What's better than getting home from work at 12:30 at night? Pretty much anything.
Due to some catastrophic computer meltdown tonight, myself and my band of merry co-workers took the trip down I-87 to the Troy Record. By leaving early, we were able to get all of our work done on time -- but then faced the 40-minute drive home.
If ever there was a prescient reminder of why I pay a premium to live in downtown Saratoga, it was that walking five minutes to work (or riding two minutes) is much nicer than a 40 trip by car -- MUCH nicer.
Aside from that reminder, I'd just like to say that I'm glad I rode my bike today. I ride my bike almost every day, and as I sit here in bed with my laptop reflecting on the way I've used my time since dragging my sleep-deprived carcass out of my Romantic Accomplice's bed this morning, I'm left with the thought that there's lots not to get excited about in your average day, but if I can get out and spend a couple of hours doing something I really enjoy -- then it makes everything else a little more bearable.
On my ride today I headed out to Lake D, and zipped my way up to the top a couple times, playing piggy-back with a rider from Burnt Hills who apparently also gets to ride in the middle of the day. There was nothing at all remarkable about our interaction, except that I always find it shocking that other people subject themselves to Lake D-induced torture. I mean, I do it all the time, but I've got a serious climbing problem to overcome. This guy, by his own admission, does not race. There are so many roads, why chose that one!
I did have some cause for concern when I beat him to Tinney's, did a u-turn and flew straight back down the hill at 50 MPH. Upon reaching the bottom, he was nowhere to be seen. I immediately started worrying, although it wasn't at all my place to worry, that he'd crashed somewhere on the way down. Of course, he hadn't -- he'd just turned around higher up on the hill when going for his second lap.
But, we cyclists have to be out there for each other, so I was glad to see that this anonymous rider was OK.
And with that, I'm going to take an elephant gun to this rambling post! Goodnight.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
What's better than getting home from work at 12:30 at night? Pretty much anything.
Monday, July 26, 2010
I often say that before anyone is allowed to be an adult they should be required to do two things work in retail and work in food service.
There's no better way to experience the worst range of human behaviors than in service industries, and to thusly learn humility. To make sure that I'm fully certified to be an adult, I've worked a variety of both hospitality and retail jobs over the years. For the past few years I've worked part time at Blue Sky Bicycles here in Saratoga Springs. In addition to reminding me how to work with a variety of people, this job has the additional benefit of offering me discounts on bike stuff, occasional access to the shop to work on my own bikes, and a highly-convenient bike wash station.
All very good indeed. The greatest benefit, however, may be near-constant reminder that riding bikes doesn't have to be such a serious affair all the time.
Case-in-point: While at work this morning I first sold three bikes to a couple who wanted to ride with their college-aged daughter while in town for the track season. They didn't care about the bikes' features, comparative merits or gear ratios. Did they fit? Can it have a kick stand? Good, we'll take them.
And into the back of the Porsche Cayenne. That was the kind of sale that salesmen dream of, but it was also a reminder that if all you want is to ride to Humpty Dumpty you don't need to make sure that your saddle perfect to the millimeter, or that your knee is centered over the pedal spindle. As someone who now always makes sure his knee is in the correct position relative to the spindle, but who once lived only to ride to the Verrazzano Bridge with Dad, it was a nice reminder that the company is more important than an in-style saddle.
The same was true for an elderly man who came in a couple hours later, who wanted to be able to keep up with companies on bicycle outings, and for whom his beach cruiser-style bike wasn't cutting the mustard any longer. For an older man with trouble hoisting his leg over a tall saddle, a bike with a dropped-top tube (formerly known as a ladies' bike) was just the thing. Did he want to be comfortable? Of course, and a bike that's easy to get on and off was the thing to get him there, regardless of the questionable (to the eyes of some) looks. After all, no one wants to be the guy on the group ride who's holding everyone up.
Lately, an increasing number of people want to chat me up on the subject of my bike -- mostly because they've never heard of a Champion System -- and I find myself increasingly trying to avoid these conversations, because, honestly bikes aren't that interesting. They've all got two wheels and a handlebar. They're all made in the same factory. What more is there to talk about?
But the ride, that's fun. That's worth talking about, no matter how slow you're going or what bike is between your legs.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Things have been getting me down recently. Despite having plenty of time to ride, a wonderful Romantic Accomplice, a comfy new home, and the chance to spend a week-long vacation with my family on Cape Cod, I've been feeling off since April-ish.
Over the past few weeks, I've finally realized what it is that's bugging me. I'm not at liberty to identify the source of my troubles here, but coming to the realization of what the problem was -- and how to fix it -- has been a pretty big relief.
Because I've always been something of a head case, at least where cycling is concerned, my down mood coincided with a string of poor results and general lack or progress on the bike. But, I'm putting that all behind me now and keeping myself focused on the future and better things. It was with this new attitude in mind that I went off to race my second Tour of the Hilltowns on Saturday. I took an odd hop on a frost heave in last year's race and cracked my rear Zipp wheel at my first outing in this event in 2009.
Needless to say, I was hoping to my improved outlook would result in my first good race in a while. (I was also hoping that I wouldn't break my wheel again.)
At the end of the day, I got what I was after, more or less.
It looked to be about 75 of us on the start line at the Notchview Reservation when we set out for a 96-mile race around the Berkshire mountains. Racing with me were teammates Tom and Sean.
With a small breakaway off the front, we completed the first, shorter lap, cruised through the feed zone to pick up bottles from Sean's dad (thanks Mr. Smith!), then set out for lap two, a 60-mile jaunt that would take us up the major climb on the course. After receiving counsel from Tom mid-week, I was doing my best to sit in and conserve, which, it turns out, is a lot easier than attacking off the front all the time. As a result, I was comfortably sitting in near the front of the group, even as we started shedding riders.
On the long descent to Hawley I had a chance to tell Sean about the climb up ahead, which was sure to be a race-maker. Since I reckoned my own chances of making it up the long-ass climb with the leaders to be about zero, I thought it would be best to help Sean (who is on some kind of tear) out as much possible -- even if that just meant saying "Hey, get to the front, the climb is coming," which was about the extent of the help I offered.
So it was and so it went. I got popped about half-way up the climb, Tom lasted a little longer, and that was the last I saw of Sean or the front of the race. Shortly thereafter it started pouring, and I had the pleasure of riding in the downpour with Steve Francisco and some new cat 2 who kept insisting that "we could bring back the money," and making other ridiculous statements such as "I still want a good time," and "I've never finished in the top-20." If someone had told me these statements after the race I would have thought it was a good joke. As it was, I wanted to punch the kid. I wanted to punch him more when he insisted on attacking over the to of every little roller -- Kid, we're in the fucking gruppetto!
Eventually, we caught up with a couple other guys and the kid took off with Franny covering (can you cover an attack in the gruppetto?). I rode it in, eventually catching up to Tom, Nick Keough, and a few others, and crossing the finish line in a cool 4:15. Still no word on Sean's placing, but I'm sure he was right up there.
All in all, I'm pleased with how I rode, and think that Saturday's ride was indicative of rising form. I'm bummed to be missing next week's Tour of the Catskills, but looking forward to Tokeneke the week after.
In other news, Saratoga Race Course has opened, and Saratoga is now flooded with ass holes. In John's words: "Saratoga, the summer place to avoid."
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
The greatest tragedy of working the night shift is that I rarely get the chance to cook meals. Sure, I'll occasionally boil pasta and chop up veggies for a salad, which I then take to work and put in the break room refrigerator for later consumption, but that's not really cooking.
Last night, with a rare weeknight off from work (so that I can work one, if not two nights this weekend), I took the time to cook dinner with Scott and Lauren (my romantic accomplice was, unfortunately, unable to join us as she was attending to her own night-shift job). The centerpiece of the meal were two huge fillets of King Salmon, shipped to me from Alaska by Dante.
King salmon caught by rod-and-reel in Alaska is really excellent stuff (although I found myself wishing that I had moved my grill over to the new place), and the fish was well-complimented by pasta with fresh pesto, made from basil grown in Scott and Lauren's garden. A side of zucchini, also grown in their yard, was a nice compliment as well.
However, the greatest personal triumph to occur last through this veritable mid-week feast was some hummus I whipped up as Lauren was shredding basil. Although I've never put it into words quite as articulate as my brother's, I have a special love for hummus. It's my traditional post-ride recovery snack, and the perfect hunger-pang killer for when I get home from work at midnight -- one cracker full and I won't be hungry until morning.
I was certainly spoiled growing up by my family's proximity to Sahadi's and the whole middle-eastern neighborhood surrounding it (since gentrified). Now living in exile in upstate New York, I've been living off various brands of sub-par, store-bought hummus for the past few years. Then, when on vacation a couple weeks ago, I watched my Mom make a batch of hummus in a food processor. Never having previously given it any thought, it had never occurred to me that hummus is really easy to make.
I'm all about making my own versions of food that I'd otherwise have to buy at the store, so, instead of buying hummus on my weekly sojourn to Hannaford, I bought two cans of chick peas and a jar of tahini. Later, I combined the garbanzos with tahini, garlic cloves, olive oil, salt and pepper in my blender (traditionally used more in the winter for various soup adventures). About five minutes later Lauren, Scott and I were enjoying delicious humus that far-exceeded the taste and quality of anything you can buy in a grocery store (but still didn't measure up to Sahadi's). I also prefer the texture of blender humus to food processor humus, but I suppose that's a matter of taste.
I consulted Mark Bittman to get a general sense of the proportions (1/2 cup tahini for every 16 ounces of chick peas), but pretty much just improvised. Then I let Scott goad me into adding more garlic than I would have preferred, but so it goes. Even after snacking on the humus while we cooked dinner, I've still got enough from one batch to last a while, all while spending less than I would have on pint-sized container of Cedar's, or whatever.
So, make you're own, it's way better. As I was eating the hummus, it occurred to me that I should have taken photos of the process to post, as I did with the granola bars. I didn't. Oh well.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
After two years of not once setting wheel on Floyd Bennett Field's cracked and weathered pavement I've now raced there twice in one season.
If you can call what I did earlier today racing
Just like the last time I raced at Floyd, this was a handicap format with a group of 3s starting three minutes ahead of the 1s and 2s. With the whole team out for the second day in a row, we figured it would be up to us, along with the Burroughs brothers and a handful of other riders to bring the threes back into the fold.
I was put on the chase squad with four of my teammates, while the remaining riders were going to comprise the sprint squad.
The chase was, in a word, reallyf**inghard. I had a hard time clipping in on the line, and thus got bounced farther back in the bunch than I had intended, which wasn't ideal, but quickly got the front and joined the team, and riders from other teams, in pulling, hard.
For anyone not familiar, Floyd is completely flat and windswept. While the speed wasn't that much higher than the previous day in Prospect Park, there is downhill on which to recover, and the field was about a quarter of the size, so there was no hiding in the bunch, either.
I worked for a while, and was seeing red. Actually, I was seeing blue, as in the blue edges of my Garmin 500, which had smoke coming out of it from the wattage I was producing. Needless to say, I knew I wasn't going to be able to maintain power at that level for too long, and sure enough, toward the end of the fourth lap (yes, about 8 miles into the 50-mile race), I swung off the front, glanced down, and saw two numbers in adjacent squares on the computer's screen: 34 and 640. I'll let you figure out what units should be attached to each of those numbers.
It was at that point that I thought it would be prudent to go to the back of the line for a moment. Unfortunately, at the same moment, someone else thought it would be prudent to accelerate, leaving me in the unenviable position of needing to get back onto a single-file line at speeds upward of 30 miles.
It didn't happen.
I chased in vain for half a lap, then sat up. So it goes. I felt pretty crummy about riding myself out of the race so early on, but quickly realized that I had company. As Jorge put it: "you can't expect to ride hard in the chase AND finish the race." Fair enough. I still would have liked to stay in there and worked longer.
Eventually, there was a crash in the 3s, splitting the field. the 1s and 2s caught the second group, and went on to pursue the lead group, eventually catching them too. Teammate Tom made it into a late-race breakaway, and sprinted for fifth against some of the city's strongest riders, so that was cool to see.
But, like I said, I would have rather been in the race than watching.
Parenthetically, racing at Floyd is a pretty unique type of suffering. I recommend it to any bike racer.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Turns out that controlling a speeding pack of 100 races is no small feat.
Hats off to HTC-Columbia for making it look so easy
While it may seem boring to some, racing in Prospect Park is a treat for me these days, as I spend most of my racing days traveling long distances to participate in really hard road races. In light of that, rolling out of my parents' house and two miles to the park early Saturday morning was unbelievably simple. Of course, having "grown up" (racing-wise) in Prospect Park, it's always something of a homecoming to race there.
Champion System lined up in force this morning, with 11 rider flying the orange and blue flag.
Unfortunately, we didn't come up with the kind of result we're capable of, but on the upside for me, I felt better than I have in a race in a long time, and was pleased with how I rode. That's something, at least.
The race started fast, and we quickly lapped the cat 5s, and then the 4s. Despite the high speed I felt more comfortable than I have in a while moving around the peloton, and was pleased that I was able to help my team mates cover some moves and set the pace on the front. The plan was to be represented in breaks, or to set up for a sprint, depending on how the race went. With an average speed of about 28 miles per hour, no break was sticking, so we tried to get organized with two-to-go.
We had been neutralized with three to go, to let the masters finish their race, (we would have lapped them on their bell lap otherwise) which felt a little like coitus interruptus, but even so, we had no trouble getting back up to speed once the masters had done their thing.
The leadout worked for a bit, but we didn't really have the organization to stay on the front of the race for six miles. In the end, I felt good about pinning back a breakaway in the last 1.5 miles, before swinging off, but this only served to expose Igor, who was supposed to be sweeping. After burning my last match with that pull, I swung off and cruised into the finish with team mate Melcher, assuming that the sprint train was in place. I guess it wasn't, and someone not wearing orange won. So it goes, I still love racing in Prospect Park.
Fortunately for the team, we have a chance to do it again on Sunday at the Race for Wine at Floyd Bennett Field. But you'll have to come back tomorrow to read about that.
This was my first race in the park since last June, and I was happy to be back. It was also great to catch up with some of my old BVF crew. On the downside, my Garmin seems not to have recorded any data from today's race, so I can't boast about power numbers, etc. Oh well, maybe tomorrow.
44 miles in 90 minutes does hurt a little
But it's also kinda fun
Thanks to Patrick Littlefield for taking photos.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Tide is up, sun is headed down
Must be cocktail hour
As noted last week, I spent last week on Cape Cod, at the Bernstein family compound in Wellfleet. Joining me there were my parents, my Romantic Accomplice, my uncle, and my cousins from Bend, Oregon: Jenny, Tim, Zach and Alex.
It was really hot last week, but there was no better place to enjoy it than the beach, where, if it was too hot, you just jump in the ocean to cool off. Sadly, my globe-trotting bother was no there to partake in the fun.
Here's what a family vacation on Cape Cod looks like:
Alex is about 4, but can throw better than me
Older brother Zach is in the middle
It took about 30 minutes to inflate
Sadly, Alex and Zach punctured it the next day.
As a result of my shoulders being sun burnt, wearing a shirt was a necessity
And therefore, so was not being stuck in the middle!
Monday, July 12, 2010
Before I say anything else, let me just say that I'm a horrible teammate for expounding at length about yesterday's Pawling Mountain Road Race and never once mentioning that my teammate, Sean Smith, finished third in the race, 10 minutes ahead of the next rider across the line. Only a pro from the Schwalbe team and perennial strong man Roger Asphlom were able to win over Sean.
Sean is having the kind of season usually written about in the first two or three paragraphs of a Velo News profile on a new pro. By that, I mean Sean has gone from cat 5 to cat 2 so far this season, and after riding well at Fitchburg and Pawling (and other races), it seems that cat 1 can't be far away.
So, I should have mentioned that yesterday. As I reminded one of my clerks tonight at the office, "better late than never." Or something like that.
In other news, I'm really tired, so I'm going to cut tonight's post short. BUT, for any of my readers who don't already know, the Tour de France is happening, and Sunday's stage 8 was awesome. Or, at least, it sounded awesome, as I didn't get to see it. As a huge Andy Schleck fan, though, I was psyched for his stage win, and the resultant re-shuffling of GC contenders.
I think Monday's mountain stage is likely to be a little anticlimactic, but this is shaping up to be a great race. In years past we could count on Cadel to implode at some point over the next two weeks, but with the way he's riding his year, I don't know. Maybe the new Cadel will be able to hold his lead, or maybe Schleck will be able to bounce away in the mountains. Or maybe Contador's been playing possum, and will leap to an insurmountable lead in the coming stages. There's no way to know, and that's why grand tours are awesome. I'm glad this one is shaping up so well.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Union Vale was a fun race, and I was disappointed when I heard that the town of Union Vale had decided to kick the race out of it's long-time venue. Fortunately, the sponsoring club knew they had a race worth keeping, and instead of abandoning their event, as was the case with some other promoters faced with challenging circumstances, they moved it to the other side of the mountain, and changed the name to Pawling Mountain Road Race.
After racing the first few miles of this race (right up until I got dropped with about 20 others on the race's namesake climb), I've decided to award this new event a "B," after considering it's organization, venue, course, and competition.
The venue was, perhaps, the best feature -- at the shady Lakeside Park, in the town of Pawling. After getting dropped early, there was no better salve for disappointed muscles than a quick dip in Green Mountain Lake. Also, it was really hot but all the course marshals stayed at their posts, and you got a sweet pint glass to help ease the pain of getting dropped. So that was good.
In the negative columns goes that the promoters ran out of safety pins (fortunately, my driving buddy Nathaniel had a good stash in his Element).
The other major criteria on which I am evaluating the race is the course, which is much harder (for me, anyway) than the Union Vale course. After getting dropped on the first of three laps, I finished the lap, then rode one more for good measure. The ride netted me 2,933 feet of climbing, according to my Garmin -- not an inconsiderable figure for 40 miles, although below the promoter's advertised figure of 1,800 of climbing per lap. The first climb was about 3 miles long, or maybe a bit longer, and consistently steep. I made it about halfway up before getting popped off the lead group, and then every successive group.
The other climbs were shorter and considerably easier. Overall, it was a fun course, but didn't really stand out.
HOWEVER, there was descent with rough pavement that was OK on my own, but which I would not have wanted to do in a big group. Hopefully, this road will be patched up before next year's race!
Jeremy Powers was on the start line, shouting over Patti's instructions about his Grand Fundo next weekend, which sounds like a lot of fun(do), and provided some great start line entertainment. Apparently, Powers' girlfriend is manning an ice cream truck rest stop on the route, but Jeremy warned the peloton that he'd put anyone who hit on her into a ditch. The event is a fundraiser for the J.A.M. Fund, whose goal, according to its website, "is to help motivated, young cyclists reach their potential both on and off the bike, all while not being limited by finances." I won't be there, because I'll be racing for wine down at Floyd Bennett, but you should go! (Unless you like wine, in which case you should go to Floyd, which is bound to be a cooler race anyway.)
Anyhow, in racing action, I found myself off the front almost from the gun, with two riders from Wheelhouse Racing, Mr. TooMuchInfo himself and Jeremy, who helped fit me a couple weeks ago, and a rider from Jonathan Adler Racing. I was sitting on, mostly because Wheelhouse had two riders in the break and 17 in the field, while my team had me in the break, and two in the field. Also, I wasn't feeling really confident about riding 60 miles in a small group, after my attempt at Wilmington-Whiteface. So I sat on, and Mainer took me off the back, and we wound up back in the field. Then I got dropped on the climb.
So it goes.
At least swimming in the lake was nice.
Thursday, July 08, 2010
I just realized that an entire week's gone by without an update from me. This was planned, but I failed in my duties as a blogger to inform my wonderful readers that I'm on vacation.
From Monday, July 5, until Saturday, July 10, I'll be on Cape Cod playing in the sun and sand with my romantic accomplice, my parents, my uncle, and my wonderful cousins from Bend, Oregon.
Regular updates will resume on Sunday, July 11, with a report from the first-ever Pawling Mountain Road Race.