Doing it all the hard way...

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Race Report Woodland Park 2015

If you watch closely - you can see Coz putting a mouse down the shirt of a fellow racer

Like so many things in the life of a middle-aged man; my preparation for the final MFG race was a mixed bag.  I had a really good block of training followed by a week of business travel.  After that week of travel I felt pretty fresh so I opted to spend all of Saturday on a few home projects involving power tools just to ensure I would wake up on race day nearly crippled.

Fulfilling the prophecy, I woke up in pain. It took a mouthful of Aleve and a hot pack on my low back to convince myself I could stand upright. Before reality could overcome my powers of denial I got dressed and headed out for my third and final race of the season.  If I count the Fondos then my year had eight races, which goes at least a little way toward calling myself a bike racer. 

                                      The Silver Bullet earlier this season..
Rich had the tent up and he was ready race.  The sky was blue and in Seattle in the winter that means it was cold.  The race announcer summed it up well when he said over the loudspeaker he “would rather ride wearing a beanie than with fenders.”

I took a lap before the racing started and found some corners were slick.  I dropped some pressure in my non-UCI compliant 40mm wide tires.  As the course saw more and more action the slick spots dried out and when I took another lap just before my race the course was tacky and fast.

The course had some minor variations that I think resulted in the best race course flavor Woodland Park has ever seen.  The layout of the venue dictates that some of the classic features carry over from past years. Icons such as the run up, the gravel climb that is in fact neither steep nor long, the descent from the gravel hill that tests your brakes, and the slippery slightly downhill corner out past the tennis courts are the trademarks of this venue.

I cheered on Feral Dave and Richman Powerman in their race.  They were going fast.  Feral Dave was so strong he broke his chain.  What a stud! 

I maintained the theme of being semiserious and did a warm up focused more on increasing my body temperature than being race-ready.   When it was time I just rolled up and watched as Coz got his call up.  When the whistle blew Coz missed his clip-in and was slow to get going.  This was in contrast to last year where his start was superfast followed by an experiment to see how far you could slide on wet asphalt while wearing Lycra before slowing down.   The answer, if you fall going about twenty five miles an hour on wet, slick pavement, is pretty darn far.

Coz recovered but seemed in no hurry to start working his way up.  Before we even hit the first run up we were catching the stragglers from the group in front of us.  With the course spending so much time in the woods it would be hard to keep track of who was in my category and who wasn’t.    This course didn’t have the open cow pasture setting of some other venues.

I was moving okay, mixing it up with three Dyna guys whose bright pink kits made them easy to spot.  As we hit the finishing straight one of them slid out on the plywood ramp and I just managed to avoid riding over him.   On the next lap the plywood was gone and I didn’t see anyone else hit the pave’ there. 

                                           Richman Powerman pulling away !!
My fat tires were handling the corners well and my legs actually had some power on the rolling course.  I think my weekend of trail riding in the Methow a week prior was kicking in.  This was a power course and there were only a couple short spots where you could catch your breath, and even then, only for a micro-moment. 

As always, I did well on the run ups and longer climbs.  I would get passed in some of the tight turns and return the favor elsewhere on the course.  It was easy to get caught up in the turns and slow down. Catching and passing the riders at the back of the group ahead of us caused some mayhem.   You are riding twenty feet behind a guy in your group and he passes someone going into a corner and that person goes slowly through the corner so by the time you are clear to pass the gap to your guy has doubled.  This forces you to ride a tad more aggressively than you might prefer and to pass riders in less than ideal circumstances.

By the second lap I had found a good rhythm and our group was making our way well into the back of the racers who started a minute ahead of us.  These riders gave me targets to catch and pass.  It seemed that at some point on each lap one of the Dyna guys would pass me and I would keep him in my sights and pass him back.  Those guys were like a tag team.  I would pass one of them so they were all behind me only to have a different Dyna guy pass me the next time. 

As we were making our way past some riders from the race ahead of ours I called out, “passing on your left.”  The guy took it either as an insult, or an invitation to move left and cut me off.  I had speed and nowhere to go so I rode through a plastic pole leading with my left knee. In a second I was past him and I didn’t have course tape stuck to me so I just kept going.  I knew full well that when the day was done and the adrenaline had subsided that my knee would hurt but for now it was full speed ahead.

I kept plugging away and when I passed the ONE LAP to go sign I was once again behind one of those pesky pink-clad Dyna guys.   I tried to hang on his wheel with the intention of passing him later on the last lap.  I remembered that one of my lessons learned was to never delay passing on the last lap.  I was gassed so I chose to ignore that lesson. 

As we zigged and zagged through some spent racers from the group in front of us I got blocked a couple times and the gap grew.  Then when we were in the hundred acre wood in the heart of the course a second Dyna guy passed me.   Holy crap!

I stayed close to the second Dyna guy and as we approached the run up I made up a bit of ground and although I hoped to gain more on the run up and barrier plus run up - I only closed the gap a little.  After remounting I checked my heart rate and saw it was at 178.  I thought to myself, “178 is way less than 182, I’ve still got more!” 

I got on it and at the left turn that starts the gravel climb Dyna guy number two passed Dyna guy number one with some words of encouragement.  I was now only a couple bike lengths back and had enough in my legs to drill past them both on the climb.  I felt remarkably strong on the climbs this day.

Instead of easing up at the top of the hill I kept driving over and down and fought hard to stay off the brakes as long as I could while I picked up speed on the downhill.  I tried to take good lines through some tight turns and then let it fly on the loose downhill sweepers.   I got out of the saddle and drilled the final dirt section and when I spilled out onto the pavement for the final sprint I could sense someone was behind me and to my right.  I could hear them downshifting and digging hard.

I didn’t know if he was in my cat or not so I sprinted with everything I had left.  There wasn’t much left in my “everything” but it carried me to the line without getting passed.  Checking the results the next day it turns out it was some young feller from a different cat.  As I think about it, maybe it is even better to have out-sprinted a guy who doesn’t have grandkids.

                              Everything looks worse in black and white

                                                                                  -Paul Simon
Woodland Park is the race that brings out all the fast guys.  It also brings out the fast road guys who only do one or two cross races a year.  A good placing here has some meaning. I beat a handful of the guys who typically beat me so I was quite pleased with my result. 

Coz, on the other hand, WON the race!  By doing so he piped the guy in the series standings and finished second for 2015 after winning the series in 2014.   He didn’t want to show off, but he is all about the swag.

Although I sincerely enjoy all aspects and flavors of riding bikes, it is particularly satisfying to go into the dark of winter having pinned on a number and raced shoulder to shoulder with some similarly obsessed old guys. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Product Review Wahoo TICKR Heart Rate Monitor

Preamble Rant:
Like partners in crime along with the manufacturers of wiz bang technical gizmos we have set off down a path that has no return.  We now have the ability to track not only our distance and time, but our speed at every given point of the ride, the grade of the road, the elevation, our heart rate, power output and calories burned.  Not that long ago we didn’t have all of this available.  Now that we have become accustomed to having all of this data the accuracy of that data counts.  

When the technology was first available to the general public we could overlook the erroneous readings.  Riding at a steady pace and seeing your indicated speed jump up and down on your GPS device may have been okay five years ago but not today.  Seeing a false reading from a heart rate of two hundred and sixty beats per minute when you were going downhill was common.  You learned to apply a jaded eye so you could filter the data. This wasn’t a big deal because the data was data; we didn’t know how to use it yet.

Worse than the false high reading was wearing a HRM while doing zone five intervals and getting a bogus HR indication of one hundred eighteen beats per minute. You turn yourself inside out during a workout and your HRM lies to your Garmin head unit and it looks like you were licking stamps when your quads were on the verge of spontaneously combusting. What is the point of gathering all this data if the data is wrong? 

Early on the data was a novelty and provided more entertainment than true training information. With the explosion of data tracking technology we also got a wave of tools to analyze that data and turn it into real useful information. Our vocabulary grew to include Functional Threshold Power, Heart Rate Zones and Power Zones and Total Stress Scores and the like.  Once you start feeding your data to these monsters any false data is spit back in your face. 

Many of us had come to accept that the Garmin heart rate monitors (or at least the straps) would die well before the battery needed to be replaced.  These shortcomings were just what the landscape looked like and we accepted it because it seemed that such was the price we had to pay to get the “generally” accurate big data from our training.   “I buy a new strap every six months” a friend commented without a hint of dissatisfaction.

When my latest Garmin HRM went over to the dark side and followed the repeated pattern of going from 3% false readings to 80% false readings I wondered if there was a viable alternative.   I had tried the hack job suggested by Cycling Tech Zen-Master DC Rainmaker of modifying a Polar strap and using it with a Garmin chest unit.  That combo worked much longer than what I had come to think of as the disposable “premium” straps from Garmin. After a year of battle even this configuration had met its demise.

I heard about the Wahoo Fitness TICKR and it sounded promising.  I did some research and decided to give it a try.

This is where I would normally describe how it looks and feels and all that.  It is a HRM and if you have one this one will be pretty much just like it.  A few more bells and whistles but those aren’t what set this apart.

First off, at sixty bucks the TICKR is cheaper than the Garmin Premium HRM.  There are other models from Wahoo with more features that are more expensive, but this one does everything I need and more.

Second it works with ANT+ and Bluetooth. This seems like a nice to have until you realize not only could you record a ride on STRAVA using your smartphone even if you left your Garmin head unit at home.  This also means you can record your heart rate on a run using the strap and your smartphone.  

Anyone who has either fired up their Garmin only to find the battery is dead or who has discovered the low battery warning on their Garmin head unit really means “I’m shutting down in five more minutes – You’re screwed” will appreciate that with this HRM you can still record the rest of your ride using your smartphone.

The feature that seals the deal is that the HRM data is 100% accurate.  No more skewed graph because of a false high or fifteen minutes of zero reading.  If you’re going to bother to track your data you might as well use it and you can’t really use it when it is wrong.  Simply put if it isn’t accurate then it is bad data.  Bad data is worse than no data.

Matching the TICKR to your Garmin and various Smartphone Apps is as easy as pie. Once you’ve done this put it on and go.  In addition to my Garmin I’ve paired it to the STRAVA app on my phone as well as an app called MotionX-GPS.  If I am wearing the HRM and I turn on any of these apps they find the unit and record my heart rate with no recurring action required on my part. Slick!

The two compelling reasons to get this are if your current HRM dies or if you need something that is both ANT+ (like Garmin) and Bluetooth (like your phone) compatible.  If you can tick either of these boxes this is clearly your best option.

Five of five Evos

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tubeless lessons learned so far

                                      At the food stop on the Ellensburg Fondo
Cycling is steeped in both tradition and mystery.  We love innovation yet we resist change. We signal other riders with an elbow flick. What is an elbow flick you ask?  I won’t tell you.  Such is cycling.

Into this world that operates on tribal knowledge and secret handshakes enters the tubeless tire. It is an awesome technology that is great as is with even more future potential.  Good luck finding any significant collection of wisdom on the subject.  Discussion threads must be taken with a degree of caution.  Reviewers can be aloof either because they want to keep some secrets to themselves or because they don’t want to expose their lack of knowledge. 

Several of our band of merry men have become early adopters of the technology.  Perhaps in violation of a secret code we have shared our successes and failures with each other.  Thus amongst ourselves we have amassed a bit of collective knowledge.  

Our body of experience includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • I’ve seen McWoodie pry a chunk of glass out of his tire with a 3mm Allen wrench then spin the tire to get it to seal and ride away.
  • I pulled a roofing staple out of my tire and rode off with almost no loss of pressure.
  • I’ve pulled off a tubeless tire (to refresh sealant) and noticed several tiny cuts that had sealed without me even knowing. 
  • An unnamed brother had a tire (that turned out not to be a tubeless tire) blow off the rim when he was inflating it showering both he and his garage with sealant.
  • El Chefe’ spent a weekend riding harsh gravel on tubeless 28mm wide Sectours when 35mm Ravens or 38mm Triggers or even 40mm Nano’s were far more appropriate.  Mr. T and I kept waiting for the attack of the flats.   It was as if he had a guardian angel.
  • Feral Dave has pulled a nail out of his tire rotated it so the leak was at the bottom, held it for thirty seconds and then rode on without any further thought. 
  • I have run my gravel bike tubeless from the start and have had only one flat in over a year of hard riding.  Pretty much too good to be true but also not that unusual for Tubeless.

We have eight or so guys riding Tubeless on multiple bikes for the past one to four years.  Let’s go out on a mathematical limb and call it about twenty years of combined Tubeless experience.

In no particular order here are the tips, tricks and lessons we have learned:

  1. Make sure you replace the sealant every four to six months.    This advice isn’t new but unlike “Wash, rinse and repeat” you should follow this suggestion.  
  2. There are two main schools of thought on sealant replacement:   The first is to not break the bead seal.   Remove the valve core and get out what you can (or not – using any method you care to try) and just add more sealant.  The second method is to remove the tire and clean the rim bead and clean the bead of the tire BUT NOT THE INSIDE OF THE TIRE WHERE THE SEALANT HAS SEALED HOLES.  Then remount like it is a new tire. Finally the hybrid is to remove only one side leaving the other bead sealed.  Clean the exposed bead and rim and pour the sealant right into the tire and put the bead back in place and re-inflate.
  3. Any time you have the inside of the rim and valve exposed clean out the inside of the valve to get out any accumulated sealant.   I suggest leaving the valve in the rim and removing the core and using a paper clip to fish out any sealant from the rim side.
  4. Sidewalls are the Achilles heel of tubeless.  A gash in the sidewall is the end of a tubeless tire.  You may be able to use the tire later with a tube but sidewall cuts are never going to seal.  If you want to avoid this then run higher pressure.  If the ride de jour will be on some rough terrain go ahead and increase your pressure.  
  5. CO2 is an expensive way to mount a tubeless tire.  Think of it as a last resort.  "I'm miles from an air compressor and if this doesn't work I'm taking up jogging." Often it doesn't have enough volume to seat the bead. Also the CO2 inhibits the sealant from doing its job. Adjust your plans accordingly.
  6. I’ve become a fan of the hack inflator.   Here is the link.   In the next couple years I am sure there will be retail products that are reasonably priced that don’t inspire you to don bomb squad attire prior to use.  Until then I’ll just keep wrapping my inflator with more duct tape and wearing my ski goggles.
  7. If ever you can’t get the tire bead to seal try removing the valve core so you can get more air in faster.  This is especially true of valves that may have accumulated some sealant in them thus restricting the airflow.
  8. Carry a boot along with your spare tube (or two) in case you get a sidewall cut.   If you don’t know what a boot is then ask someone you trust.
  9. If a new tire is proving difficult to mount the soapy water thing works. 
  10. Some rim and tire combinations work better than others.  Before you assume you are a stud consider that you may have just been lucky.   The inverse is also true.
  11. Several rims have a deeper channel in the middle. This is the lifesaver because it gives the bead a place to go so when you are prying off the bead on the opposite side you can actually do it.  One of our brothers has a mason jar full of busted tire levers from trying to pry off a tire without pinching the bead down into the channel when fixing a flat. 
  12. Since Fat Tire bikes have come into existence after the popularization of tubeless most of the rims and tires have been designed with tubeless in mind.   My limited experience has been that getting those to seal is stupid easy.  
  13. The weak link in the fat bike tubeless chain sidewall seal when riding on dirt.  All that rubber and good disc brakes can bring a lot of mass to a rapid stop.  With such low pressure the strain of that hard stop stresses the bead and rim seal because the tire (in contact with the ground) wants to keep going and the rim (in contact with the disc brake) wants to stop.  If the seal breaks free you will lose a bit of air but it will generally re-seal.  Adding a bit more air in these situations is prudent. 
  14. Folks who are much smarter than me tell me they can patch a sidewall and reuse the tire tubeless.  I'm not sure if I believe them........
  15. Tubeless tires are great until they aren’t.  If you can’t get a leak to reseal right away, just accept it and put in a tube. Resign yourself to the fact that the tire change isn’t going to be quick, clean or easy. 
  16. Limping home is more of an option.  Sometimes you can’t get a hole to seal and hold the pressure you want to ride.  You may find you can’t get your tire to seal and hold thirty psi (or eighty five psi on  road tire) but it will hold twenty (or forty on a road tire) letting you ride home and avoid the hassle of putting in a tube.The good news is often at home you can let the sealant cure and the next day you can ride at full pressure. 
  17. Remember the way to get a hole to seal is to find the hole, clear out anything that is sticking in it like a thorn or nail or glass or stale.  Then rotate the hole to the bottom and let the sealant accumulate over the hole and seal it.  Pause for a minute in this mode.  That minute may seem like a long time, since you are kind of doing nothing but it goes by much faster than the ten minutes to put in a tube.  If you need more air keep the hole at the bottom and put in more air.
  18. How do you know you have a flat ?  Aside from the tire going flat you may see or hear something slapping the frame or fork or see or feel sealant spewing out of a hole. 
  19. When repairing a flat during a ride just break one bead's seal. Leave the other in place, don't mess around with the sealant. Just take out the valve, put in the tube, place the boot if necessary, reinstall the bead and inflate the tire. Your hands will not get too dirty and most of the sealant will stay in the tire.
  20. Using tape to cover (aluminum) rims even if they have no spoke holes as a protection against corrosion. Some sealants let some aluminum rim alloys corrode. I have already seen many destroyed rims. So make sure the tape covers every part of the rim where sealant might otherwise touch the rim during use. 
  21. Nothing else is an air compressor.  Air compressors are awesome.  
  22. The Bontrager Flash isn't an air compressor, but it is pretty handy
  23. Because of tolerance issues some manufacturers (and I’m making eye contact with Hutchinson as I say this) have purposely designed their products on the extreme end of the tolerances.  Stan’s seems to make their rims a tad bigger and Hutchinson seems to make their tire beads a bit tighter.  The resulting wresting match is predictable.  Hard to install and remove, but solid once in place.  Schwalbe, Kenda and Clement (who doesn’t really claim tubeless compatibility) fit looser. 
  24. Converting a clincher rim to tubeless is okay if it is the right rim.  DT Swiss rims work well as tubeless rims.  Mavic Open Pros do not make good tubeless rims.  A rim designed to be tubeless is superior.
  25. More air works better.   A tubeless road tire (25-28mm) has a small volume but the pressure is high at 65-95 psi.  A tubeless mountain bike tire (2.0”+) has more volume so you run it at 20-30 psi.   A fat bike tire has huge volume thus it can be run at comically low pressure (3-9 psi) with great results.  A gravel or cross tire features the dangerous combination of small volume (32-38mm) and low pressure.    More volume = better tubeless performance and for 700c rims that mean wider tires. 
  26. Get a handheld pressure gauge and use it.  Other people's pumps read very different from your regular pump and even 5 psi can make huge difference on a mountain bike or gravel bike. 
  27. Everyone I know that is riding gravel keeps going wider and wider each time they replace their tires.   As a group we’ve gone from 32 to 34/35 to 38 and some of us are even running 40’s.  Lower pressure, more traction and fewer flats all sound good to me.
  28. Stan’s sealant works.  Orange Seal works too.  Until I hear of something that is better these I have no reason to look any further.  Orange Seal is orange so it gets my nod.
  29. You have a lot of options when it comes to rim tape.  Stan’s rim tape is actually a commercially available packing tape that you can find on eBay and Amazon but you need to buy a dozen rolls. For my fat bike tubeless conversion I used 75mm wide Gorilla Tape and it worked just fine.  El Chefe’ likes Orange Seal tape.  It all seems to work.
  30. Everything I’ve read says the Stan’s valves are the best.  I have used them exclusively and have never had a valve problem. You may need to get creative when you install a tubeless valve on a single wall fat bike rim but it seems that any of an assortment of creative options works. 
  31. Narrow road rims may present a challenge with valve stem taking up too much real estate inside preventing the tire bead from seating on the rim.  You can file down what will be the outside of the valve stem rubber before inserting it making the rubber more of a rectangle as opposed to a circle. 
  32. When dismounting a tire from the rim always put in the (two) tire levers next to the valve. After you have put the whole bead into the center of the rim. NEVER put a tire lever close to a spoke hole but always in between spoke holes as you might otherwise damage the tubeless tape.
  33. ADVANCED CLASS - RARELY something is defective.  A rim can be defective as can a particular tire. If a tire comes off the rim either in the garage or when riding here is the course of action from the Grand Dragon of Bicycle Maintenance:
    -For a thorough safety check, don proper safety attire (goggles, earplugs) and over inflate your tire.  If your system (wheel plus tire) cannot handle an extra 25-50% load, it’s probably not safe enough to ride.  And if your sidewalls may be worn and weak, this is a good way to find out

    -To confirm the tire is truly mounted and sealed well, whenever possible let your newly installed tire sit overnight.  Check for any loss of air pressure before going for the first ride.

If I have scared you off then I have failed.  My objective was to capture and share our combined learning for your benefit.   If you have been on the fence about going Tubeless I would encourage you to do it.  It is a bit of a leap of faith because you will never know how many flats you don’t get. 

In my experience I have never had a road flat when riding tubeless tires.  That says something doesn't it?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back on the chain gang

In 2015 my focus was Gravel Fondos and the Winthrop Fondo was the Hors Categorie of Gravel Fondos.  It was a great ride and I am so glad I was able to share it with my badass brothers. 

With that now in my rearview mirror my attention has turned once again to Cyclocross.  Having completed two races of absolute non-distinction my long-dormant competitive drive has once again asserted itself.

Not being a slave to the call up this year I can pick and choose my races and thus I have carved out a short block of time to get in some hard training in hopes of improving upon my heretofore mediocre placing.  This scoop of motivation helps me carry some momentum and energy into my training regime.  

My commute miles all too often drift into the no-man’s land of wandering between zone two and three.  Your clothes get dirty and you burn calories but you don’t get any faster.  Although it is too late in the season for my efforts to really move the needle; I am taking advantage of this short term objective to get in some hard workouts that I do believe will benefit me in the long run. 
My build up for the final Fondo involved saddle time, big hills and losing weight. Aside from a smattering of ten to twenty minute intervals at threshold I was intensity free.  Thus when I asked my legs for some explosive power in my first cross race I got nothing but a blank stare.

My ability to throw in some bursts of speed during my race improved this week but my sustained power is far from where I would like it.  Like so many things the answer is not complex, it just isn’t easy.

The mornings now are dark from my garage door to the parking garage at work.  Thankfully the morning temperatures are still very mild. From a training perspective, weather is not a limiting factor. 

My Commutervals started off with a proper high cadence/low power warm up.   Then 40 minutes of tempo work targeting a heart rate in zone four.  The result of this is a faster than usual commute.  You aren’t blown but you are working. Then I did a block and three all out intervals with recovery spinning in between. After the final interval instead of dropping back to recovery spinning you only drop from zone five to zone four and you hold that. If you guessed that this hurts you would be correct.  After ten minutes of this I finish with ten minutes of cool down spinning as I arrive at my workplace. 

After a shower and coffee I look pretty normal to the untrained eye.  I have a meeting that requires a jaunt up two flights of stairs. My legs complain a bit confirming my workout has done its requisite damage.  I smile when I sit down.  Mission accomplished; at least for today.

Monday, October 19, 2015

No Coffee, few Lies #146 Race Report Magnuson and Sprinker CX

                   My cornering is so clean I give it the white glove treatment....

After channeling my inner Kam Chancellor I held out on the early season races.  After my disappointing cross season in 2014 I wasn’t sure I would even race this year. I wasn’t sure I would race ever. Sometimes I surprise myself.

My plan had been to leverage my Fondo training base with some sharpening intervals starting in August and enter the Cyclocross season at full speed.  As often happens; distractions increased and motivation waivered with the result being an ill prepared Davo.  I missed a couple races and was wondering if I would partake or even spectate.

While our cycling team blurs the line between a team of bike racers and a gentleman’s club, our history is rooted in the soggy early morning Cyclocross races.  Thus I felt a hint of nostalgia when I signed up for my first race of the season.  The wizard of Coz and The Aussie Dog were racing as well and I enjoyed the comradery as we warmed up for the race.

I’ve had call ups for the last several years so starting at the back afforded me a rare opportunity to skip out on any pressure to start fast.  When the whistle blew we got rolling and it was almost like I was sucked along by a vacuum.  I moved up into the middle of the pack and settled in. 

Despite overnight rain the course was tacky and the fall weather had not taken hold.   A warm and dry race felt okay for the first foray of the season.

My HR quickly climbed to zone five and stayed there the entire race.  It felt good to be racing again. My training base was revealed by my lap times varying less than twelve seconds for each of the five laps.  My lack of intervals was revealed as well when I was passed on the last lap and was unable to respond.

I was beaten by a guy who has never beaten me before unless he was aided by a mechanical.   Hello motivation.

After the race I congratulated my teammates and cooled down.  I changed and made the long drive home.  I had not done well but I had raced.  I had pinned on a number and fought the battle. Good enough.

Upon reflection I was glad I raced.  My team brothers may (or may not) be gentlemen but first and foremost we are racers.  Some are retired from racing but we are all racers at heart and that is our identity.  

A week later a Methow visit fell through so I signed up for another hour of suffering. 

On race day the promised rain came early and often and I was excited to slip and slide around.   I arrived and was proud to see Rich had the tent up with a wind trainer in place for his warm up.  What a stud. 

                                                      Racer Rich
After a couple years of leading the tent brigade I have totally shirked this year and kudos to Rich who jumped in without missing a beat.  I have really enjoyed seeing his cycling progress over the past few seasons. 

The silver bullet was racing as well.
                                  And then it happened..................
                                           Roundness is overrated..
El Chefe had a spectacular crash in the race that preceded mine.  His wheel was taco shaped and he had ghastly scrapes accompanied by bruises that would fully blossom overnight.  It was clear he had battled the laws of physics and lost.  He passed our team’s concussion protocol but only because the questions are multiple choice and Big John was prompting him with the correct answers.

  On a rainy day, Aaron couldn't resist the allure of the mud...........
After seeing the carnage from his crash I reaffirmed by goal for the day of keeping the rubber side down. That was a good goal and would remain my sole objective until the racing got going.
                            The Wizard of Coz doing his magic
The rain volume went up and down and up again as race time approached.  The course included some slight variations on years past. The course was a series of intervals with much less flow than other venues.  With only two exceptions, you were either braking going into a corner or accelerating out of a corner for the entire course. 

                                                       Exiting Randy's Crack....
Despite a week of business travel- my legs did have more punch than last week.  Though my performance was far from stellar, I beat some guys who beat me last week.  “Get back behind me where you belong.”

                                          Those black jerseys are FAST !
                                                     Whiplaesch blowing past
When I crossed the line I was baked. Running with the metaphor I was soaked by the rain, breaded with mud and deep fried by a hundred accelerations.   I was tired. It was a small consolation to know my maximum heart rate is still what it was a dozen years ago.

The race following mine featured teammates, friends and former rivals.  I cheered them all as my body returned to room temperature.. 

                                   The brown still demands respect as well
It has been over a year since I finished on the podium.  I’m not that fast this year.  I am, however, still a racer.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Winthrop Fondo 2015 Ride Report – THAT left a mark

                                                    Part of the "new" course

                                                      Here is the video 

For 2015 Jake moved the Winthrop Fondo from June to September.   Wildfires mandated a re-route as well so there was more than a few unknowns to deal with on this ride.  Some of my brethren and I had ridden the first part of the Fondo course back in the beginning of September and unbeknownst to us, it was also a preview of the last twenty miles as well.

It may be presumptuous of me to claim this as my “home” Fondo but I ride these roads a whole lot for someone who works west of the Cascade Crest.  I was familiar with the route and had been looking forward to this all year.  I was glad to host a seven of my teammates at our place for the weekend of the Fondo.

I arrived a day early and tried to keep Friday as low key as possible. I behaved as if I could somehow store my strength for use during the Fondo.  Logic says otherwise, but logic has little to do with a ride that covers ninety miles and climbs what I thought would be eleven thousand feet on gravel roads. 

Many of our clan had skipped the Ellensburg Fondo in June because they were still staggering from the slaughter that was the Leavenworth Fondo at the end of May.   The mind of a middle aged man can do some amazing things one of which is forgetting the cramp-a-thon of the Swakane Canyon climb.  Embracing our powers of denial we were ready to submit to the will of Jake once again.

Four of us had promised to ride gentleman style and “pace” ourselves for the Winthrop Fondo. I was anxious to see if this materialized or if some would be swept up in the excitement and attack either on the road out of town or on the five thousand foot climb that followed. 

                                               Pre-Fondo fiddling
Following a breakfast of carbs and eggs we made the chilly ride to the start via local trails.  Soon we were underway.  My stories from last year about seeing riders go out hard only to blow up had found traction with our group.  I declared a grupetto while we were still neutral.  We were riding in formation and I felt pretty comfortable with our patience.  I suggested the name, “The Peloton of Discretion.”

All too soon the climbing started and we settled in.  When the pave’ gave way we stayed in a group as the sandy gravel crunched under our wheels.    As predicted we passed riders who had succumbed to the early excitement. 

At the first aid station we all remarked and how good we felt.  We didn’t rush as we filled bottles and stretched for a couple minutes before setting off on the steeps of Forest Service Road 39.  This part of the course was very Swakane-like and I was grateful it came early in the ride.  Soon we were atop the first climb 6,600 feet above sea level.   The wind was blowing and those who had shed layers put them back on for the descent.

                                 At the first aid station......chilly
One of the phrases we tossed around was that it was only uphill until you reached the downhill and vice versa.  There was no flat on this course, only up or down.

On the descent El Chef flatted and we didn’t see it in real time.  When we noticed there were only three of us Big John went back up to check while The Wizard of Coz and I tried to figure out how long it would take for hypothermia to set in.  

This is a great part of the course. It is remote and as WhipLaesch says, “it is a place where a small issue can become a big problem.”  After less than ten minutes Coz and I were cold and we started riding backwards toward El Chefe and John not so much out of concern but to try and get warm again.

Soon we saw two orange helmets heading our way and once again we were in formation.  The next climb topped out just over 7,000 feet and the third one was close. 

I found that I had a repeat of a situation that happened a few weeks ago where I was able to climb without issue but the extended descents hovering just over the saddle caused aductor cramping as if I were doing wall sits or similar torture.  I would feel okay on the descent but once the climbing resumed I’d cramp instantly.  I tried to dial it back and that seemed to work.   If the cramping continued it would be a long day. Who was I kidding? Ninety miles of gravel is always a long day.

I could feel the thin air and was looking forward to more oxygen and warmth at Conconully.

After topping out on the third and final pre-Conconully climb we were in good spirits though I felt there might still be one stinger lurking.  Sure enough we rounded a left hand corner and there was a sixteen percent grade kicking us in the face.  Panicked downshifting took place and we were wrestling our machines up a loose and rocky sick joke. This narrow “road” would turn me back if I were driving a jeep.  I remembered losing traction on this last year during the Fondo and having to walk to the top because it was too steep to get going. The drop off left of the road was intimidating.  I made it to the top without unclipping.

I felt relief and soon we were on the downhill roller coaster that leads to Conconully.  Although the air was getting warmer the wind chill from going thirty miles an hour kept us cool enough.

At the food stop we let the young ladies fill our bottles as we ate and stretched.   I changed batteries in the GoPro and chomped some calories and swallowed electrolytes. 

The day was feeling warm and we debated what clothing to keep and what to leave behind for transport to the finish.  Ultimately I stuffed my arm warmers, wind vest and beanie into my jersey pockets and only left my full fingered gloves. 

The remaining climb would be a serious undertaking with fresh legs. NOBODY had fresh legs. With way over two thousand meters of climbing in my legs I started off very measured.  We stayed in a group until we hit the gravel and then began to string out. 

I felt a cramp coming on and stopped and just stood for thirty seconds stretching my legs.  I remounted and climbed some more.  I was slowing down and found myself in a strange spot.  My cramping kept me from going as hard as I wanted.  The level of effort I could maintain wasn’t generating as much heat as a zone three or four effort.  This could be a problem…….

I stopped to stretch and I put on my sleeves.  After climbing another hundred meters (vertical) I stopped and put on my wind vest.   After another hundred meters of vertical I was out of water.  The beanie came on another hundred meters higher.  

The climb was exposed and the mountains were beautiful. The golden foliage that lined the road was motivating.  I could see thirty miles to the south and fifty miles east.  The sky was blue with while clouds that had silver edges.  I spotted El Chefe on the road ahead and he was cramping as well.  This climb was taking its toll.

The air was cold and fresh. The views were worthy of the effort I had expended.  My legs ached but I’m not sure I should have expected anything else.  I had eaten and hydrated well.  My equipment was working.  For all of the preparation and execution this ride is just plain hard.  I was hurting and I was okay with that.

                            The ride was so tough, I even turned black and white.....
Near the top of the final climb Coz was shooting video as I rode past head gritting my teeth Rapha-style.  Over the top we began the surprisingly smooth descent. The kilometers ticked past and before long all four of us were at the final aid station.  With full bottles and smelling the barn we set off for the final nineteen miles.  

We dropped three thousand feet in twelve miles and my legs were thrilled when we hit the pavement and I could descend with my tired ass in the saddle.   I used my local knowledge and took the sprint to the town limit sign.  We crossed the line four across as El Jefe’ cheered us on. 

We collected our patches and rode back to the barn (really we rode to the barn) where we grabbed a slice of pizza and collected our drop bags. 

I thought the new course was much better than the old one. Move views and the final climb was steady and had good surface.  I hope this is the course henceforth and forever.

Back at the cabin the full impact of the day’s journey was manifest.  Coz was prone and stayed that way. Complete sentences from any of us were rare. El Chefe’ somehow managed to whip out a recovery meal of barbequed steaks, potatoes, grilled onions and peppers and a salad that would have impressed the fairer gender.  We ate our fill in near silence.  The quiet spoke both to the quality of the meal and the physical trauma of the day. 

For the metrically inclined I collected 158kilometers and 3,692 meters of climbing. That is ninety eight miles and twelve thousand feet of climbing in old money. 

We went on a short walk to enjoy the full moon and provide a diversion so we didn’t go to bed before nine o’clock.  We went to bed shortly after. We slept. Oh yeah, we slept.

                           The next night I watched the eclipse from the cabin...

Friday, September 11, 2015

Sunscreen and snow tires

As it happened a few of the men who wear the orange were in the Methow this past weekend.  Family obligations dictated an early departure.  We gathered at Rocking Horse for a pre ride coffee.  The black beverage provided warmth and helped improve our motivation. 
As we rolled out the grey skies were spewing a few raindrops to test our resolve.  We continued undaunted up the Chewuch. Our plan was to do the first hill of the Winthrop Fondo.  Before you make a serious error in judgment you should be aware the first climb goes up 5,000 feet.  For the avoidance of doubt, we start in town at 1,800 feet and climb up Forest Service Road 37 then Forest Service Road 39 until we reach the pass at 6,800 feet. 

Our plan was to get to the pass, ride down the other side a few hundred feet and turn around.

That was our plan.

As we made our way up the paved road we spotted a stray white calve. After turning onto FS37 the quality of the pavement quickly dropped just as the elevation quickly grew.  The road meanders at a steady grade in a deep valley.  We were enjoying the conversation as well as the views. 

The rain had stopped and we paused to stuff vests into our jersey pockets and drink for a moment before resuming our ascent.  

                                                                   Naw ???
As we climbed the quality of the road continued to decline.  Five kilometers back there had been cracks in the pavement and now there were potholes that grew larger the more we climbed.  We were forced to go single file to avoid the hole in the tarmac.

Finally we crossed the bridge that I knew was the end of the pavement.  The surface was loose, sandy and had washboard the full width of the road.  The sand diminished but the road remained loose and rocky.  The washboard was relentless. I wished I was wearing bibs with a thicker chamois.  Note to self for the Fondo: Wear Pactimo bibs. 

I love this shot.  Prepped for war.  
                            Rapha Lightweight jersey and Pactimo Raptor bibs
WhipLaesch and Einmotron slowly gapped El Chefe and me.  This was expected and didn’t create an emotion.  Soon El Chefe and I were grinding away.  My heart rate and cadence were trending in opposite directions.

From bottom to top the climb take an hour and a half.  It isn’t possible to ride up this easy. 

I was deep in the cave as was El Chefe.  We had been silent for ten minutes. The only sound our labored breathing and the constant crunch of gravel under our tires.

“You want the good news first, or the bad news?” I grunted. 
“Bad News,” El Chefe responded breathlessly.
“It doesn’t let up at all the rest of the way.  In fact, it gets steeper at the top.”
“Thanks” He said after a pause.  Talking used valuable oxygen.
“The good news is you don’t have to waste your breath asking if there is any good news.”

I would like to think he smiled but I didn’t have the energy to look over.

We reached the junction of NF37 and NF39 and stopped for a moment and drank and repacked the layers we had pulled off.  NF39 veers left and is markedly steeper than continuing on NF37.  As we started it was kind of like heading out into the rain where you take a deep breath and mutter something like, “here we go.” 

The road is noticeably steeper and looser.  There are also some humps that require bike wrestling. I checked any my cadence was below fifty.  I had been in my lowest gear for an hour. This was hard.  This is, however, why we came.

After a couple twists and turns (all uphill) we came to what I call elephant hill.  Although you eat the elephant one bite at a time if you see the whole elephant all at once it is intimidating.  This is a climb you see for a good bit and it looks like it goes on forever.  I recall seeing riders at the Fondo last year just get off and walk when they saw the climb. 

Photo from 2014 Fondo

After reaching the top of elephant hill the road, of course, just keeps climbing.  Five minutes later we emerged from the trees and I could see the road carved into the mountain in front of us. 

“See that road cut up and to the right?” I asked El Chefe.
“Yeah” he answered hopefully.
“See the one to the right and above that?”
“Yeah,” his voice cracked.
“I think that is the top for today.”

Without a word we chugged uphill.  I remembered the grade near the top was around twenty percent.  I was saving myself and El Chefe pulled ahead.  After the turn at the first road cut the top was visible. Mercifully the road dropped a few meters as we gathered our courage for the final meters.

With profanity oozing from our legs we battled up the final incline.  A final kick up in grade was augmented by loose gravel so one had to get some speed to avoid spinning out.  We topped out and slumped over the bars. 

On the exposed ridge the wind blew cold.  The dark clouds were again spewing but now it was snowflakes that dusted our helmets.  Quickly we pulled out all the clothing we had and put everything back on. Vests, sleeves, caps and long gloves were all donned in great haste.  I checked the Garmin.  We were UP there......

I would have loved to have spent a few minutes soaking in sunshine and the accomplishment of the ascent.  The sun was hiding and the cold wind cut us down. We turned and headed down.  
The road had been steep going up and it was steep going down.  The washboard was wicked and kept us out of the saddle.  Hovering over the saddle for ten, then twenty then thirty minutes caused my aductors to cramp.  Kind of wild to get  cramp on a downhill.
Down, down, down we went.  Finally it started to get warm.  Well, it stopped being cold.  El Chefe removed his sleeves and vest.  I pulled off my vest but I wasn't ready to claim warmth. 

Before long we were back at the cabin and getting ready to take Lily out for a tour of the Sun Mountain trails.  We were tired and needed a pick me up.  We thought about EPO.

We decided we would stick with burritos................

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Let’s get shallow

Summer is dead.  July and August are gone. Fall is upon us.  Don’t waste your time looking back. Tis the season of football, flannel, embrocation and shoe covers.

At least for now I will refrain from sharing my overly cerebral epistles regarding family, humanity, politics and the environment.  I shall, at least for now, return to the trivial bullshit of training stories, ride reports and equipment reviews.  

Some exciting times at the office (and when was the last time I said that?) dictated that my bike commute be on Thursday this week. 

I pulled my hamstring ten days ago and have been taking it uncomfortably easy since then.  I didn’t plan to push it on my bike commute, but I figured I wouldn’t be able to help myself and would, one way or another, get a good idea of the status of my hamstring.

El Jefe’ had called a last minute cross practice this past Sunday. The rain was heavy and ironically it made our spirits light.   I took it easy on my hamstring. It was tender and I treated it as such thus I didn’t have any issues.  I gave it some more rest this week.

The alarm called my bluff and it was time to ride or hide.  I checked the outside temperature. Fifty one degrees just as expected.  It was dark and wet outside. I was excited to ride.

After finding my weather appropriate clothing and getting my electronics engaged I got underway.  For as free spirited as riding a bike should be- when you complicate it with four lights, a heart rate monitor, a GPS device and a speed and cadence sensor not to mention the phone in your handlebar bag; any argument about the simplicity of riding a bike gets complicated.

Soon I was pedaling along in the darkness. The smell of wet pavement and the twinkling of the stars made me smile.  The streets were deserted.  No complaints from my hamstring. Yet.

On a short rise I got out of the saddle and my chain seemed to skip for a second.  As I kept going, the skipping got worse.  Using my shifters I worked the chain back and forth on the rear cassette trying to find a happy spot.  The clunking would stop for a bit only to return a couple minutes later.

Finally I stopped and tried to figure out what was wrong. I wiggled the cassette. It was loose.  With uncharacteristic speed I made the correct decision. I pointed my bike back toward home and limped back.  I arrived and put the bike in the garage.  I managed to resist the strong temptation to pull off the wheel and determine what was wrong.  

After getting home and pulling everything apart I would say my freehub is shredded. When aluminum and steel fight, steel wins. Actually steel doesn't really win, but aluminum finishes last.  There were no pictures on the web that compared to how torn up my freehub is right now.

I got cleaned up and drove into work. I was bummed I wasn’t able to get in a full commute.  I was happy my hammy seems to be either recovered or at least on the path.  


Friday, August 28, 2015

August is a warning

July is the definition of summer.  The nights are warm and the days are hot.  Sunshine starts early and stays late.  The last of the green grass dries and the hills turn golden.  Long pants and long sleeves only come out for work. The trails are dusty and my post ride laundry pile is about the size of a grapefruit.  I keep track of where the sunscreen is.

                                             testosterone ?
For dedicated cyclists we get to drink in the Tour de France while typically enjoying the fitness gained by our winter and spring riding.  We fly up hills that were a slog in March.  We pick up STRAVA PR’s without trying.  “What do I wear for my ride?” is a question of style instead of dressing to minimize discomfort.
August takes the baton from July and for a few days there is no change.  Then all at once you realize things are happening.  People start talking about Football.  If you cycle then you know August is a time of panic.  For those who race cyclocross those races start in September.  On plan or not, your training increases in intensity in August. For those who don’t ride in winter the “Now or Never” panic sets in.  Early risers note the sun is sleeping in later this time of year. At higher elevations the longer nights result in cooler morning temperatures.  Where is my long sleeve shirt?
 Summer is far from over but it no longer feels like it will last forever. The summer bucket list gets prioritized as you concede that you won’t be able to do it all.  When you come across your winter riding jacket you almost look forward to some rain. Soon the mud will be flying the sweet smell of embrocation will be part of the pre-ride ritual.  Times they are a changing.

Kids aren’t immune from the panic and are either anxious or dreading a return to the classroom.

Once we become reconciled with the thought of summer coming to an end we cannot help but look forward.  The leaves will turn bright colors and the air will be crisp.  The trails will get tacky and fast.  Cyclocross gets going in a big way and with it the unique bond shared by all those who battle in the mud.  We no longer have to endure the latest “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” chapter in the season long slaughter being endured by the hapless 2015 Seattle Mariners and their broken-hearted fans.

The Methow cools down.
The fires will burn out.
Hottie will heal up and get to ride again.

Snow will fall and we will play.

I don’t know who was on the committee that decided we would have seasons but I appreciate the thought they put into it.