Category Archives: Road

Should Froome Run?

Yesterday, Tour de France yellow jersey bearer Chris Froome was caught up in a crash approaching the end of the monstrous finishing climb up Ventoux caused by the congestion of spectators. His bike broken but with no team or neutral support car in sight, he started running up the hill.

Let’s set aside all questions of whether it matters or not that Froome broke a rule (UCI 12.12.14: Attempt to be placed without having covered the entire course by bicycle), and the more important question of why don’t the ASO and UCI do more to ensure safe and fair courses. Here’s a much smaller but still interesting question: Did it make sense for Froome to start running?

I would argue that it doesn’t make sense from the perspective that he took a big risk on slipping & falling, twisting an ankle, or any number of other problems by running in his cleats. But, purely from a time perspective, did it make sense?

That turns out to be not as obvious as it might seem. A smart friend who’s an experienced racer & official made the reasonable point that you want the support car to catch up to you as quickly as possible. Being on a bike is much faster than being on foot, so running away from the car and prolonging the time it takes to get a new bike doesn’t make sense.

My argument was that if the car is blocked from getting to you quickly, you should continue moving forward. Once it clears any slowdown, i.e., the crash site, its speed will dwarf the distance you’ve gained, so you won’t be penalized by running from it. Therefore, in the interim, while the car is slowed or blocked, you should gain what ground you can. Otherwise you’d just have to cover that distance anyway, but after standing around waiting and wasting time.

Model

To investigate I wrote a simple simulation. The model works as follows.

Scenario at T0.

Scenario at T0.

At time zero the racer starts running or waiting patiently at distance zero, the crash site, while the support car is some distance behind.

The car passes the crash site and starts moving at its full speed.

The car passes the crash site and starts moving at its full speed.

The car moves at its blocked rate until it passes the crash site, at which point it starts moving at its free rate. The racer meanwhile moves at their running rate.

The car catches the racer and gives them a new bike.

The car catches the racer and gives them a new bike.

Eventually the car catches up to the racer, who then switches to their new bike and a faster rate of travel.

The finish!

The finish!

The racer then eventually pedals on to the finish some distance ahead.

Simulation

A program implementing that model is very simple. I wrote one in Go:

Screenshot_2016-07-15_18-18-20

You can play with it yourself in your browser using this link. Hit the Run button up top, and in a moment the output will show up at the bottom of the screen. You can change the scenario by altering the parameters starting on line 17:

  • goaldistance: How far the crash is from the finish line;
  • runrate: How fast the racer can run;
  • bikerate: How fast the racer can bike;
  • carstart: How far behind the support car is when the crash happens;
  • blockedrate: How fast the car goes until it passes the crash site;
  • freerate: How fast the car goes after passing the crash site.

Whether you use miles or kilometers for the parameters shouldn’t matter as long as you consistently use the same units for all of them.

Investigation

The default settings in the script seem like reasonable approximations of the Ventoux scenario or something similar:

  • The finish is 1km away;
  • The racer can run at 4mph and bike at 12mph (I believe these guys are generally going 12–14mph on Ventoux);
  • The car starts only 1/16 of a mile behind (~100 meters, .0625 miles) and can move 16 mph while blocked and 20 mph afterward.

The simulation reports the rider will finish in 3:18.03 minutes. That makes sense: The car gets to them very quickly, so they do nearly all the route at their cycling pace of 12mph, which would take 3:06 minutes. But, changing their running rate to 0 to reflect not running and waiting for the car, they take 3:20.38 minutes to finish. Therefore they should run, and that bears up if they run a little slower (2mph: 3:19.33) or faster (6mph: 3:16.36).

Obviously those aren’t huge gains, but this is a sport where seconds matter quite a lot. Those default parameters are also arguably friendly toward the not running hypothesis. Watching the clip, I could believe Froome is running better than 4mph (a brisk walk). I also doubt the vehicles can do 20mph in that heavy congestion even after the crash.

Importantly to the final time, no support cars are anywhere in sight. There are clips of Froome definitely running for a solid 30 seconds before one arrives, and the video cameras seem to have missed the start of his run. So, plugging some numbers in to get a ~30–40s catch time, if he did 4mph on foot and the car did 12mph and then 16mph, it would have started just under 1/8 mile back (200 meters, the length of a good sprint), which seems plausible.

Froome himself said in interviews later that he believed his team car to be a whole 5 minutes away. At those same speeds, a car half a mile back would take 2.5 minutes to reach him if he didn’t run, which fits his very rough estimate of it being minutes away. After waiting for the car, he’d finish in a total of 5:09.70.  If he ran just 4mph though until caught, he’d finish in 5:02.56, definitely worth it.

Analysis

Trying to look at the question a bit more systematically, I had the script vary over some reasonable parameters:

  • goaldistance: 1km, 2km, 3km, 5km, 10km
  • carstart: -1/16 mile, -1/8 mile, -1/4 mile, -1/2 mile
  • blockedrate: 4, 8, 12, 16
  • freerate: 8, 12, 16, 20
  • bikerate: 8, 12, 16

Among those combinations I discarded instances where the freerate was less than the blockedrate or the bikerate, under the very reasonable assumptions that the car does not go slower after passing the crash, and after the crash goes at least as fast as the rider (the latter constraint actually posited by my running-skeptical friend). For each combination then I evaluated the racer running at 0mph (reflecting waiting for the car), 2mph, 4mph, and 6mph.

That tabulation is available in this spreadsheet. The upshot is that at each running speed it makes sense to run in ~72% of the scenarios.

Glancing through the spreadsheet the pattern is pretty clear, and a quick formula confirms: Strictly in terms of time and under this abstracted model, the only cases in which it makes sense to stay put is when you can bike at least as fast as the car can go at its full speed. Remember that cases where the racer can bike faster than the car have been discarded from the spreadsheet, but in those unusual circumstances it also makes sense to stay put.

Outcomes.

Outcomes.

Physics

We as humans naturally focus on the rider, but the best way to think about this is in terms of the bike. Its progress is what controls the overall time required to finish the race. Going back to our model, its progress has three components:

  • Interval A from where the support car starts to the crash site;
  • Interval B from the crash site to wherever the car catches the rider;
  • Interval C from the catch point to the finish.
The three intervals through which the bike proceeds.

The three intervals through which the bike proceeds.

The easiest case to see this is when the rider can go the same speed as the car. In that case it doesn’t matter if the bike is moved by the rider or car, so the rider may as well stay put at the crash site.

In the rare situation when the rider can go faster than the car, you want to maximize the length of Interval C and minimize Interval B because the former progresses faster. So then it also makes sense for the rider to stay put.

Conversely, if the rider is slower, you want to minimize Interval C and maximize Interval B, so that the bike covers the most ground at the best rate. The only mechanism available to do this however is for the rider to advance during Intervals A & B, when the bike has to be with the car. So in this common case, it makes sense for the rider to run. Now, the time spent traversing Interval A has nothing to do with the rider, it’s completely determined by carstart/blockedrate. The rider may not be able to get very far in that interval. But it’s still increasing the amount of distance traveled at the best rate, Interval B, so formally speaking it’s going to be faster to run, even if only marginally. Note that none of this depends qualitatively on how slow the blockage is. You should always run. The only thing the blocked rate affects is how much benefit there is from running, not whether or not there is a benefit.

Unfortunately my numerical analytical modeling is embarrassingly rusty so I haven’t been able to put together in short order the equations formalizing that. But a related graphical way to think about it is in terms of a plot of the bike’s distance over time. It has three segments, corresponding to Intervals A, B, and C. Interval B has the greatest slope, so you want it to be the longest segment by time. The only way to make that happen is to run, so get going!

Conclusion

Long story short, assuming there aren’t errors above (*), strictly in terms of time this modeling argues that Froome made the right decision to start running, and benefited from doing so. I still think it was a big gamble in terms of risking getting hurt. And ultimately the officials’ decision to nullify the end of the race made it moot. But running wasn’t nearly as ridiculous as it at first seemed.

(*) I would be very happy to hear any comments or corrections.

 

Race Report: Coup de Cascades Ultra

Last weekend I attempted the Coup de Cascades 425 mile solo ultra-endurance race, a RAAM qualifier outside Seattle. Unfortunately I had to abandon after 281 miles, 18.5k feet of climbing. I have some ongoing disc and nerve issues from an MTB ultra earlier this summer that I just can’t bull through much past ~16 hours of riding.

Back at the starting area post-abandonment.

Back at the starting area post-abandonment.

For those who’ll skip the text, more photos are in the Flickr gallery.  Strava logs are up here: Part 1part 2.

Thanks

Any race like this is a big production and takes a lot of people.

I especially have to thank Johann Liljengren (TriCycles/UPenn) for crew chiefing the race, supporting both the race and the extensive planning beforehand. Brian Thompson, my brother-in-law, also worked the on-site crew. Tim Manzella (TSV/Drexel) was incredibly helpful as my chief mechanic, keeping my bike running smooth and doing an extensive overhaul leading into the event. My wife Caitlin (PBCO/Tufts) of course was also as always supportive and helpful.

Johann and I revel in our pile of awesome!  This... doesn't even include food, water, etc.

Johann and I revel in our pile of awesome! This… doesn’t even include food, water, etc.

Brian has no idea where he's going to nap, but the answer is anywhere and everywhere.

Brian has no idea where he’s going to nap, but the answer is anywhere and everywhere.

Just another Friday night for Tim, drillin' out a stripped bolt at 2am...

Just another Friday night for Tim, drillin’ out a stripped bolt at 2am…

I also want to thank Richie Cortez at Philly Bikesmith for spending a morning on his day off on some last minute bike fitting. Alex Walker, Johann’s brother-in-law, also lent us tools and spare parts out here in Seattle so we didn’t have to bring everything cross-country. Ted Slack (QCW) graciously leant his bike case for the trip.

As usual, both Caitlin’s and my parents are unspoken heroes, shuttling us and all of our stuff to & from airports at all hours of the day.

Riding

A few days out there were serious mudslides on the first mountain pass of the original course, closing the road indefinitely. We were just glad the organizers came up with an alternative, though it turned out the local endurance racers felt the new route was much harder. For us the big effect was that we had no time to really chart up the map and figure out how long the climbs would be, etc.

The final course featured four 4000ft mountain passes and otherwise rolling terrain with almost literally no flat spots, conceptually broken into 4 parts:

  • A hundred miles of rolling hills starting a bit east of Redmond;
  • A hundred mile block crossing Stevens Pass eastbound out to Leavenworth, followed by Blewett Pass;
  • A hard, remote 150 miles through Yakima and over White and Cayusa passes alongside Mt Rainier;
  • Seventy five miles of rolling hills back to the finish.
The road ahead.

The road ahead.

Between Stevens and Blewett Passes.  I think.  It's all kind of blurry.

Between Stevens and Blewett Passes. I think. It’s all kind of blurry.

Breakpoint at the top of Stevens Pass.

Breakpoint at the top of Stevens Pass.

The first ~200 miles and two passes we flew through in ~12 hours, including two refueling breaks, well ahead of our time goals and the other two solo competitors. At that point though I had to take a long break. The multi-hour climbs up Steves and Blewett had put a huge toll on my back injury. I was barely pedaling at the top of Blewett, and it was almost an hour before I could put force on my feet again. By the time I got rolling both riders had passed me.

Still, we were hopeful because I pulled another solid 4 hour night block, covering another ~76 miles of hills into Yakima. Along the way I recaught one rider, and it seemed promising I’d be able to catch the other and be near my time goals even with substantial recovery periods after each of the mountain passes.

After that though the load had just built up too much. Another hour and my nerves were burning even softpedaling flat stretches, and I was already well past the 24hr anti-inflammatory daily limits without clear sign it was helping any more. After a few more hours of start & stop riding trying to pull it back together, I eventually just ground into a wall of pain I couldn’t overcome.

Race Nutrition

The nutrition plan I’ve been using lately was working out well. My main goal beside hydration is trying to take in around 300 calories an hour, to my limited understanding very roughly about the rate your body can process. A key point is that you can’t skip hours, you’ll never make up that deficit.

The first 12 hours of a ride the bulk of my calories come from egg & rice patties Caitlin makes from the Skratch Labs Portables recipe book (~100 calories per patty), with occasional Clif bars (240 cal), basically a a bar or 1–2 patties an hour. Hydration throughout this is a bottle an hour of Nuun (0 cal) or Hammer HEED (100 cal), supplemented by straight water from a small hydration pack.

Between 12 and 16 hours of riding I tend to find it pretty hard to continue using solid food. The rice patties are nice in that they’re fairly bland yet appealing once you bite the bullet and force them into your mouth, but it gets harder and harder to do that. So around this point I start using Hammer Perpetuem drink mix (270 cal/bottle). It’s somewhat hard to train with because it’s really best consumed while chilled, so you can’t easily take a bunch of bottles on a 4 or 6 hour ride. It also is pretty bland yet vaguely appealing and seems to play well with my stomach and deliver just enough of both calories and satisfaction, so I’m happy with it.

First stop. While I was originally mostly trying to train in ~6 hour blocks, we cut to 4 in an attempt to preempt back troubles.

First stop. While I was originally mostly trying to train in ~6 hour blocks, we cut to 4 in an attempt to preempt back troubles.

An hourly bottle feed.

An hourly bottle feed.

Technical Notes

On my bike we did a couple interesting things. After years fighting the logic of it, I did recently switch to 50×34 compact cranks to go with my standard 11×28 cassette. As a high cadence rider, frequently pedaling at 100–120 bpm, I can really use the extra gears on long or steep climbs to rely on my cardio and avoid digging into my strength reserves. Note that this setup works on a standard length rear Shimano derailleur, but just barely.

I also sparingly used a set of clip-on aero bars. Beyond the more recent back problems, I’ve had trouble adopting a true TT position, though this isn’t a huge problem on climbing-intensive courses. It puts so much more emphasis on your quads that I can’t sustain power in it for more than a couple hours. So, my clip-ons are set up fairly non-aggressively, as are my bars in general. The pads are also set farther forward on my forearms than normal and the rails cut down to match for better leg clearance climbing out of the saddle. Even only using them sparingly though was helpful to have a fifth hand position and stretching out my back on less technical descents.

Part of Johann’s whole system of over-engineered paper notes and spreadsheets for tracking mileage, estimating times, monitoring nutrition consumption, etc..

Just some of the stuff from our packing list, in this case logistics-oriented materials.

Just some of the stuff from our packing list, in this case logistics-oriented materials.

One other notable is that in focusing on this kind of long form riding, I’ve consciously been less conscious about dieting. Historically I’ve been pretty good about being able to hit a pretty lean peak fitness weight for targeted events. But a true minimum weight is a literally thin line to be riding. At that point any travel, bad weather workout, or other exposure, and I get sick. That’s especially true under very high training volumes. So this year I opted to not worry about it so much. That’s cost performance on short, steep, high-intensity, climbs like the local group hill rides, but paid off in not getting sick nearly as much.

Parting Thoughts

This was a crushing disappointment, especially to be so close to doing so well. I’ve been thinking about this most of the year, since realizing it was the weekend before we would be out here for Caitlin to do IronMan Canada. A lot of prep work and planning went into the logistics, on top of all the riding. Worst, as far as I made it wasn’t even much of a stretch in length, and not at all in climbing, from many of my training rides earlier this summer.

That said, behind the disappointment it was still a really good experience. Our logistics and prep all seemed spot on, and I think we can dial it down even more with what we learned here. My vaguely structured, ultra-flexible training regimen, more a set of principles and desires than an actual plan, did a reasonable job at navigating a lot of work travel, ECCC commitments, and other obstacles to deliver the fitness I needed to do well, and based on this experience I can tweak that as well as plan even better for other events.

A middle of the night breakpoint.

A middle of the night breakpoint.

Re-catching second place on a climb along I-82 toward Yakima, approaching midnight.

Re-catching second place on a climb along I-82 toward Yakima, approaching midnight.

Also on the positive side are the simple basics of some great riding. Despite some overly busy sections, most of the course was really nice. Best though, the night sections were an amazing surrealist dream of incredible cycling—spinning along deep purple ridgelines under the slowly churning, looming blades of windfarms in silhouette; cranking at maximum speed down flats and false descents as endless wheat fields wafted in the breeze on either side, headed directly into the low hung full moon ahead; the lights of Yakima suddenly appearing in the deep valley below over a final peak. Unforgettable.

Beyond that, the event was also still a lot of fun, though obviously only in retrospect now that I’ve ice creamed to my best ability for the bulk of a week and am even starting to feel my feet again in ways other than burning. It was great calling and getting together with Johann to work logistics, and debating mechanical options with Tim on long rides. Having the guys with me was also really meaningful. I’ll always mantain that the team time trial is the most satisfying form of competitive cycling, and this is really similar. The crew fills a very different role, but it’s most definitely the same kind of collective team effort, and deeply satisfying in the same way.

Next time!

Again, there are more photos in the Flickr gallery.

FOT4153

Arsenal Crit Cancellation

Though very unfortunate, the cancellation of this year’s Arsenal Criterium is a good opportunity to think about how amateur cycling races in our area are put on.

Notably, no one is more disappointed than Charles and I, the organizers on behalf of QCW. A lot of effort, especially on Charles’ part, has already been sunk, and costs incurred. Instead of spending a day hanging out at a cool race, we’ll spend a lot of time in the coming days writing refund checks and reading Internet comments.

Beyond that, it’s inarguable that Charles and I are unreasonably dedicated to making races happen and this is a large disappointment to us. For this year’s Philly Phlyer—without question the most ambitious and substantial amateur cycling race in the Philly area—we personally staked over $12,000 on the event, and were relieved to come out having only lost a few hundred each. Even as a student I regularly risked $10,000+ on the Phlyer. Now, as director of the ECCC, I volunteer 1,500 to 2,000 hours a year—essentially a full time but completely uncompensated job—to ensure collegiate races from Delaware to Maine happen and happen well.  Anyone pushing at us the commitment of race promotion or demands that promoters take the hit on losses had better be making similarly extraordinary personal commitments of time and money, or stop talking real fast.

Causes

Unfortunately, this cancellation is just about money rather than weather or other act of god. Watching registration trickle in, the QCW general leadership and us become duly concerned about the looming financial loss. Even under very optimistic, unrealistic models for day-of registration, QCW was going to incur a loss amounting to a substantial portion of the 2013 club budget. At that point we decided to pull the plug somewhat early so that racers would have at least some opportunity to replan.

Part of the calculus here, especially for Charles and I, is that this just isn’t that big a deal. It’s unfortunate for all the racers, particularly the women who do not have ample opportunities to just go do another race or group ride instead. But, this just isn’t an event people are traveling to, peaking their training plans for, etc. In contrast, I hold ECCC races to a much higher standard—we simply don’t cancel races if at all humanly possible—precisely because hundreds of riders each weekend are making exactly those commitments. This disruption is annoying and unfortunate, but not the end of the world or a financial loss to any racers.

Similarly, the Arsenal is a great race but ultimately a business park crit. Burning the club budget and crippling QCW’s ability to operate and support other activities in return for a great, ambitious road race or a well attended but expensive major event crit would be one thing. Taking a huge loss to enable fields of ~20 riders quietly spinning around is another.

Risk

To that point, it’s just not reasonable to ask promoters of these kinds of small time races to simply absorb extravagant losses. In the business world—notably including promoters putting on races on a business footing—you can reasonably place that expectation. Sometimes you make a profit, sometimes you lose, and as long as you keep the former ahead of the latter you’ll gain in the long run.

But events like Arsenal and other small cycling races simply aren’t businesses. There is no profit, everyone’s just hoping to break even. They either lose or they lose, without the large gains to offset bad years. Absolutely no one has the right to simply ask individuals and clubs to just accept losses, because the promoters don’t stand to gain anything if it does work out. They’re doing it purely for the community. Further, it’s simply not sustainable to ask promoters to take on nothing but risk—since there’s no gain worth speaking of—and not cut their losses when that risk becomes too large. That only guarantees eventual destruction of an event or even a club, and you can see that over the years in the loss of many great, traditional Philadelphia races that simply don’t exist anymore.

Sponsorship

The usual response to this, especially from armchair promoters, is that you need to cover the difference with sponsorship. Extra cash and other support is of course great and it’s important to try, but sponsorship is not an efficient or sustainable mechanism to enable these kinds of races.

It takes an extensive investment of time to procure any amount sponsorship. Worse, hunting sponorship is absolutely one of the least enjoyable, most miserable tasks entailed in promoting a race (or running a club). Put those two facts together and it’s incredibly difficult to have volunteers work that angle successfully.

Further, no matter how much effort you do sink, sponsorship isn’t reliable. Ultimately there just isn’t a strong business case for cycling sponsorship even in the professional leagues, and none whatsoever at the amateur grassroots. Without such an objective rational, sponsorship is reliant on personal whims and interests, and corporations being flush with cash. Your patron benefactor moves to a different company, the market goes down half a point, almost anything will cause that critical support for an event to drop out and not be there next year.

Between that difficulty in procuring it and the unpredictability in retaining it, sponsorship of individual small events isn’t a viable foundation for long term sustainability. That core financial support has to come from within the participants and the community.

Foundation

Small tweaks could be made to address some of these risk concerns, e.g., moving pre-registration dates earlier to have more commitment from riders to match commitment from promoters, or substantially raising entry fees to generate actual profit in good years and enable a business-styled boom/bust amortization. Neither of these or similar ideas are appealing or likely to address root issues though.

An idea myself, Charles, and other ECCC and Philly-area cycling leadership have been kicking around is to work toward a substantially different model for these kind of small, amateur races.

The predominant current structure is races backed by particular clubs or even individual people. As discussed above, that entails them taking on a lot of financial risk for something for which there is essentially no possibility of gain. It’s not reasonable to peg all of the cost and risk on one entity when the only value is to the community as a whole simply in having a great event. Long term sustainability and reliability would be much better if those costs, risks, and the effort, were better diffused throughout the community rather than focused on individual organizations and people.

The basic proposal then is to establish a non-profit association or foundation specifically for organizing and promoting races, in this case in the Philadelphia area. The organization would promote multiple races, both enabling new events and moving existing races out from under their individual promoters and into this umbrella. The Phlyer would be a great flagship, the Arsenal another good candidate member, and then other races as promoters are interested.

Each race would of course be run to break even plus some safety margin, but losses would be backed by the foundation. Money for that in turn would come from invested clubs, the community as a whole, and sponsors. An umbrella like this would enable all area clubs to contribute large or small amounts to ensuring good races happen. That’s opposed to the current model requiring that single promoting clubs be able to take on the entirety of the risk, something none can sustain through a catastrophic loss or for years on end. We also believe, and have seen in experiments with the Phlyer, that a fair amount of funding could potentially be crowdsourced from the community; there are even many people who do not race themselves but are eager to support good cycling events. Finally, by enabling multiple events, it becomes more rational for businesses to provide, and more efficient for organizers to seek, meaningful sponsorship.

Beyond that financial support, this organization could also provide the structure to address other issues. Basics include coordinating race dates in the immediate Philly area, and drawing volunteers from all clubs as well as the larger community, thus addressing another critical issue in race promotion: People power. Additional frills could also easily embellish this scheme, e.g., standings and awards across a series made of the foundation’s races.

In sum, there are built-in, structural, completely valid reasons why great traditional events like the Philly 2-Day or Lemon Hill crit have ceased, and cancellations like this year’s Arsenal happen. But it’s possible we shift the underlying model to address those issues and work together as a community to ensure important events continue or even restart. We have some more detailed ideas than the above and would be eager to talk with any interested parties about getting this off the ground.  Of course we’re also eager to hear any other ideas as well as positive or negative comments.  Finally, obviously, we also deeply regret this particular cancellation and hope to see everyone out on the roads, trails, and at other events in the future.

Thanks!

Friday Night Track!

Caitlin and I went up to T-town last Friday.  A couple monkey girls were racing so we had free tickets for the finish line bleachers.

I’d actually never been up to the track for Friday night racing before, so it was interesting.  Overall I thought it was cool, but a bit too much of a drive to do very often compared to my relative level of interest and limited connections to the track community.  I was actually a bit surprised how few people I knew that were there that night.

It was fun though, and a great cycling hangout.  Being way up there in all that space, it had a nice summer country fair feel to it.  Just with bikes and spandex instead of pigs and corn.  As a bonus, the fast food place on-site has a couple vegetarian, apparently organic items that didn’t blow my mind but were definitely edible.

The women’s keirin final gets up to speed.

Sally (the starter) lays down the law as Julia (left rider) gets ready for a match sprint heat.

Peanut butter monkey girl!

One thing that was indisputably great was just how many juniors were there.  There must have been a good fifty kids between 9 and 13 years old, boys and girls, that took part in various races.  Some of them were on bikes tinier than Caitlins’!

There are just a couple more pictures in the Flickr gallery.

Race Report: Catskills

Chat, Ashley Doane, Ceci, Kevin M, Will C, and I all went up for the Tour of the Catskills stage race this weekend, with Brett Kielick also riding up to hang out and get in some more miles.

Ceci and Will did ridiculously well, Will winning the Cat M4 GC and CC just missing the W1/2/3 GC podium. Kevin and Ashley also did really well, with Ashley in particular grabbing 10th/76 in Saturday’s brutal road race (M3s).

I myself have nothing to report. The end of July I spent very sick with something picked up traveling and this was much too hard an event for jumping on a bike for the first time in three weeks. It was all I could do to just finish Saturday, make the cut, and start Sunday.

I did though manage to drive my Prius out of gas on the Palisades Parkway on the way up, one of the worst possible places to do so. No one died pushing the fully laden hybrid (they’re heavy!) up a steep hill and over the grass berm to get off the no-shoulder road before getting slammed by people coming around the curve behind, but Chat did mumble all weekend about his tennis career being ruined by all that strain the pushing put on his shoulder. I’m putting this down as a successful and obviously intentional team building exercise…

I have just a few comments of possible use for newer racers:

  • If you’re in a big field, can’t really see the road ahead, and need to know if there’s more climbing or a descent coming up, watch the treeline. If the trees keep going up, chances are you are as well. If you only see green or rock, chances are you’re going up a lot. Open sky means you better start prepping for a descent. This isn’t always conclusive, but it’s generally a pretty big hint.
  • Applying that prediction, usually hearing everyone shift is a good indicator you should be shifting as well. But if you’re rollercoasting from a big climb to a big descent, be mindful to not shift into the big ring until you yourself are actually on the crest and your leg speed is back up, lest you jam or throw your chain.
  • Similarly, normally I’m against herd mentality, but if you don’t know what’s coming up on the course but everyone else is eating, you should be thinking about it as well. Many of them probably have some idea about the course, and you don’t want to be caught out as the only one trying to eat later on a technical section or climb.
  • On a steep climb, especially early on before the field diminishes, you need to ride defensively and create space for yourself. A combination of going slow and a bit of panic cause the group to bunch up tightly. Combine that with some early weaving by weaker riders, bad shifts, etc., and conditions are ripe for a big pile up like we had in the opening miles of the cat 3 race on Saturday.
  • For a typical super hot summer road race, packing any less than the equivalent of at least seven bottles of liquid is a huge mistake, and the more the merrier. That may sound excessive, but at minimum you’re looking at two bottles for getting to the race and getting ready (particularly for mid-day starts), at least three to start the race with (I was super glad to start with four on Saturday), and two more to drink right afterward. Team sharing’s great and all, but I was stone-cold prepared to drive away and leave at the race anybody who’d finished my reserve nalgenes.

Beyond that, I encourage anyone with any interest in climbing to do this event. It’s a touch expensive, but has a solid time trial and two brutal road races. Combine devastating heat with what I think could be the hardest climbs in this region that you could have a mass-start race on—and I ride a lot in Vermont and New Hampshire—and it’s game on. It also seemed well organized. Marshaling, signage, and caravan coverage seemed spot on, and check-in was butter smooth. This could obviously change, but this year my buddies John Frey and Alan Atwood were doing results and chief refereeing, so placings, GC, stage communiques, etc., were all posted online ridiculously quickly.

More importantly, it’s a fun weekend. We rented a huge house nearby for pretty cheap and had a great time making dinner, getting ice cream in a sweet little Main St kind of town nearby, and hanging out. Don’t miss out next year!

Etapa 4: Olomouc

This past weekend Caitlin and I took a whirlwind trip through Moravia, the eastern side of the Czech Republic.  We wrapped up by dropping into Olomouc on Sunday morning just to walk around, maybe see the cathedral, and get lunch.  From the train we started walking through a lovely park, and then cut over into the main town square.  There…

Hmmm, that's funny, down the end of the alley looks like a...

... team car.

And another one...

And another one?!

Hmmm…

No, you have got to be kidding me!

The Czech Cycling Tour

Sure enough, for the third straight weekend we had randomly stumbled into a huge bike race of one kind or another, this time the Czech Cycling Tour.  Fortunately a cafe parked right on the finish line (those are its umbrellas above) had free WiFi so this time we were able to figure out roughly what was going on: We’d arrived in Olomouc just in time to catch the conclusion of the fourth and final stage of what’s seemingly the Czech Republic’s biggest road race, part of the UCI’s European continental domestic pro circuit.

The timing crew starts getting set up for the finish.

While volunteers get all the signage out on the hard fencing.

And a UCI official talks with some of the course marshals.

The all-important bouncy castle was of course established first thing in the morning.

Caitlin enjoys some pickled cheese (!), pizza, and a mojito---conveniently enough the only drink she's found that reliably includes ice cubes...

Earlier that morning the race had left Olomouc, done a long loop, and as we arrived was just about to begin smaller loops around town for a full 180km race.  It was very hot this and the preceding few days, which must have taken a large toll on the field.  The number of finishers did not seem to nearly approach the 148 riders that had started the tour three days previous.

Map of the stage (from czechcyclingtour.cz).

The lead cars arrive!

The breakaway leader comes by, several minutes up.

Coming into the main square.

Note that the entire old town section is on cobbles...

The peloton rushes by.

The extensive caravan, supporting 23 teams, starts going past.

DNF'd riders and their team vans drifted in throughout the day. These guys are notable because I'd coincidentally seen their van broken down on a roadside south of Prague while out on a ride earlier in the week.

Heading back to the showers...

Strava

So, we’re sitting there in the conveniently placed cafe and I’m cruising the web to find out more about the race.  I start looking through the earlier stage results to see if we can spot any big international pro names.  We don’t recognize any, but then I realize “Hey, I have seen some of these names before…”

A start list that organizers were handing out to the crowd as the finish approached.

The Strava leaderboard for a longish climb out of Řevnice, a town a bit south of Prague.

The leaderboard for another climb on the way back toward Prague.

One of the many issues coming to Prague was what bike to bring, or even to bring one at all.  A six week trip is right on the upper edge of where I could skip the hassle and be reasonably happy and fit with just running.  Ultimately I brought my road bike, well aware that skinny tires could be pretty challenging in the inner core of Prague, what with the beefy cobblestones, trolleys, traffic, tourists, and more cobblestones.  A big part of the decision was that I’d been talking a lot of smack about a few stage races in August and September, particularly Green Mountain.  I didn’t want to go into that having been off my road bike all of June and July.

What really sold it though was that I did a couple quick searches on Strava for the area and found this one long ride by a guy named František Paďour.  It hit a whole bunch of good climbs, was a nice roaming route, had great mileage, and wasn’t far out of Prague.  I was sold.  The very first thing I did on my bike in Prague was head straight (well, as straight as I could navigate) to the main climb on that route.

The ride in question.

That first ride I spun up the hill, came back, uploaded my data, and was a couple minutes off the leader.  I figured: No problem, if I go kill it up the hill, I could challenge that KOM.  …  Since then I’ve been unable to make any real dent on the leaderboard (it’s the first one above).  I felt a lot better about that knowing that the leader was out doing pro races.

The Neon Yellow Jersey

Then came the end of the race.  It was pretty exciting, but we had no idea what was going on.  They didn’t start doing English announcements until the awards ceremony, we couldn’t tell any riders apart, it was a short sprint, and so on.

Waiting for the finish.

First place!

Second and third.

Part of the field. Note that the sprint is short, curving, and cobbled.

Then I see rider #3 roll into the little staging tent next to the podium.  I do a quick double take on the start list, confirm that it’s František, and start telling Caitlin “Hey, I think that dude I was talking about on Strava might have won something…?”  Next thing we know…

Paďour wins the top Czech rider jersey!

“Wait, I think he might have won a lot…”

Whirlpool-Author takes the team GC!

Paďour wins the neon yellow jersey as overall winner of the Czech Cycling Tour general classification!

As far as we can piece together from results and horribly mangled translations of Czech cycling news sites, Whirlpool-Author won the opening team time trial, stage two, and stage four.  Paďour hovered in the top ten on several stages, and aided by the TTT took the overall win by 2 seconds.  The key move was making it into a ten man split from the field going into the stage four finish we saw while his rivals did not.  Notably, earlier in the day we’d actually seen the rider who’d started the day as leader trailing far behind but we had not realized the significance of his jersey.  Apparently he had multiple mechanicals and could not recover.

A teammate brings the last-day GC leader home.

Whirlpool-Author sets up the train to reel in the solo breakaway going into the closing laps.

Ironically, just that previous Thursday and Friday I had spent considerable time while riding trying to figure out how these guys, whom I had assumed all along were quick but still comparable locals, could be going up that one climb in particular so much faster.  Suddenly it was much more clear.

So that is the full story of how František Paďour and Whirlpool-Author became Joe Kopena’s official favorite European continental pros.

Trying to congratulate František and thank him for posting all of his immensely helpful routes.

There are a bunch more pictures in the Flickr gallery.

Řevnice

I finally got myself together, assembled my bike, and went exploring.  Obviously after I spent most of a warm, sunny Saturday inside reading it would be cold and rainy on Sunday, but it’s never actually been asserted by anyone that I make the best scheduling decisions.

Let's go!

To be fair though, in Philadelphia the weather forecasters are arguably not very good at forecasting.  In Prague they take it to the next level and clearly just don’t give a damn, making up whatever they feel like.  Today’s forecast as of this morning when I left was 65, sunny & clear all day.  An hour later the actual weather was 50 and raining steadily.  Such has happened on several occasions already.

Roads, Trails, Dirt

Riding in the downtown core of Prague itself is basically a ridiculous proposition.  A long time ago some guys and I were kicking around Philly on a ride near Christmas.  We hit Germantown Ave at Cresheim Valley and it was the most amazing fiasco—cobbles, trolley tracks, ice, snow, busy traffic patterns, angry holiday shoppers, chaos!  Somebody half-fell into ice water, somebody rode into a car waiting at the light, I slammed my rear wheel into a parked car to correct, it was a disaster.  For years that entire group would know exactly what you were on about if you yelled “Cycling apoc-a-lypse!”

The core of Prague puts that to shame.  Forget Germantown Ave, every road here is cobbles, with multiple trolley tracks, all going in crazy directions.  And it rains off and on all the time so everything’s crazy slick.  Plus there’s the lack of interest among European city planners in stop signs, yield signs, etc., and the resounding support that attitude gets out of every driver.

Once you get out of the core though, it’s actually very ridable.  Many of the roads that are more straightforward to navigate are somewhat busy, but they’re all in surprisingly good shape and traffic seems very accommodating.  In general it also seems like the Prague area really empties out on the weekends, an observation corroborated by several guidebooks and websites I’ve read, which is perfect for long Saturday or Sunday rides.

Looking down CZ115 going out of town.

Looking down CZ115 going back into town.

The thing to watch though is that it’s real easy to go from a perfectly nice, smoothly paved local country road, to something much more amenable to a cyclocross bike, sometimes even a mountain bike.  Similar could be said of many places in the states, say, in Vermont.  The difference here is that dirt roads seem to not be differentiated on maps.

This isn't even the worst of it; a short bit before there were fist sized rocks everywhere.

Similarly, there are actually a ton of fantastic bike paths around that go all sorts of places.  They’re actually fairly impressive, the network is in most ways much more substantial and interconnected than any similar system I’ve seen in the states.  But they’re super hard to follow at times as they co-exist temporarily through the occasional driveway or side street and it’s real easy to wind up off track or at a dead end.  Signage is at a definite minimum and fairly inconsistent in its placement and conventions.  Similarly to the local country roads, a lot of them also have significant gravel or dirt sections and there doesn’t seem to be any way to tell on a map.

Perfectly lovely little bike path...

Scenery along the little path...

This is going to be great, what a nice little path! The map says this goes all the way into Prague, so I'll just ride this all the way back and it'll be awesome! Mmm... What's around the corner?!

Oh. I see. No, Joe Kopena, no! How could you be so wrong?!?! Go back to start! Do not collect $200!

Notably, that photo sequence is on bike route 3, where the classification scheme indicates “Single digit route: International, very long distance route.”

In many ways though the most nerveracking part of riding around is just not having any concrete idea what the signage is saying.  Usually it’s pretty clear.  This sign was a good guess to mean “Cyclists dismount,” which it does.  But does it say more (it doesn’t)—that’s a lot of words for “Dismount!?!?!”  At speed on bigger roads there’s an awful lot of “Wellppp, hope that didn’t say anything important…”

Hmmm... ???

All that said though, I was surprised by the conditions of the roads and trails. Almost every road I saw today was in pristine shape and very smooth.  Interestingly, though not of visibly different composition they seemed a bit more slick than most American roads, but certainly not troublingly so.  Traffic was also steady enough that I never felt alone, which I consider mostly a positive in unknown territory in case things go real sour, but generally comparatively quiet, even on numbered inter-city routes.  It will be interesting to see how much that picks up during the week when Prague and the surrounding area are busier.

The A1, one of the main bike paths in & out of Prague. Another perfectly awesome path with just a few quirks.

Řevnice

Heading out I had the loose goal of riding to Řevnice, a town about 20mi south of Prague.  Poking around on Strava this seemed to have one of the larger road climbs in the area, most of which is slightly rolling but lacking in steep or long climbs.  In general this has been by far the most interesting use of Strava for me, even back home, exploring areas for good places to ride.  In this case the Explore view yielded a King of the Mountain segment in Řevnice.  It seemed like a bunch of locals ride it often, so I went to check it out.

Without anything in the way of a “route” planned out per se, I was moderately surprised to actually make it there, especially after a couple dead ends, some gravel, the rain, and a brief but somewhat nervy ride on the local equivalent of US30 or 73.

In the end as I approached Řevnice I was rewarded with sighting the first two racing-oriented-looking roadies I’ve seen here.  Neither acknowledged me, except the one guy had to when I pulled up right next to him at a blocked train crossing.  It definitely seems to be the case that in a complete reversal from American protocols, runners here all wave while cyclists of all stripes steadfastly ignore each other…

A short ride from Prague to Revnice.

The Řevnice climb itself was definitely worth the trip as well.  Hopefully I’ll be able to find harder, it’s basically a twisty, ~3.5 mile version of Shawmont Ave, but definitely a really pleasant little forested climb on which a pretty good workout could be put on.  I’m reasonably sure if I rode there fresh and was doing more than tooling around I could mount a credible challenge to the current Strava KOM.  Beware, Frantisek Padour, beware!

Looking back on the top of the climb out of Revnice.

Heading down into Minisek pod Brdy.

Prodoli

Following today’s workshop I was wandering about and heard the “faint” stirrings of Euro-pop way off in the distance. It turns out all these little walled-in town squares and narrow roads basically turn the whole city into an amplifier…  Obviously compelled toward it, halfway across the city I found an open air concert, apparently a benefit “for the gorillas.” Which gorillas or why or how were a complete mystery because that’s literally all anybody said, with no explication and no signage, pamphlets, or anything—in any language—but I am sure some primates somewhere feel better about themselves now.

In any event, there were a lot of stands filled to the brim with sausage, many other stands baking fresh cinnamon rolls, and then there were these folks!

The Prodoli Bikes stand.

Prodoli, it turns out, is a Czech manufacturer of high end road, mountain, and cyclocross bikes. I gather the frames aren’t made here, presumably the carbon is laid up in Asia with everyone else’s, but it seems like they do the painting, finishing, and final assembly here, though I could be wrong.  Almost all are carbon fiber with a mix of classic lines and newer, Specialized-style compact sloping road frames.  Part of their deal seems to be a heavy emphasis on aesthetics, with some really good basic stylings as well as more ornate, airbrushed artwork.  A lot of them look fantastic.

Seemed like their top-of-the-line road bike. Handlebars look awesome, I'm a big fan of the comfort of fat-wing geometries.

Bumpy bikes!

The blue lava frame in the background is very nice.

Another road frame---this stem not slammed, the horror!

I'm not sure I'd want to ride it forever and ever, but I certainly love this frame art.

Gorgeous. But a bit expensive to hang as art...

This I find a bit too creepy, but it's well done.

Their more traditionally styled bikes also look pretty sharp.

The crawling ants on hexes—a combo that seems to happen often, for some reason—is my favorite of those on display and looks amazing.  Prodoli’s gallery has a bunch of other good designs as well.  Even some of the wheels have ornate patterns.  I particularly like the Butterfly, the blue variant of the Romance, also the blue variant of the Lava, the Square, and the Oxygen team design.  In general I prefer a lighter, more open aired aesthetic, but Flames is a super well executed design that I could see a lot of people getting behind.  The Spider design also looks a lot less creepy on a solid background with less realistic bloated creepy-crawlies.  However, in addition to the Ants layout above, which must be new as it’s not in the gallery, my favorite is probably the clean, simple CSK team design.  There’s a whole bunch more in the gallery beside these, plus a custom design program.

I thought it was neat to see a local bike company, and to have a high end manufacturer—I don’t see anything of theirs under about $3500 USD; divide the CZK prices on the website by 20 for a rough idea—out at a smallish, random Saturday benefit festival.  I don’t know why I went to all the trouble and worry of packing up my bike to bring over here when I could have gotten one of these beauties around the corner, especially now that I’ve got that credit card linked to Caitlin’s account.  I mean, it’d be supporting the Czech economy, buying local, helping an independent manufacturer, all that kind of good stuff…

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.