Monthly Archives: May 2012

Prague Arrival

With just a little bit of doubt, both my bike and I have arrived in Prague.  Actually, I wasn’t too worried when my bike didn’t show up at baggage because I figured one of two things would happen:

  • It would never turn up, and Caitlin would be powerless to prevent me getting a new bike, hopefully supported by the largesse of British Air and/or our homeowner’s insurance.
  • British Airways would solve my problem of getting the bike box from the airport to the hotel by delivering it there directly since it was late.

The latter is what turned out.  This was good, as none of the taxis at the stand could have taken it and shepherding that and everything else through public transit would have been beastly.

Riding in downtown Prague looks… interesting.  One first observation, of some concern: It seems like the painted lane lines have ambiguous meaning.  There’s no yellow-line, white-line differentiation, everything’s just white lines.  I haven’t figured out yet how you would really know how many lanes are going in which direction…

Also, my hotel—which definitely feels like a hostel that got fancy and expensive—has a lot of awesome Euro sort-of-classy, sort-of-trashy going on.

Looking at this, I can’t help but feel a bit like I’ve fallen into some sort of torrid vampire romance novel.  Which, you know, I completely support.

Ride Report: Memorial Day Hills

In a newly minted tradition, a whole bunch of us went on the indefatigable Mr Greene’s Memorial Day Hill Ride. An incredible 30+ people showed up to climb hills and suffer 90F temperatures. I thought it an excellent way to really begin the summer, catching up with friends and meeting new faces.

After last year’s ride Kevin and I talked a bit about my theory that good rides are hard or fun, but truly great rides are emotional. Last year was exactly that. I hadn’t done a big group hill ride in years and was a little concerned beforehand. It was a moving moment then to get an hour in and realize I was killing it.

This year I couldn’t defend my title, but I did pretty well against a large group with a bunch of guys I respect as well as some new ringers. I did though have a deeply satisfying weekend and rode a lot, in near-brutal heat: A fast century on Saturday (Vino Velo, then TTing to Valley Forge); Sunday in Belmont & Wissahickon for a metric MTB century (62mi; this is quite a bit in MTB world); Monday the hill ride and then some for another century worth 8200ft (corrected) of some of Philly’s best hills. Very rewardingly, this is pretty high volume and mostly hard miles, but wasn’t overwhelmingly crushing; I feel pretty good. It did though give me a lot of time to think.

As many people have realized—and pointed out unnecessarily often!—at the top of the year I turned thirty. Despite cliches, it’s kind of a big deal. As my mom put it, “How do you think your father and I feel? We’ve got a son who’s 30!” Not that long ago envisioning anything past twenty-seven was just a fathomless chasm; thirty was as remote and alien to me as the dark side of the moon.

This year also marked the first time cycling eclipsed soccer as the sport in which I have spent the most years of my life, fifteen years now. It is quite a different scene than it was. When I originally joined QCW ten years ago, I think Colton and I were basically the only ones under thirty. Now there are collegiate riders, recent alumni, even juniors all over every group ride, often dominating in both numbers and strength. It’s a huge shift in culture that’s been fascinating to watch and to help drive.

Looking back, twenty-five year old Joe was pretty fit and a strong racer. He could sprint a bit faster, probably get up steep hills a little quicker. But thirty year old Joe would absolutely crush that me; any one of this holiday’s rides would have made a good weekend. Looking further, eighteen year old Joe couldn’t have even really appreciated the power, endurance, and competence involved.

That’s a strong statement. So much of our culture is predicated on looking back at college, back at high school, as high points. It’s quite different to say, actually, no, these are my best days—not when I was twenty-five, not when I was eighten, but right here and now, when I’m thirty.

From the opposite end, I remember when I was twenty looking up to riders in the club and being blown away. I’d watch racers I rode with a lot like Rick and Ted and think “Hell, I just hope I’m still riding when I’m thirty, let alone strong like these guys.” And now I am thirty, and I am strong.

There’s a defiance and a force behind both those lines of thought that I try to pool up, a reservoir of strength to put behind every pedal stroke when I really need to catch that wheel, when home’s a long way to go. Through miles, hours, and sheer willpower, that abyss has been turned into one of the badges I clutch dear when things look grim; a source of power instead of doubt and fear.

I’m away for work through June and July, so I’ll see y’all in August. Prepare to defend your favorite hills!

Race Report: Poolesville 3

Over the weekend I went down for the Poolesville Road Race and rolled in at the back of the field sprint, 23 of 59 in the cat 3. A combo of 80F temperatures, narrow roads, a dirt section, and 65mi of steady rollers dropped more than half the field.

The race is just on the edge of being a reasonable day trip from Philly, about 3hrs away in Maryland (I made a weekend of it with some in-laws). But, I recommend it for any road course fans; crit monkeys stay home. It’s a quiet event but well organized, with great marshaling. There was also super aggressive yellow line enforcement, of which I approve; the motos were even coming forward to move offenders to the back during the race. The course is comparable with Turkey Hill, but a ~10 mile loop so it feels a bit more like a road race to me, as opposed to a circuit race. Climbing is similar to Turkey Hill, nothing crazy at all, but more steadily rolling. It is very narrow, but on the plus side mostly shaded and not as hot. There’s also a pretty clean ~1.5mi dirt section that’s kind of fun.

One thing I did well is moving up and fighting for my place aggressively the first two laps. Characteristically I started literally in last place and was kind of concerned between the rollers and dirt about being blocked in as groups dropped. The course is very tight, never more than 10 feet across and often less, and the hills weren’t really long enough to move up easily, so moving up was tough. I wound up riding the corners much more crit-like and aggressively than I would usually. They’re where the yellow line is fuzziest and the road widest (by simple geometry), so by taking it a little wide or a little tight and kicking it a bit harder than necessary coming out I was able to pick up 3 places here, 6 places there, etc., and pretty quickly found myself sticking safely by the front.

The dirt section was actually fun, and fairly tactical. On the fun side it was really ridable but had the usual dirt ridiculousness. I didn’t see anybody crash, but saw a bunch of guys slowly divert off the road, tons of dropped bottles, chains, etc. It was also super dry so the first few times we hit it there was just a mile and a half of billowing dust with ghosts moving about in it, like we were riding out of a western or something, with visibility about three bikes ahead.

Up the ziggurat, lickety-split! (photo by Pam Mauch)

On the tactical side, it’s a dirt section, so of course the guys in front punch it in order to stay safely out of the mess. It may have also been just slightly uphill. With everyone trying to give each other more space, it’s like a CX race where you’re sort of drafting and the pace is high, but you’re not really in a draft either so you’re kind of TTing. That’s a setup for lots of people to get gapped, but it was the kind of dirt section with two solid hard packed tracks and loose gravel in between so you couldn’t just go around them at will. Coming into it near the front then became more important, plus I had to really work gaps and safe looking places to cross the gravel so that I was always moving up and not getting blocked in.

In the end I just didn’t have enough to do much more. At the end of April I thought I had a good shot to do really well here and at Turkey Hill. They’re my kind of courses, good for someone who can climb a bit and time trial a bit, and I was riding well. Then I got sick, like usual, too many ECCC weekends living out of cars and way overstuffed motel rooms. Not a big deal, but I haven’t been able to shake the last trace of congestion and fatigue. At Turkey Hill I got up Gamber’s with the group the second time and just sat up, the first time I’ve not finished at least in the field sprint there. This race obviously went much better and it was pretty easy to hang on even through a couple fragmentations, but in the one short excursion I did to test my top end it just wasn’t there like it was two weeks ago.

To an extent I guess I’m disappointed about that. I won’t be able to race again until August and had pretty high hopes for these. However, I’m actually pretty ok with it, which is good in its own way, and both of these days were still a lot of fun. Ultimately not every race can be your best race ever and a lot of it is just getting out there, throwing some efforts against the wall, and seeing what sticks.

I think Ron Short’s photo of Darco and I sums it up super well—that big blue American sky, the long road behind, ridiculous people getting absolutely shelled but still having a great time:

Darco and I at Turkey Hill; photo by Ron Short & GoPro.