  At that width the weight is 201 grams.

As bars have gotten wider they have also had an increasing amount of sweep.  Although some bars feature a more dramatic 12 degree sweep, the 8 degree bend of the ProTaper Carbons is within the normal 6-9 degree range of most carbon handlebars on the market today.  I have found the 8 degree sweep to be similar to the 9 degree bar it replaced, and after a few short rides I forgot that there was any difference.  I'm still making up my mind about wider being better, but since these can easily be trimmed down to 660 it's a non-issue as far as these handlebars are concerned. 

The bars have been great so far, and like any good handlebar they have been trouble free.  As I get some more time on them I will post some updates, and if you looking for a lightweight, wide bar then I recommend checking out the ProTaper line.  

For more information visit www.answerproducts.com/.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Race Report- Windham Race the World

This past weekend was the Windham round of the Cross Country World Cup (or XCO for Cross Country Olympic Distance) and the only World Cup round in the US this season.  A "citizen's" race was held in conjunction with the  World Cup where domestic pros, aspiring wankers and weekend warriors could tackle the same courses as the international elite riders in an event billed "Race the World".  It is a pretty cool concept that was commonplace ten to fifteen years ago at venues like Mount Snow before the UCI decided that the elites had to race separately...because they said so. 

This non-World Cup event was an event within the event as part of the Root 66 Series--a long-standing and well-run group of races held across New England from April through October.  This meant that there were some familiar faces in the timing tent and on the start line.

So why did I sign up for a race that isn't my forte?  I was planning to check out the World Cup anyway, and Windham is close to my parents' house so I can combine several objectives into a single trip.  My own effort to race was almost incidental and really only came to mind when Spinney suggested that this weekend was a good one for an event as it was between hard training cycles. 

My expectations were pretty low heading into the event.  I had a string of bad luck but still was enjoying decent form so I decided to push on, and I suppose it could have worked out better under different circumstances. 

Wednesday's Catamount race was a disaster, and I wasn't fully recovered from Monday's two-mountain epic.  I climbed really well during Thursday's group ride, but my derailleur broke and I couldn't really test myself or work on my skills.  All of that is documented in my previous "Time to Sack Up" post.

I spent most of Friday night building Carrie's new bike--a Niner EMDGeorge had helped me out with the frame and some parts, and the rest of it was re-purposed from my parts stash that had been allocated for a long travel full suspension bike.  Carrie didn't have a mountain bike, so for me to have 3 seemed a little ridiculous when she had none, so it was an easy decision.  She's had a growing interest in the sport this season, so I've been slowly easing her into it while trying not to be an overbearing "hockey dad".

After completing her bike I got mine cleaned and prepped and got to bed at a reasonable-ish hour.  Fortunately the elite men's race didn't start until 2:30 so I could sleep in a little and still not be rushed. 

Saturday morning I got up and got on the road as planned.  On the way out of town I grabbed some breakfast and food for the road since I knew there wasn't much once I got out outside of Burlington.  As I made my way through the aisles of my local grocery store I thought about what would make a good snack for the trip with the added twist that anything I bought had to be resistant to heat, as the car was likely to get pretty hot when parked in the 80+ degree sun.  I opted for some almonds--Jalapeno Smokehouse to be exact. 

For the record I have no problem with Mexico, Mexican people or Mexican food.  I do however apparently have a problem with Jalapeno Smokehouse almonds.

Earlier in the year Carrie had a couple rounds of a stomach bug that caused her to miss some work.  She attributed it to eating those same Jalapeno Smokehouse almonds, and I thought she was being ridiculous.  After all I had eaten the same almonds with no trouble, so although she had certainly been very sick I also thought that the almonds were most likely not the root cause. 

As I made my way southward I ate my breakfast and sipped my coffee.  The sky was clear, traffic was minimal and I was looking forward to seeing some real race action.  It was almost lunchtime as I approached the New york border, so I opened the almonds and had a small handful.  Eating the day before a race is a delicate balance--you don't want to overeat and risk digestive trouble, but you also don't want to under eat and bonk halfway through the race.  With that in mind I stick to the usual snack staples in my usual portions, and I thought about how smart I was to have thought ahead and brought some snacks with me.

Right after I reached Fort Ann, New York I started to feel bad.  My stomach got queasy and I had a splitting headache.  Soon I had a metallic taste in the back of my mouth and felt nauseous.  I stopped for Tylenol, but the problem didn't get any better.  As I approached Lake George it got worse, and I pulled over thinking I was about to vomit.  A few uncomfortable minutes later I was still feeling ill.  Damn it.  Carrie was right--the almonds were what made her sick, and now it was my turn. 

I got back in the car and tried my best to avoid the snarl of Lake George weekend traffic by taking backroads that I thought would get me closer to I87.  Meanwhile my stomach was still in trouble and I was feeling no better.  Somewhere in Queensbury I found respite in the form a Stewart's gas station and pulled over in search of any over-the-counter medication that might help my condition. 

Adjacent to the Stewart's was a vacant storefront, and I spent the next 15 unproductive minutes dry heaving in their parking lot next to the dumpster.  My condition hadn't improved, but I cleaned myself up and headed inside in search of Pepto and some mouthwash.  Residents of Upstate New York and the Vermont communities of Fair Haven and Rutland are familiar with Stewart's for their inexpensive gas prices, wooden shingled roofs and excellent selection of locally made hard ice cream.  They also had both generic pink stomach salve and mouthwash. 

After three times the recommended dose of chalky pink party punch I felt like my condition was starting to improve.  I had no idea where I was, but made my way through Glens Falls and back onto I87.  All of the drama had added quite a bit of time to my trip and I had quickly lost the small time cushion I had built into my travel plans. 

I got to Windham about 15 minutes after the start, and Jaroslav Kulhavy was solidly in the lead and motoring his way out onto his second of six laps.

Kulhavy killing it.


2009 World Champion Nino Schurter was in second, followed by a chase group of Burry Stander, Christoph Sauser, Manuel Fumic, Marco Fontana, Florian Vogel and a handful of others.  Over the next few laps I walked around the course snapping photos and checking out what I'd be riding on Sunday morning. 

The course was typical of the World Cup--about 5k in length with 700 vertical feet of elevation gain, and the leaders tackled a lap in about 16 minutes.  The climbs were numerous but short and punchy rather than long and grinding, and the descents were fast and rocky.  It was a cool course, and would be fun to ride, unlike many others I've ridden.

Kulhavy improved on his gap and won by a solid margin.  His performance made it look easy, but the faces on the riders chasing him showed just how hard it really was.  In one particular uphill section most of the top 20 riders were pushing the big ring where I knew for certain I would likely be struggling in my lowest gear.

Places 2-4, all in the big ring. 


After the race I picked up my number and stopped in to talk to the guys at the KMC both.  I talked with Dennis, their North American sales guy, for a few minutes and gave him some Pro-35 stickers.  After all, I still have about 477 of them, and I wanted to thank KMC for their support. 

I headed to Mom & Dad's for a low key cookout and some family time.  After catching up with everyone over a perfect pre-race meal I headed off to an early bedtime knowing that 5:30 was going to come early the next morning. 

Sunday morning went mostly as planned--I got up, showered and dressed in my kit and left the house just a few minutes behind schedule.  In my mind anything before 6:00 AM is considered airplane early, meaning that the only reason I would get out of bed at that hour would be to catch an airplane.  Needless to say, I don't do well with airplane early and avoid it as much as possible.

There wasn't one thing in particular that didn't go smoothly that morning, but I got to the course late, had to search for a bathroom and got a very brief warm-up for what I knew was going to be a fast, uphill start.  Saturday's health adventures had kept me from doing any warm-up riding, so that and Friday's planned day off meant that I hadn't turned a pedal since I broke my derailleur during Thursday's group ride. 

I made the most of my brief warm up and tried to relax as I lined up in the staging corral next to a particularly chatty French Canadian.  Vermonters are familiar with the Quebecois as they're frequent visitors to our state, especially during the summer.  In typical Frenglish my new friend was telling me in words and gestures about how he liked his older ti bike, how cool he though his new Easton cockpit was, that he was a new father and his wife and infant were on the sidelines--all within the three minutes as we counted down to our start time.  

The gun went off and I slotted into fifth position as we made our way up the first climb.  It was loose and steepish and I was being careful not to burn too many matches.  We made our way up the first section, over the short singletrack and back onto the gravel, all the while I was drifting farther back into the group. 

I was quickly noticing that I was climbing reasonably well but that I couldn't really pin it and that the lack of a decent warm-up coupled with the attack almonds meant that it wasn't going to get any better.  I fought on for a few more minutes, but as racers streamed by me it was becoming clear that I wasn't competing, I was in the way, so I exited the course and headed back to the car. 

Yes, that's a Gorillaz CD case in the door pocket.  


In the parking lot I changed back into my normal clothes and put the bike back into the trunk.  I was disappointed, but I knew that given what had happened leading up to the race I wasn't going to come away with a strong finish regardless.  I kicked the half-full Budweiser can that had been lurking near my car and tried to put it all out of my mind. 

The expo area was pretty quiet at 8:30 AM, but the Kenda guys were around and happy to talk about their tires.  At previous events Kenda has had a presence that was part trade show booth and part flea market with large bins of deeply discounted tires on offer.  This year was different, and although there were still some tires for sale, the overall presentation was much more polished and refined with only the new releases and best sellers on display.  I spent over an hour talking with Jake and Ben about what I'd been using this season and what they had planned for new releases.  Ben recognized the design of my Pro-35 shirt, and if I had one in his size in my bag I would have given it to him on the spot. 
 
Without spilling the beans, there's a 29er mud tire in the works in addition to an adaptation of Tinker Juarez's yet-to-be-released 24Seven and another John Tomac signature pattern.  The 29er mud tire definitely had my attention.  It's a variation of their Kommando tread and should weigh around 500 grams in 29 x 1.9 and should be available next spring.  A wider 29 x 2.2 version is also in the works.    In talking with these guys I got a chance to really geek out on tire specs in a way that I can with few others.  Casing shape, rubber compound, width and tread pattern were thrown around in reference to current and past tire designs. 

The Kenda konversation (sorry- couldn't resist) was the highlight of the event, and after I thanked the guys for their support I got in the car and headed home. 

Next up is the Darkhorse 40 on July 31.  At 40 miles it is a true endurance event and more in my wheelhouse.  I've raced at that venue before and know it will be fun, although if it's wet it can be very hard on the equipment.  Until then I'm going to control what I can control, eat right, train and sleep hard and work towards the best. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Time to Sack Up


It's been over a month since my last race, and I've decided to head to Windham this weekend.

My training and recovery have been going well...sort of.  My form has been good- I set a new PR up Bolton that was 20 seconds faster than by previous best, and I had the rear brake dragging the whole time.

So what's the problem?  In the meaningless midweek training races I haven't had a good day out in a month.  Part of that is by design to prepare for and recover from Pat's Peak, but some of that is attributed to weather and laziness.

Last week I crashed hard on a slick downhill corner in my warmup, and it shook my confidence enough for me to be completely skittish on all of the wet, grassy turns on the course...which is basically the whole course.  This week I did the App Gap/Bolton double on Monday and was still in recovering on Wednesday.  The weather also sucked, and I didn't get a good start or a good warmup, so when I got tailed off the group at the top of the first climb I decided to pull the plug.

Last night I went with the shop ride and set the pace on the climbs (I know, I never thought I'd say that either) but a mechanical problem forced me to walk out of the woods for the second ride in a row.  I never got to test myself, and my real goal was to rediscover my technical skills by following better riders.  

The hard part is not letting these things get to me when I know that I'm in good shape.  It's the mental game of riding confidently and smoothly, and getting back on the horse when you fall off.  Because you will fall off.

This weekend's event is a combination World Cup and citizens event held on the same course in Windham.  The non-UCI event is called "Race the World" and is part of the well-run Root 66 New England series.  Fortunately I don't have to race the world, just the rest of the dudes in the Mens 30-39 Cat 1 Masters field.  

Many times before I mentioned that I'm an endurance guy, and I haven't done a standard distance XC event in three years.  I really don't have any expectations beyond seeing how I can do with decent preparation, so
I'll take my decent from and questionable skills to the start line at 8 AM on Sunday.

As I'm getting ready I will remember what Myles Rockwell had to say about becoming World Champion:


“Let the auto pilot click on and let the red light flash, that is the only way to describe it. Grit your teeth and pin it."

Friday, July 1, 2011

Pavé

If you're a fan of the Spring Classics you may be familiar with the Pave blog run by former Mercury Directeur Sportif and Bicycling Magazine editor Whit Yost.  I've started contributing some posts about European Cycling and will be doing so periodically.

The cycling world in abuzz on the eve of the tour, and we'll be posting regular updates throughout the race.

Check it out at www.pavepavepave.com.