Tag Archives: road

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

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.

Race Report: 2012 Army Hill Climb + 2/3 Crit

This weekend Army had several non-collegiate categories for their fantastic hill climb and crit (nothing for the circuit or TTT).

In the open hill climb I got crushed by Charlie Avis (Trek-LiveStrong), but I’m pretty ok with that. More importantly, various Drexel, UVM, and other riffraf were held at bay for 2nd/7. My time was still pretty low against the Men’s A results. I was 4 seconds behind my previous best time on the course. I’m still debating if that’s an “only 4s” or a “a disappointing 4s.”

On that note though, results from the past couple years (setting aside the year w/ a course change) bears out the theory that the very top of the conference has been fairly steady, but the talent pool has deepened. Men’s B has basically dropped 40s (on a 10–12 minute climb) from 5 years ago. The long standing, wide discontinuity between the top 5 Men A and that field has also steadily dissipated.

The Men 2/3 crit was to some extent a very spirited group ride, with only thirteen starters, but it was a pretty legitimate group—the green jersey (ECCC sprint points leader) and both the weekend’s Men’s A winners were all in there. Most of the guys were pretty game so there were plenty of attacks, but no one had the sustainable power to stick a break so it all rolled into a field sprint. I lost focus in the last lap and got pushed off the wheels of the clear contenders, so I rolled in right behind but just out of the front line sprint, for 6th. My head was not in a racing mindset going into the race, so my cornering until I could get settled was not efficient and definitely cost me. Ultimately though, I was pretty happy to be able to hang with those guys fairly easily on a solid crit course.

One general note is that a day like that can be kind of rough logistically; when to eat, staying warm, not getting sunburnt, and so on. My hill climb was at ~9:15 in the morning, and my crit not until ~5:30. Personally I find it can be easy to screw up eating either too much or too little on that kind of day, particularly if you’re running around and doing stuff like I am. A strategy I’ve developed is to continuously eat small amounts. I don’t particularly eat any set lunch, but every two hours or so have a PB sandwich, Clif bar, (soy) yogurt, or similar. That way I’m continually digesting everything and never wind up with an overfull stomach, but also stay fed.

Similarly, that’s a long day in general; we started setting up at ~6:45 and didn’t finish tear down until near 7. In this case there were also officiating and other problems that needed to be mitigated; I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to get away to do the crit until minutes beforehand, and was definitely not in the mood. That’s all pretty draining even without a morning race. To help deal with that as well as general fatigue, hard racing/riding the day before, etc., I’ve come to accept pre-race caffeine. I don’t drink any caffeine on a normal basis, so if I have a Dr Pepper or something, it has a notable effect. Red Bull or such has an almost unbelievable effect for a couple hours if your baseline is no coffee, and I confess to having a stock on hand for particularly dire days. I’m not convinced the effects of these aren’t mostly psychological, but whatever works, works, psychological or not. The zero baseline is probably critical to the efficacy of this though.

Race Report: 2012 Yale Lux et Velocitas

This weekend a bunch of us did the open ITT and non-collegiate crits at the Yale ECCC races.  In the open ITT I finished 5/14, which sounds ok but was DFL by a second on the Men’s A times and a disappointment. The 1/2/3 crit (probably mostly 3s, bunch of 2s, couple 1s) was much better.  Though I only finished 24/37, quietly not contesting the field sprint, my mental game was solid and I felt super visible and active throughout, so I was very pleased.

In the ITT my form was good but I was up about two gears from where I needed to be.  Ultimately, as I get older I just can’t keep up my traditional nonsense of sleeping 1–4 hours, driving overnight, running around to get the race going, and expecting to be at strength.

One note for new racers is that for TTs in particular you should closely examine the course map since there’s little guidance in front of you and you’re pushing every section.  I had not raced this TT before and scared the hell out of the marshals at the left out of the park as I Tokyo drifted my rear wheel to rapidly go from big ringing hard into an expected slight bend to dealing with an actual beyond 90 corner, scrubbing seconds and being super perilous.

The Yale crit is flat and non-technical, with just one corner requiring care.  Imagine a fast approach on a wide road with a 90 degree corner onto a single-lane version of the old South St bridge, with the same exposed rebar ribbing, lips and curbs, and more holes.

I made at least two big mistakes in the race.

Maybe four laps in I guessed people were going to get tired of dealing with the pack on that bridge and the first separation would happen, so I went to the front.  I was about a lap late; I could see a credible 5–7 person break forming up ahead as I worked around riders they were shedding.  At that point I made a miscalculation.  I figured I was at ~85%.  I could probably bridge, but it would take 100%+ and risk blowing up.  In part because mentally, particularly after the ITT, I was not prepared to be in this kind of strong position, I opted to play it safe, assuming someone would go around and I could follow their chase.  No one went, either because they’d broken or another rider had already established what turned out to be a pretty effective block.  That precious couple seconds as I realized no one was coming was enough for the break to slip too far away for me to try for it.

Later, the break slowed or the block weakened and we came closer.  Tim Manzella (TSV/Drexel) was near the front and started digging toward it.  I thought if I buried myself I could get him close enough to launch into the break, so I rolled by the line and gave him a wheel. We made up ground but I didn’t have enough strength endurance and in the end couldn’t get him close enough.  The big mistake though was that I assumed at least a chunk of the field was with us, and had not verified that.  As I began to weaken and told Tim to launch, I expected there to be a line for me to rejoin and sat up a fair bit. In reality, we had separated from the field when we pulled forward, and Brett Houser (Drexel) and Matt Griswold (BU) had started running a block.  The field was nowhere nearby.  Given that separation, I should have let up earlier and switched off with Tim so we could try to TTT up together rather than me redlining to launch him, but the latter was the only plan I had in mind.  That we were all alone caught me way off guard, so I couldn’t readjust to tag his wheel and our bridge fizzled out.  After that the break was safe all the way to the finish.

Photo by Rich Foley.

Three observations for newer racers: One is that I’m always super conscious of where my handlebars are.  I try to never ride with my bars next to another guy’s, as handlebar-on-handlebar is about the most dangerous contact you can have.  In contrast, if some guy hits my hips with his bars, it’s probably not going to be a problem (at least for me).  As a corollary, the guy with the bars in front better owns the line and is asserting his space.  So, particularly approaching a tricky corner where I want to control my line, I’m usually very aware of giving a couple extra kicks to put my bars definitively ahead of the guy next to me, making space for myself.

Another is that in the closing laps, you’ve got to expect attacks to come, and you’ve got to think about where they’ll come and how.  A wide, fast boulevard section like the main stretch at Yale is a clear candidate.  I think some guys were surprised I was pretty easily able to counter a couple late attacks on the field, but it was precisely because I was waiting for them—watching the left side out of the corner of my eye since we were on the right, not blocked in by the guy in front of me, in the drops, spinning loosely and ready to spin up and accelerate rapidly to full speed.

Finally, I was pretty much mentally fixed on not contesting the sprint, even if I’d had much left (very questionable).  However, it was still well worth my effort to come forward and fight for front pack positioning in the closing laps.  Even if you can’t contest the sprint, if you’re near the front as it begins, you’ll still roll in before other people.  More importantly, that effort guaranteed there were only a couple, likely competent, riders in front of me going through that bridge as people ramped up in the last couple laps, protecting mission #1: My own safety.

All in all, the crit was a super fun ride with a ton of guys I know. After the Phlyer I started working out again after several months’ near-hiatus, so I did these races to benchmark where I am and to continue getting into the rhythm of racing and getting my mental game back in form.  I was shocked to find myself in a strong position physically and mentally, and pleased with how assertively and cleanly I rode the Sunday race, so it was a big success by those goals.

Photo by Rich Foley.

Race Report: 2012 Philly Phlyer

A race report from earlier this year that did not get posted previously.

This weekend (March 17/18) was of course the Philly Phlyer extravaganza.  I wound up doing the full slate: The open TTT and the 3/4 circuit and crit.  In each I pretty much just rolled in at the back of the main group: 8/17 in the TTT, 44/90 in the circuit, and 23/52 in the crit.

On the one hand that’s somewhat ho-hum.  On the other, I double checked my training log this morning and have definitively not been working out since Labor Day, so those are much better outcomes than I could have reasonably asked for.  Even better, it’s the middle of March and I’ve already done more road races than all of last year.

Most importantly though was that the weekend went amazingly.  Charles Rumford (Drexel/QCW) and Glenn Eck (Temple) did a fantastic job arranging the venues, coordinating everyone, all the endless thankless tasks that go into promoting not just a race, but three great and affordable races right downtown.  You really could not have asked for a more smoothly run weekend of racing.

Alan, Charles, and I before the start of the Temple Crit.

TTT

Tim, Brett H, Chat, Blake, Ryan Shank, and I all signed up for the TTT.  Yes, it’s a 4-person TTT, but Drexel Cycling does not respect your lamestream rules and regulations.  We’ve been talking about this for months now but, per tradition, not actually preparing, so I was surprised by how smooth it went.  Fortunately we beat the Peanut Butter Human Zoom monkey girls, to whom we’d been talking a lot of smack, thus preserving our manhood, albeit just barely.  Physical near catastrophe was also just barely averted several times as Houser attempted to get fancy with the handoffs.  Strategically, Tim’s harder, longer pulls eventually lead to him taking the final one and I was able to pip him at the line for the critical intra-team victory.

Circuit

Having not been riding, I wasn’t planning on doing the circuit race despite yet more smack talk.  In the end though the sun was shining, the temperatures way up, and I couldn’t resist that beautiful course.

My only real disappointment was that, despite all that smack talk, I was hoping to help protect Victoria Hanks (PBCO/HZ).  She’s probably stronger than me, but I think male/female power-to-weight imbalances make that course tough for women in men’s fields, and I expected her to struggle a bit in the endgame climbs.  In the event though, I was in too defensive a posture myself to process the situation and respond appropriately when she did finally slip back (and wound up coming in just behind the main field).  It’s a testament to what a mental game cycling is and how much discipline real strategy takes that I fully anticipated exactly what happened, saw it happening, had a plan for that circumstance, had reserves I would have happily burned to execute that plan, but completely blew it simply by being too much on the bubble myself to be thinking strategically and process the situation.

One thing I did do well was effectively employ all of my different muscles, forms, and cross-training.  Not having been working out, I really don’t have any strength right now, but my cardio is still solid.  Also having a decently stable and efficient high cadence spin, the first couple times up Ford Rd I just sat and spun in a very easy gear, burning my cardio rather than my strength.  The third lap that wasn’t fast enough and I needed more speed, but leveraged all my running to stand the whole climb and really basically run up the climb at a pretty high standing cadence.  Together that meant it wasn’t until the final climb (keeping in mind between the TTT and Intro races I’d already done 4 laps before the start of the race) that I had to really dig into my limited cycling strength reserves to ride up in a somewhat more traditional mix of seated and standing hard digging to stay in over the last hump.  This is one of the ways a lot of cross-training among road, MTB, and running, as well as explicitly working on different styles of riding, has really helped me, giving me many different options and reserves.

Crit

I was especially not planning on doing the crit, instead figuring on announcing and foregoing all the many risks of a pretty choppy course. Ironically, what put me over the top to jump in was that Tony Eberhardt, coach of the UNH team whom I like a lot, said he was going to do it.  He wound up breaking a clavicle on a fluke pothole crash.

One thing I did well here was to ride my own race and not panic. Given the many surface challenges of the course and that I’m not at the moment strong enough physically or mentally to fight for front pack positioning or a win anyway, I made a pretty conscious decision to tailgate more loosely than is best and give people lots of room in the two particularly risky corners.  This risked wasting fair amounts of energy having to catch up each time.  However, I would have space to avoid the many anticipated crashes.  The only reason this would work was because I looked at the course and figured: (1) If I fell behind I’d be able to make up ground comparatively easily on the two uphill stretches; (2) More importantly: They were hard corners.  The group would slow down a lot, as it did.  By hanging loose in the approaches and following my own curve, I gave myself space to avoid crashes, and ultimately didn’t expend that much extra energy because I was smoothing over the hard rubberbanding of the group.  In the end I really only had to dig hard once to reattach after a clump ahead of me dropped on a prime lap, and pretty easily hung in there for the end.

Tom, Brendan, and I patrol the back of the field in the opening laps of the Temple Crit.