Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Random thoughts on a Wednesday

So the weekend was nice. Short but hard/steady ride Saturday, and a longer, not really intended to be as hard as it turned out to be but glad it was in the end ride on Sunday. Left the legs feeling a little wasted Sunday night.

I plan to do the State Road Race Championship held on Fort Hood weekend after this one upcoming. It is a somewhat hillier course than that of typical Texas courses, at least in my very limited TX racing experience to date. Or so I hope. Flat and fast is not so much my forte. Long day with lots of climbing is more my cup of tea.

"Training" for it is a little more difficult as there is not much to offer locally in excess of 0.5 mile intensity is the other way to tackle this. That means long periods at high heart rates. Not exactly riding for the shear joy of it. It is the race that will hopefully be fun. It is certainly a great feeling when you have the ability to stay with the lead group when the selection is made, and not feel like you are hanging on for dear life, which is how the average criterium makes me feel.
So it will be interesting to see how things unfold.

Sunday was warmer than it seems to have been lately, and a steady and sturdy southerly wind (what would Texas be without that?) provided plenty of resistance for the first 20 or so miles. Then a turn to the west, and the much anticipated turn northerly, where the wonderful Texas Tailwind took over, adding mphs to the pace and some respite to the legs.

And then the local assclown in the giant silver pickup truck (complete with big rebel battle flag streaming from a post mounted in the center of the bed) passed and geared appropriately to leave me in a giant black cloud of diesel exhaust. Kelly Road is the location. I actually saw the house he pulled out from and had brief fantasies of paying a visit late at night and sprinkling a few boxes of roofing tacks on the offender's driveway as a return favor. I believe this is the third time I have seen this happen, other times being with some groups in the same vicinity. Ah yes, the joys of road riding in the country!

My good weekend was seriously sombered when I stumbled across news of a cyclist being hit and killed on one of the access roads along I-20 in Willow Park. Again, it turns out. This time there were no apparent mitigating circumstances (apparently the sun being in your eyes releases you from responsible driving?) and the final outcome was a dead man. Father, VP of Lockheed. killed for having tried to enjoy riding his bicycle on a shared road. Also left behind is what appears to be a highly distraught young woman who was driving the car that hit him.
These stories shake me to the core at certain moments. Icy reminder of how fragile we are and how one moment of inattention can have such tragic results. I feel sorry for all involved and my heart truly goes out to the families, while I pray I never have to be involved in something like this on any level. During these days of lessening daylight I think of my friends biking during the dark hours, and hope they stay safe. Put on those lights and be aware, be safe!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Texas CX

I am itching for the CX season to kick off. To a degree. So far I haven't done any real CX practice, so I need to get out and practice those specific skills which can make a surprising difference. Dismount, shoulder, run, mount, ride... maybe through a jump or two in there, or a steep hill. My skillset is ok, I haven't lost ground before and often made a little up, but it could be a lot better. When you see the PROs do it, you realize how weak you are...of course I don't get paid for it. Nor would I want to. That would be a tough way to make a living.

The tentative schedule looks good, although it means a lot of travel. that is one bad thing about 'cross, sometimes spending hours in a car for minutes of racing. Not a complaint for sure, wouldn't want the races to be longer!

The Texas schedule, in it's tentative glory:

Oct. 16 Premier San Antonio -
Oct. 17 Premier San Antonio

Oct. 25 Webberville VC - South Regional

Oct. 31 New Braunfels South Regional

Nov. 7 Ft. Worth CX
Nov. 8 Ft. Worth Moritz CX

Nov. 14 at&t Brain and Spine - Austin, TX
Nov. 15 South Regional NRC- Kyle, TX

Nov. 21 Premier Mirage Dallas -
Nov. 22 Premier Park Place Dallas -

Dec. 5/Premier GCCA
Dec. 6 Premier Bikesport Houston

Dec. 13 Austin South Regional

Jan 9 Houston Woodlands South Regional
Jan 10 Houston Woodlands South Regional

Jan 16 Age-Based State Cyclocross Championships - Pirate Race Productions -Austin (Manor)
Jan17 Premier – State Skills based State Cyclocross Championship -Austin (Manor)

Certainly a nice offering. Hup time...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cyclocross Time

Oh yes, it is also THAT time of year.

Mud and cowbells. Beer chucking hecklers. A start followed by varying degrees of extreme pain until you cross the finish. At least that is what you are hoping for.

I put off getting into this sport for years as I just couldn't see the appeal.

Then I tried it and immediately was hooked.

If you aren't familiar with it, do some Googling. Check out some videos. It is more fun than it looks. These guys are hard men.

And on a local note:

Oh yeah, it can be the best of times, the worst of times.

Plummet into fall

Last couple weeks have certainly snuffed out the hot summer days pretty effectively, not that I expect to see them gone for the year, did get us well into September.

I love and loathe this time of year. Love comes from the cooler temps and general climate and attitude changes in the world around as the hot summer days shift gears into the back to school mentality. Vacations are done and everyone seems to be "back".

Can be such a great time to ride too. Don't have to worry about becoming a sweat soaked mass of stink from a simple ride.

It is also the beginning of cyclocross season, which in itself is more than ample reason to celebrate, but that should be a separate post perhaps.

The slide into fall also brings an underlying sense of anxiety to me as the days suddenly seem to be getting seriously shorter. I know it is anything but sudden, but each year there always seems to be that point at which I suddenly find myself stuck out in the darkening skies, pumping hard to get home before pitch blackness. It is only a minute or two a day, but it just seems like one week the evenings are still cruising pretty late, then the next I am looking out and saying "where'd the daylight go?". It doesn't truly sneak up on me, I see it coming, but there is always that one ride where I look around and say damn, summer's done.

And that is the basis of the anxiety. Summer is all good. Warm, beaches, bikinis, suntans, riding as late as you care to... And then there is fall, all nice and pleasant except it is like a greek tragedy in which the handshake masks the icy dagger of winter creeping up behind you.

Now, it isn't that Texas winters are so bad, but I do get tired of riding in the dark more often than not.

Those really into training gut it out and ride their trainers or rollers.

Been there, done that. It works but is like a torture. Not what the bike is meant for.
I decide one winter that if I needed to ride then by God, I would ride my bloody bike outside, on the road, where it was meant to be ridden. This has resulted in some frosty experiences in my previous residences, but I almost always felt better for it.

Anyhow...enough on winter, it is close enough, no need to harp on it anymore.

Fall is a great season to enjoy as the road racing season winds down and the MTB and CX seasons kick in, if you are into that.
If you are simply into the joy of riding a bike it is perhaps the best season, or at least neck and neck with spring, in my humble opinion.

I look forward to a little more urban exploration during this period personally. Been in the road race training rut, concentrating on time spent at certain levels of pain and suffering, all the while missing some of the good stuff along the side of the road on the way.

Today sent the message, fall is here. Sure it won't be like this, 60s, maybe 70F for most of the day, but we are going to see more days like that and less of the damnitshot days.

And thankfully the epic rains have passed on after a week+ long slog. And we are still in a drought...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

HH100 recap - part II - the exciting racing part

And we are off. As expected, the initial pace was pretty mellow as expected. Nobody seemed to interested in pushing the pace or attacking this early, and frankly, it seemed like the peleton was a little sleepy. Considering the time, understandably so. We cruise along at about 20 -24 mph for a while, which in a big group on flat roads with no real wind, is pretty easy. Somewhere around 10 or so miles in, the Category 4 pack catches up. They were supposed to start about 5 minutes behind, but I later heard they left a little earlier. The official lets them pass, keeping our group intact until the other group is by. That seemed to wake the group up a little, the pace quickened a bit, and soon we overtook the 4s. Around the 20 mile mark, an attack went clear and 4 guys were off the front. With 80 miles, nobody was concerned, with good reason. Over the next 20 miles they built up about a 2 minute gap, quite manageable, so no reason to be concerned. At 50 miles the gap continued to hang around 2.5 minutes.

The temperatures had warmed and it was really quite comfortable. The wind was fairly light from the north, and with the luxury of a "rolling enclosure", we had the whole road to work with, allowing plenty of room to move around and find the sweet spot. Up until this point I was content to hang out in the middle to back half of the pack of 70 or 80 riders, no point in wasting any energy at this time.

I felt decent for the most part, but there was a nagging tightness around the top of my right hamstring, which had set in early and I attributed to a stiff muscle that needed time to warm up and stretch out. As the miles went on, this didn't happen, and I had some growing concern this could become a problem later in the race when fatigue began to settle in. I tried stretching it out, chaning positions, varying cadence...nothing seemed to help loosen it up. It seemed stable so I figured I would just have to keep an eye on this and see what developed.

With less than 50 miles left, we hit a little wind that put the race into the right gutter, riders strung out single and double file. People jockeyed for position and the pack bunched back up a little more. Things were good, conversation flowed and then something happened and I heard shouts, skidding and the cheap sound of expensive bikes hitting the road right behind me. I glanced back and saw a handful of guys had hit the deck, most likely due to a momentary lack of attention on one person's behalf. It happens like that, and the rest of us continued on.

I began to work my way up front to see what was happening and found that there was a small group of Velo Tec riders working to get a chase going. They worked pretty hard and I jumped in to take a few pulls as well, but it was obvious the majority was still content to sit in and wait. The breakaway gap continued to hang out around 2-3 minutes, and there was a little growing concern as a suddenly long race began to dwindle down, while the gap stayed up.

The efforts came, but it was only a handful of people working together, 2, 3, 4...maybe 5 guys would begin rotating and then it would die at as nobody else chose to pull through. One rider from the COX team out of OK City did his duty, staying at the front and trying to keep the speed from going/staying up. With the lack of overall sincerity in the pack's will the chase, his job was pretty easy. As we started getting down towards 40 miles and less I began to spend a lot of time near the front, pitching in when there appeared to be some serious efforts to pick up the pace, and backing off when it was apparent there was not a lot of help coming in. Despite the lack of a coordinated effort, the time gap had begun to slip back to under 2 minutes, a good sign the pack was accelerating or the breakaway was losing steam. Or, most likely, a little of both.

My hope was there would be a strong counter to the break I could jump into, which looked slightly possible as numerous attempts to get off the front began to start. I took a few jumps with a couple different riders but we never really got anywhere, as the pack was quick to counter any moves. The finish was a flat, multi cornered affair in the middle of downtown wichita falls--not a good type of finish for me--so I planned to try everything possible to avoid that. If it meant leaving it all out a few miles from the finish, then so be it.
As the miles quickly dropped, the break was looking like it would come back, time gaps struggling to stay at 90 seconds now.

Then the 4s showed back up, motivated by a larger breakaway they had been chasing for some time. The two groups swapped positions a couple times, and the race officials seemed to struggle a bit with determining how to manage the situation. At one point our field was neutralized and right as this happened an opportunistic rider jumped away and was left to go by the officials much to the dismay of many at the front. He would eventually come back, but it was a worrisome sign that things could be deteriorating. For several miles we essentially rode along as one big mass, us in the right lane, and the 4s inthe left lane. Eventually the 4s began to blend in with the front of our group. At this point a couple of us at the front agreed we needed to get out of this situation, so we upped the pace significantly and passed the 4s. In the confusion of it all, it appeared we had managed to split the peleton and were left with a group of maybe 15. We hit the gas and attempted to build the gap and chase down the break. This was about the best situation I could hope for, but the hope was soon dashed as the rest of our field pulled back up. They had realized the potential danger and quickly ramped it up before it slipped away.

Back together we rolled on. The breakaway had apparently come apart during this time and there was now only one guy away off the front, or at least thats what I believe was the case. Another rider had gotten away and was attempting to bridge up... I think. At times we could see the lead vehicle with the dangling carrot that was the remains of the day's break. With maybe 20 miles left, it wouldn't stick now. Too many miles, not enough support, and the pack would be juiced to start positioning for the finish. Or so it seemed. With the break so close, things may have been just a bit too lazy. Here came the pesky 4s again, actually trying to race hard! They pulled along side and the officials apparently fearing the whole mass would finish simultaneously, made the decision to neutralize our field and allow the 4s to move up the road and chase down there break, or whatever was left for them to chase...maybe just the finish.
At this point there we have about 15 miles to go, but we are neutralized. Rolling along at maybe 20 mph. We did this for several minutes to allow enough of a gap to build up so we wouldn't possibly combine with the 4s at the finish. This would indeed have been chaotic. Problem is, now our once manageable breakaway was free to build up the gap. Minutes went by. I chatted with one of the moto-refs, asking what the plan exactly was, at which point he filled me in on the details. So it goes. Game Set Match. Kudos to the guy from Cox who spent the whole day at the front and got that last little bit of luck which allowed him to stay away. He deserved the win as much as anyone in my opinion. Certainly worked hard or harder than anyone. Now we could only watch it all fade away...

Finally we were released to fight for the remaining podium scraps. As the last miles wore down and we entered town I stayed at the front, often eating way more wind than desired, but desparate to be in position for anything that might go and happen to stick. The charges came, one here, two there...but by now the pack, as it so often seems, wanted nothing but a mad sprint charge to the finish. And it would be. I spent my last remaining bullets trying to go with a few Quixotic lunges, but nothing stuck, and as we entered the last miles, a sudden surge left me with no other options but to sit up and sit in. Main goal now, stay out of trouble. The speed ramped up, we crested a ramp, dropped onto the downtown streets and final shots were fired. I cruised in as the real sprinters charged. Past a couple bodies that didn't fare so well and were cast aside to spend their last minutes surveying the damage to bike and body. No thanks. Sit up and soft pedal in, somewhere in the middle of the pack I presumed. Which was ok with me. cross the finish with all skin in tact. That is a small victory in itself, one I gladly accept. Roll up to a tent where volunteers are handing out water bottles. Nice COLD water. Down one in the shade along the street as I watch the others straggle in who had not been able to keep the pace the final few miles. Water gone I get a second and sip on that. Way better than warm brothy sport drink for sure. Chat with a few others I know from Fort Worth. Begin to the hear the stories flow. Hear of a bad crash that took one local girl down in a nasty spill. Silently wish her the best.
After enjoying a few minutes off the bike I roll down to the wheel truck and collect my spares. Glance at the computer and see we did the 100 miles in a little over 4 hours, averaging a little over 24 mph. Not too bad. Now time to go clean up. I roll off to find some others and see how they have done. I hear a shower is likely and relish the thought as I head out.

Not a bad day, and it isn't even noon.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

(N)Hotter n Hell - arrival...part I

HHH. HH100. Hotter n Hell 100. Has a couple different monikers amongst those familiar with it. I hadn't heard of it until this year, but as a recent transplant to the area, was advised it was one of those things I should definitely hit at least once. Taking that advice, I signed up for the epic event, known for it's blistering heat and peloton shredding crosswinds.

The event is divided into a multi-day festival of sorts, centered around Wichita Falls' MPEC, a convention center/arena type facility. There were crits on Friday and Sunday, with Saturday being the Big Day, featuring the HHH rides and USCF road races. Rides varied from around 25 miles up to the whole 100. The USCF races ranged between 50 or so and 100. I would be doing a 100 mile race.

Arrive late Friday night and head to the MPEC to sign in and pick up my numbers/race packet. It is a major mob scene. I knew the event drew a lot of people but was still a little taken back by the numbers. Registeration/check in was open until 10pm on Friday, I arrived with a little time to spare. Packet pickup was a breeze once I found the location, which was about half way around the perimeter of the MPEC bldg. The main interior area was set up with numerous vendors selling all the bike junk one could need, and then some. I did a quick cruise through, picked up my t-shirt and noticed several people carrying around beers. This seemed like a good idea, so I sought out the beer vendor. I got there just in time to see them loading the kegs on to a golf cart. Closed for the night. So much for that good idea.

Next up, food search. I bailed out of the MPEC and figured I could grab something nearby on my way to the crash pad for the night. This didn't work out too well either, and the best I could find was a super sketchy convenience store several blocks away, and definitely off the beaten path. Bars covered every glass panel. A weary looking crew diligently feed cash into some sort of video slot/poker machines lining the right side of the store. Good nutrition was not going to be coming from this place, and I was resigned to a dinner of energy bars and other delicious "power" food I figured. They did have a cooler full of beer, so at least I good slake my thirst for a cold one. I selected my drink while a couple bemoaned the fact that there was no more Colt .45, and they were going to have to settle for the Cobra or Hurricane 40 0z., can't remember which. It was low grade stuff for sure.

Hit the register, pay for my stuff and hit the crash house. I was the last to arrive and there were a lot of people spending the night. Fortunately a couple guys had reserved a love seat for me, so I was set. Not going to be stretching out much but then I had spent many a college night with similar accomodations so I wasn't too worried. Besides, I would be getting up in a matter of hours to hit the 7:50 start. Sleep came easy after a late feast on leftover pasta and breadsticks I was able to scrounge up, and the alarm sounded way to soon. I still felt pretty good for the early waking, especially considering I am not the morning type.

I loaded up the bike with 2 large bottles and stuck 2 more in my jersey, along with a pile of Gu gels and the parachute 200 mg caffeine pill under the leg of my shorts. I planned on taking a water bottle or two in one of the neutral feeds as well.

We rolled out, toting our spare wheels for the wheel truck. I usually don't bother, figuring once you flat you are generally out of the race, so might as well just fix the flat and then crawl home. For this event, with the longer distance I figured the spare wheels may be worth it regardless. Long day wouldn't be too fun fixing flats. Dumped the wheels at the truck and lined up.

A front had moved through the previous day and it brought unusually cool temps and nearly no wind. Temps were in the mid 60s at the start.

We rolled out with little ceremony. It was dark enough that I debated wearing my sunglasses initially...opted for them and then we were rolling...

more to follow, this is taking longer than I expected and I need to hit the sack. Hey, its only about a month later anyway, so no need to rush I figure.