For a long time, I thought that I was destined to be a stage racer. I put the theory to the test in 2009, a season in which I entered no fewer than four stage races, which felt like a lot for an amateur.
In all of these, my best performance was at the two-day, three-stage Tour de Syracuse, where I finished second in the road race, and fourth in the overall omnium. Previously, I had put up a reasonable result on stage three of the 2008 Green Mountain Stage Race, and a high ranking in the KOM classification, but I had been fairly slow on the other three stages. Of course, I was a Cat 3 back then, and life was easier. Shortly afterward, I upgraded to 2 but still proceeded to piss money away entering stage races at which I had no chance of a result.
Last year, work prevented me from entering a single stage race, though, to this day, I regret not quitting my job so that I could race last year's Green Mountain Stage Race, which is, without a doubt one of the absolute best races on the calendar. In fact, I missed out stage racing so much last year that I never got the chance to really find out if I am a stage racer, or not. Certainly, in the past few years, I've laid claim to many more results in one-day races than in the multi-day variety.
So it is that I head down to my first stage race since a disastrous ride in the 2009 GMSR, at the Tour de Ephrata, in Lancaster County. The race features three stages in two days, my favorite kind of stage race (you don't have to take time off from work), and an omnium format, where racers will compete for points, not time. For me, that doesn't mean much, as my goals remain the same: Shoot for the highest-possible placing in Saturday's road race, then hope for a slow 30-second man in Sunday morning's time trial, so that I have someone to shoot for, and finally, to hang on for dear life in Sunday afternoon's crit.
Accompanying me this weekend will be team mates Sergio and Rodney. Between the three of us, we should be able to bring home some kind of a result, be it in a stage or in the overall omnium. Of course, there is a fairly stacked field living up along side us, including at least three pros, so it won't be easy pickings. Regardless, I'm looking forward to my return to stage racing, and my latest attempt to decide if multi-day events really are my thing, or if it's just folly.
Check back Sunday to see how it goes.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
For a long time, I thought that I was destined to be a stage racer. I put the theory to the test in 2009, a season in which I entered no fewer than four stage races, which felt like a lot for an amateur.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
It's been nearly a month (what day is it anyway?) since the New York Times began charging $15 a month for digital subscriptions. When the Times first announced that they would start charging, I was the first to say, "about time!"
Why would I take the stance of wanting to pay for something I had been getting to read for free for as long as I can remember? Well, most GBBM readers know that I used to work at a newspaper (I'm not providing a link because I'm still bitter about my departure), and from that experience I know first-hand how declining paper subscriptions are making for ever-leaner newsroom budgets to pay for crucial things like reporters and editors -- to say nothing of pens and notebooks.
I think we can all agree that journalists provide a pretty important service, yes?
So we should pay them for their services. And I'm not saying that journalists should be getting rich (that would rob the occupation of its romance), but a living wage and maybe a little job security would be OK.
My former editor at the aforementioned newspaper used to teach a journalism class at the University of Albany. Every semester, 30 fresh-faces students sat in her seminar, and where, I would ask her as I surveyed my three colleagues and four chairs left vacant as the staff shrunk, do these people think they're going to get jobs?
That bit remains really unclear to me, but I'll tell you this: If the news media, led by the New York Times (and Wall Street Journal), can reclaim their product by reminding the public, that, in fact, there is some value to being informed and it's worth paying for that information, there may be a few more jobs for those students.
More importantly, the quality of the journalism available to all of us will improve, and I think we should all get behind that.
Anyhow, I didn't really set out to defend the value of journalists. What I wanted to do tonight was to take stock of the New York Times' digitial subscriptions, and to offer a quick criticism. Fortunately, the Times itself has already taken stock of the subscriptions for me, in this story.
Before getting to the second part, I want to state for the record that I place a great value on being well-informed, and I am therefore a voracious consumer of media, and especially the New York Times, which I have read, either in print or online, for nearly as long as I've been able to read. On average, I read 15-20 NYT stories a day, from byline to tagline, and scan many, many more headlines. To support my habit, I will happily fork over $15 a month as soon as I am asked for it.
Here's the problem, a flaw that the Times may want to address in the near future, like many digital readers, I rely on Google Reader to bring breaking news, headlines and blogs to me. I don't have to scan 16,000 sites a day, it's all right there. Wonderfully convenient, right? You bet. However, it may not be convenient for the Times.
Earlier in the month, as I happily clicked away on headlines in my reader, clicks which take me to the story's full text on the NYT website, a blue-shaded box in the lower-left hand of the screen counted down -- "You have read 12 of your 20 free stories," or something to that effect. I expected, when I got to the end of my free clicks, I'd come to a screen that asked for credit card information.
Instead, after I read that 20th story, in about a day and a half, I continued to click on headlines in my reader, and continued to be taken to the story on NYTimes.com, without ever being asked to pay. Did I slip through a hole in the pay wall? Did I tunnel underneath it? Somewhere in the tangled interwebs, the Times Company does have my number. I know this because when I wanted to read A.O. Scott's review of the 2006 vehicle for Richard Dreyfuss and Kurt Russell, Poseidon, (watching bad re-makes of older movies and then reading the Times' review is one of my favorite pass-times), I was given a blued-out version of the article and asked to pay.
So, it seems that the architecture of the pay wall is not yet complete. Readers accessing content directly from the newspaper's homepage are likely being asked to open their wallets, but readers coming in from other sources, like me, are slipping through the cracks.
It's worth it, I want to pay for my news, but I'm not likely to pony up to indulge the movie review habit. I will, however, look forward to the bill in the same way that I look forward to my internet bill: It's a bill, but the content it brings into my home is well worth the price of admission.
The takeaway of all this, for me, is a bit of disappointment toward the Times. In order to turn their business, lo, the entire industry, around, the Times should approach their pay wall as they do their reporting: It should be beyond reproach, and I fear that it is not, at least not yet.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
I'm kind of sad tonight.
Not only because team Funky Butt Lovin' did not turn last week's win into a streak at trivia, and not because I'm wearing some disappointing compression tights from 2xU, and not because on the way home from trivia I was informed by the building superintendent that my car's trunk was open and had been since Sunday. And not even because, according to trivia, the average length of intercourse in the United States is 3-6 minutes, which is just disgraceful. I'm not even sad because it's really hot out and I feel cheated on the whole "spring" thing.
No, I'm sad because I'm thinking about a relative who died over the weekend, well before her time. Ellen wasn't directly related to me, but she married my Mom's first cousin, and her two sons are just a couple years older than me. Her oldest son, in fact, is a fellow spandex disciple and lives in Philadelphia. We were both supposed to race Farmersville on Saturday, until he traveled home on short notice and for the obvious reason.
A Jew getting cancer is not unusual, and nothing new, and, although I feel very sad for Ellen's family, I am glad that she didn't have to endure too much suffering. She found out she was sick only a few weeks ago. I didn't know her well enough for her to have told me this directly, but my Mom tells me that she wouldn't have wanted to live on life support, and I'm glad that she didn't have to.
My Dad and I -- along with assorted friends and family -- ride in Ellen's name in an annual MS charity ride (she had lived with MS for nearly a decade), which we will continue to do, although the mission of finding a cure for that disease suddenly feels a little less urgent now.
Ellen and the Wollman's call Madison, Wisconsin home, so I will not be making the trip out to the funeral, which is tomorrow. My Mom, who has known Ellen since long before I was born, is representing the Bernstein clan. I will, however, be thinking of everyone tomorrow, and mourning this early passing.
Monday, April 25, 2011
It finally got warm for a couple days here in PA, and a sometime last week (or maybe it was the week before that, who can remember), so I broke out a chisel and hammer and pried open my painted-shut windows.
There are seven windows in my apartment, each is 40 inches wide and eight feet tall, and each lets prodigious light into the space, which is really, is why I rented this apartment. Though the building is fairly well maintained, the windows are exceedingly dirty, and while I've cleaned the inside of the panes, the outside is unreachable, at least to me.
After my session with the chisel, I had succeeded in getting two windows to open without incident. One, it turned out, had been spared a painted-shut fate, one wouldn't budge, and one's sash slid up, but left its bottom piece lodged against the bottom of the frame, the wood having rotted to the point at which it was weaker then the paint sealing it shut.
Anyway, I've not got an opening window in my bedroom (of two), one (of one) in the kitchen, and two in the living room/dining room (of three.) The window in the bike room is inaccessible behind a desk, so it's staying shut for now.
The opening windows are good for one reason: Now I can have air circulating, which is really nice. However, it's problematic as well: For one thing, there are no screens in the windows, and I'm having a hard time finding expandable screens that open wide enough. At least, Home Depot doesn't stock them, and can't get them.
There aren't too many bugs about yet, so this hasn't been an issue, but I'm hoping to track screens down this weekend.
The larger issue has proved to be the noise. I hardly noticed the noise when the windows were shut, but now that they're open, I hear every train (there are a lot), all the traffic outside, the fountain in the triangle, and I get to enjoy my neighbor's conversations over cigarettes. It's all good, of course, but it is a noticeable change for me.
Previously, my loudest domicile was on Caroline Street in Saratoga, the main pedestrian thoroughfare for drunks proceeding home from Saratoga's myriad bars. Insulated from busy streets, even that apartment was quiet, aside from the hours of 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. Growing up in Brooklyn, my family lived on (my parents still live on) a quiet street removed from loud, noisy streets, so we were sheltered from what could otherwise have been a loud life.
But here, I live right on the triangle in Emmaus, "where it's all happening." The locale has many advantages, chief among them is the proximity to work of course, and to the bike shop, and the VFW. So, I'm willing to put up with the noise, and occasionally to wear earplugs to bed, but it is a different way of living for me, one that I'm still adjusting to.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
I think my mud-enhanced beard frightened the people in Subway
Happily, they still served me a mood-improving sandwich
Pros racing up the Alpine cols will describe riding through a "tunnel of noise" generated by the cheering multitudes pressing toward them from both sides of the road. Like a breeze lifting a leaf off the ground and swirling it up into the air, those sonic waves propel the racers uphill and dissolve the lactic acid that had been accumulating in their legs.
The closest I've ever come to racing through that kind of noisy tunnel was at the Greylock Federal Criterium in Pittsfield last summer. The mile-long course was almost entirely ringed with spectators who cheered the elite field throughout the race. And that was just a fraction of the support the pros would have on a high mountain pass, but even having experienced just a small portion of the support I can tell you the hooting, hollering and yelling really does make your legs feel lighter.
Even so, there are some cheers that don't work all that well.
For instance, on Saturday I drove down to Brownstown, PA, in Lancaster County, for the Farmersville Road Race. The race was billed as European-style Kermesse, held on gently rolling hills that wind around barns, fields and highway overpasses. Not wanting to disappoint the racers, the weather obliged us with Belgian conditions: mid-50s and rain. Compounding our problems was a small field (about 10 elites), combined with about 10 very unlucky juniors.
I don't think it was really raining when we started, and it didn't feel all that cold, but it was really, really wet. Accordingly, I opened up my trunk-sized race bag and selected the days clothing, beginning with a shellacking of embro. Then I zipped a vest over my short sleeve jersey, pulled on arm warmers and long-finger mountain bike gloves. Finally, I stretched oversocks over my cleats. It seemed like a good day for clear lenses and a cap, even though I usually hate wearing a cap under my helmet.
Then the race started and I was immediately wet and cold and all my careful clothing choices didn't mean shit.
As it tends to go in small races, there were a few attackers (me, of course), and there were a few welders (also me, on a few occasions). So, we raced along: Someone would attack, someone would bridge up, then someone else, who hadn't made the move would shut it down. The first few laps were painfully predictable in that way. There were three guys from the US Naval Academy cycling team, who appeared to be pretty strong but were riding a pretty negative race, which was frustrating. Everyone else was flying solo.
Finally, toward the end of the third lap (out of nine on the 7-mile course), I rolled away alone on a long, but not steep, incline. Two guys came across and we started to rotate, gaining about 30 seconds pretty quickly. I thought that would be the selection, but, sure enough, someone else clawed us back as we went through the start/finish. Then the race got really, really slow.
So I attacked again, drawing out four others. I put in a big dig then swung off and the eventual winner, a guy named Jamie, pulled through, putting in an even bigger dig, opening the gap to the field. Looking back, we got 45 seconds really quickly, and I immediately knew we'd made the race-winning move. Unfortunately, we still had 5 laps to race.
The biggest problem I had throughout the day was that my hands froze into near-useless claws. I could change gears and, with a great effort, squeeze the brakes, but not much else. I tried to remove my vest with two laps to go, if only get get some dirt on my jersey (but also so that the officials could see my number.) The zipper jammed and my non-functional fingers were simply unable to do anything about it. I was left to hope that the officials could read my number through the vest (it turned out that they could.)
More importantly, I was unable to get at any of the food in my pockets. I'd anticipated that a problem like this might come up and had mixed my Gatorade thicker than usual, so I was at least able to get some calories that way, but without being able to get adequate fuel into my legs, I started to come undone with about three laps to go. Still, I was able to take my turns and we kept rolling along.
We had one of the Navy guys, so I can only assume that his team mates were behind, preventing the juniors from chasing on. (It pained me to even write that sentence.) After one lap off the front we were a minute ahead of the field. The next lap we were 1:10 ahead with a chase at 1 minute. When we started our last lap, our lead was up to three minutes, as, I assume, the rest of the race had given up. Meanwhile, I continued to deteriorate, entering new found depths of the pain cave, but somehow still hanging on.
So it was when we started our last lap. About half way through the lap the Navy guy attacked on a little incline. We all responded, but the acceleration kept going for about 10 seconds longer than my legs could manage, and I came off. For a few seconds it looked like I might be able to get back on, as the other three were cat-and-mousing it up the road. Sadly, this was not to be. It was all I could do to keep my sorry ass turning over the pedals. Fortunately, the moto ref informed me that I still had four minutes to the peloton, so my fourth-place finish was never really in jeopardy, despite my amateurish bonk.
As I said, Jamie won, and I'm not sure about the order in which the other two finished.
All of that brings me back to my original point: When I finished the race, I was covered in mud, sand and cow shit from head to toe. Although I don't love wearing a cap, I was happy to have put one on, as it kept everything out of my hair. Grit was in my beard, up my nose and behind my ears. I had snot dripping down my nose for the entire race. I can say with certainty that I was a fucking mess from the world "go."
And yet, when we went out for our second-to-last lap, a fan on the side of the road yelled out "looking good!" Bullshit.
In the moment, all I could think was, "No I don't!" And I really didn't. So, while I really appreciate the support from the side of the road, a simple "keep going!" "or way to go!" would have sufficed. Instead, I was out there thinking about the slight from the side for the road -- of course, that, I'm sure, was not how it was intended, but that's what my lactic-acid rattled, mud covered mind did with it.
To summarize: This is looking good while racing a bike, not this. Let's keep it real out there people.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Quick post tonight because it got late.
I made it out to my first Thursday crit tonight, at the Bob Rodale Fitness Park, riding over from Emmaus with Matt, Mark and Yozell. As you expect from any good weeknight throwdown, there was a solid turnout, with racers (based on my very quick and informal observations) ranging from a couple of our local pros to more-casual racers out to get a weekly race in their legs. Notably different from the Tuesday night race in Brooklyn, however, was the large number of juniors, which I thought was pretty cool. Also, although it lacked Floyd Bennett Field's unique character, the pavement was remarkably smooth. Tonight, the race also featured a strong wind from northish.
The training race has a points race format, with sprints every three laps. Points went four deep. In a beginner-friendly twist, after the first sprint the entire peloton regroups until the second bell (for the second sprint), at which time the race is on.
Not knowing many of the racers in the field, I parked myself near the front for the first few laps, crossing the line just behind the first sprint. I got yelled at once by Pearson, for not realizing that we were supposed to stay together until the second bell, but otherwise, the race was remarkably smooth -- both from the getting yelled at perspective, and from the racing perspective.
After the second bell, I attacked over the (small) hill into the cross wind. Pearson went with me for the half-lap to the line, but didn't challenge me for the points, which was magnanimous of him since he could easily have dusted me, had he been so inclined. Instead of getting dusted, I picked up first-place points for the lap. We were back in the peloton before too long.
I didn't get any points on the next couple sprints, and my efforts for the points I did have came at the expense of not have the snap to jump onto Bill Elliston's wheel when he went by like a freight train, or when Bobby Lea's wheel, when he motored past to bridge up. Oh well. The two of them rode the next 24 laps off the front, splitting first- and second-place points, while the rest of us played at racing behind them.
I did manage to repeat my half-lap attack twice more, picking up third-place points behind Bobby and Billy both times. On my last attempt, I fell a few meters short of more points when Kyle Wamsley came by like a moto. So it goes -- that's what he's paid to do.
When the dust settled, I wound up third for the night -- not bad for a guy who can't sprint. More importantly, it was a fun night, and certainly a solid workout.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
One of the many sure signs of spring in the northeast is the start of weeknight World Championships. In Saratoga, the world championships were held on Tuesdays at Blue Sky Bicycles. In the Lehigh Valley, the World Championships are held on Sundays AND, when the daylight is long enough, on Wednesdays.
So, tonight was my first Wednesday Derby. The first night was fairly similar to all the Sunday Derbies I've been on, except that I'm pretty sure I haven't made it out since mid-March, when it was chilly enough to require a lot of clothes.
The key difference tonight was that it was really warm tonight, I pleasant change to be sure. the group was also a little smaller than it might have been on a Sunday, but still large enough that I only made it to the front once on the roll out from the velodrome to Fleetwood. Of course, I would have been happy to pull, but when the size of the group requires only one pull, one pull is OK with me.
Just like on a weekend, there was an acceleration from the turn, though, with only Bobby to make things hard, the pace was noticeably slower than on some recent weekends. For the fun of it, I put in a dig shortly after the turn, dangling off the front for a mile or two, before the group caught back on.
The ride kept rolling along, and got progressively faster as we got closer to the sprint. Traffic was heavier than it would be on a Sunday, but not to the point where the ride felt any more dangerous than usual. Looking, as usual, for a hard ride, so I just kept doing turns on the front, eventually leading out the sprint from the last turn, until there was a surge to my right, and the ride went by.
Up the road, someone won -- Bobby if I had to guess, I but I'm really not sure. All told, the ride was just about exactly 50 miles, starting and ending in Emmaus, and took about two and half hours. it was a good night of training for sure. I'm headed back to T-Town tomorrow for the local training race, which I'm hoping will be similarly fun.
Truthfully, though -- although the overall level of riding is probably higher at the Derby than at the Blue Sky Bicycles Tuesday Night World Championships, I always appreciated the variety of routes. doing the same ride every Wednesday may eventually get old. I guess we'll have to see.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
So, I just got back from four days of riding in sunny, warm California. On one of those days, I had the pleasure of riding with Coach Scott and Jesse, both of whom arrived for our ride wearing arm warmers and knee warmers, despite the fact that it was in the mid-60s.
By way of comparison, Matt and I were both displaying bare, if pale, knees and arms.
"You get soft really quickly out here," admitted Scott.
I think the Californians rubbed off on me, because I nearly had my own soft moment today. It was raining when I arrived at work this morning, and when I had occasion to look out a window at some point in the afternoon it was pouring. So, when quitting time came I was resigned to hitting the rollers because I'd been in California for a few days during which time I became incapable of "sucking it up." Because, you know, I might melt in the rain.
Fortunately, when I went across the street to our workshop to pick up a test bike for the night's ride I realized three important things: 1) It had stopped raining, 2) It was really pretty warm out, and 3) I was only in California for four days and I'm still very capable of surviving an encounter with a little water.
So I dashed home, got dressed, spent about 20 minutes making sure the bike's saddle was perfectly straight (no idea why this took so long.) Then it was outside for a ride.
No sooner had I turned left onto Indian Creek Road from Ceder Crest Boulevard then it started drizzling. Still, it was fairly warm, so I pulled on a pair of gloves and kept riding. Continuing on, the rain eventually stopped, and it got a little warmer as the sun started to set.
I came home with a nice sheen of road grit on my shins, and with feet chilled from wet socks, but happier for having ridden, and very happy not to have had to sit on my rollers. I really enjoyed our trip to California, but I'm glad that its softening effects didn't have a chance to take hold on me.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
After Saturday's fun industry ride, Saturday brought the Sea Otter Gran Fondo, which was also sponsored by Bicycling Magazine. Unfortunately, I was the only member of the staff to participate in the full, 96-mile distance, while .com Matt represented us on the 50-mile ride.
For anyone not familiar, a fondo is a mass-start event, where everyone lines up and starts at once, and for which times are taken as participants follow a controlled (but not closed-to-traffic) course. The key difference is the mixing of ability levels. They are also not sanctioned by governing bodies. Some folks liken these event to charity events, at which racing is definitively uncool, but I say that there is a start line, a finish line, and a results sheet, so ... race on!
After last week's bitter disappointment at Battenkill, I was out for revenge at the Fondo, and had been telling co-workers all week that I was going to win the event. Some thought I was being a crank, but fondos are raced in Europe, where they exist almost in place of amateur racing, or, at least, to simulate a race-like experience for some riders. Also, I thought it would be fun, and the only real race I could have done was a four-day stage race, which would have cut to much into work time.
Regardless of motive, I made good on my promise to win the fondo, crossing the line in just a shade over five hours. Results are here. Incidentally, I also set the day's fastest time on the 40-minute (for me) grinder up Carmel Valley Road at about mile 55.
The slightly longer version is that the group of about 300 people rolled out under the dual guidance of Gary Erickson and Patrick Grady at a pretty smart pace (you can read Patrick's write-up on the fondo here, he was even kind enough to mention me and post a photo he shot on the fly), working our way along the bottom of a valley, passing laborers working in the fields. I passed the time chatting with Alex, a Velo News ad rep, who, like me, had to pass up on the opportunity to race at Sea Otter. The front of the ride rolled along at chatting pace, and passed the first of five rest stops without stopping. We stopped at the next stop, but Gary flew the coop while I was filling my water bottles, so the chase was on once everyone was fueled.
Working with Patrick and Alex into a headwind, we eventually caught back up to Gary, right at the base of Carmel Valley Road. The climb was a 10-mile grinder that worked its way up a broad and deep canyon, getting steeper and steeper as we went up, eventually opening into sloped fields dotted with cattle. Just for the fun of it -- I put the screws to the VN guy when it got steep in the last 3K -- Gary was long gone -- and reached the Cahoon Summit in a time of 41:39, the day's fastest time. The bottom was pretty flat, and the climb could easily have been five or ten minutes faster if Alex and I had pushed the pace at the bottom. In many ways, the climb was really just like Lake D on steroids -- false flat on the bottom and steep on top.
After cresting the climb, pausing to fill my bottles at the first rest stop, and re-grouping with Alex, we took off. The descent wasn't particularly steep, and we had yet another head wind, so it was tough going, but we got a rotation going and forged onward. After winding through some towns, we eventually arrived at the base of Laurel Grade, the previous day's major obstacle. Although it was shorter then the previous climb, we had a lot more miles in our legs, and the climb hurt a lot.
The wheels came of VN Alex's bus pretty quickly, and I crested alone, cruised down the other side of the ridge, then suffered mightily alone in the headwind and on the last few rollers, overtaking folks finishing the 50-mile route (which started two hours later.) The last few miles were kind of a bummer, on a busy road with a narrow shoulder, and a European fondo would have had a little fanfare at the finish for the winner, but such was not the case on Saturday.
I sprinted to the finish, but no one cared, except my co-workers, with whom I went to lunch straightaway.
The ultimate conclusions are these: fondos are fun, riding in California is beautiful.
Matt shot this photo of me with my winning result from the Sea Otter Gran Fondo
First of all, my apologies for abandoning the blog at the end of last week. The blog outage was planned, but I realized that, in a significant oversight, I never mentioned it here. I'm very sorry.
The reason for the break was a work trip to the Sea Otter Classic, at Leguna Seca Raceway, near Monterey, Ca. In addition to myself, Bicycling was represented by most of the editorial staff, all of our tech staff, and some ad guys.
Sea Otter is annual celebration of spring and bikes, and features a huge expo and pro/am racing for both skinny and fat rubber (actually, even the mountain bikes had fairly skinny tires) -- all of which makes for a really fun event that draws cyclists of all stripes and a large swath of the industry.
For Bicycling, we used Sea Otter, and the preceding Bicycle Leadership Conference to talk about the magazine's re-design, which will land on new stands in a couple weeks, with the arrival of the June issue. As we do every year, we also distributed Editor's Choice awards, based on the conclusion of our testing in Austin, back in February.
For me, in addition to supporting my colleagues, it was a chance to talk to a lot of people in the industry and learn about brands with which I'm not familiar.
I also had the chance to do some great riding -- arriving on Wednesday with Bicycling.com's Matt Allyn, we headed to Scott's Valley, where the kind folks at True Over Drive met us the Easton-Bell HQ, and lent us a pair of comically small Cervelos. Meeting with Coach Scott and sidekick Jesse (or maybe it's the other way around?), we headed out for our first pedal stroke in California -- a five mile climb on a winding back road that wove along the wall of a canyon lush with Redwoods. Cool at the bottom, the road road opened up to a 50-mile view at the top, overlooking the valley and the ocean beyond.
It was a little different then Pennsylvania.
The descent, on a different road, was pretty fun, too. I didn't take the Garmin on this trip, but I'll bet speeds were pegged around 45 for about 12 minutes. Awesome.
Once we got to Monterey the daily schedule was pretty simple: ride in the morning, go to the venue, eat, drink, sleep. Of course, we had meeting and work functions mixed in, bit you get the general idea.
Riding on Thursday was in the company of other Bicycling staffers -- from both the ad and edit sides. The road along the Pacific and on 17-mile drive was stunning in its beauty, and the climbing was a lot less intense than the previous day had been.
Riding on Friday, on the Bicycling-sponsored Industry Ride, was again in the company of Bicycling's staff, as well as about 80 of our friends from the industry. We again rode through Pebble Beach, but a smaller group of us took the long way back to the hotel, riding up and over the punishing Laurel Grade -- 2.5 steep miles. I'm sad to say that I was not the first to the top of the climb, losing out to Mavic's Zack Vestal. However, I spent more time on the front than he did! I'm looking forward to riding with Zack again in a few weeks, when I'm in Boulder.
Saturday's ride is the cause of my ear-to-ear grin in the above photo: a 96-mile Gran Fondo. But, for more on that you'll have to check back tomorrow!
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
I know I said in Monday's post that I'd be following up with more thoughts on the Tour of the Battenkill, but I don't have too many more thoughts to share AND I need to go to sleep, as I'm departing for the Sea Otter Classic bright and early in the morning, so I'm going to keep this very brief and will just list some bullets:
- The volunteers did an amazing job, and I'm grateful for their hard work.
- I'm really glad that I didn't meet the fate endured by these ladies:
Video by Ed Burke, and I'm hoping everyone is OK. 4/17: Ed pulled this video down after it was abused by the Times Union. Sorry!
- This probably goes without saying, but the Battenkill remains awesome and I was grateful to be a part of it.
- After talking to a bunch of racers, especially those in lower categories, I've come to realize that the new section may be too hard, in that it effectively ends the racing experience for many racers 15 miles earlier in the race -- whereas some racers who were able to hang on over Joe Bean Road, and then race to the second feed zone, before getting dropped on Mountain Road, now those racers would have been dropped on Carney-Cassidy Road. It probably doesn't mater for the top 15 percent of each field, but everyone deserves to race.
- The new finish is not ideally suited to a field sprint -- or, it heavily favors a savvy sprinter.
- Before my race on Sunday, I spent an hour surveying some of the roads. On my travels, I came across a cat 4 racer with a broken-down bike, so I gave him a lift back to the start. I like to do this sort of thing when I have the chance, as I think it bolsters my bike racing Karma. Unfortunately, it didn't work this weekend, but I'm still happy to have met Jeremy, who traveled to the race from Indiana. Now with unfinished business, he'll be back.
- Racing on Sunday is all good and fine for a normal race that ends at a normal hour, but I was really bummed to have to drive home after racing, I guess everyone has different opinions, but I would have preferred to race on Saturday, hang out with friends in Saratoga afterward, and drive home the next day, after a relaxing recovery ride. As it was, I raced until about 6:30, and didn't hit the road until nearly 10, arriving home at 2 a.m., which made word really awesome on Monday. On a related note, I couldn't help that the crowds sticking around to watch the pros were thin. Maybe more people would have stayed on a non-school night? Maybe, maybe not.
- It was disappointing that after two awesome years of pro racing this year's field was lacking some of the flash. Hopefully increasing sponsorship will allow things to get back to the exciting standards of past years in 2012.
- A lot of the press the race received was related to a bad crash that required several injured riders to be airlifted for medical care. This is really too bad, as the headline should have been "2,700 cyclists compete in the country's largest, toughest single day bike race." Of course local newspapers love injuries involving helicopters, but there were happy stories to be told, too. At least the Post Star did it right. (The Schenectady Gazette also had two good stories, but I'm not linking because they use a pay wall. Also because they quoted triathletes. They do get props, though, for talking to Saratoga hard man Douglas Meyer AND hard woman Jenny Ives!)
- Despite my flat, it was a great day, and a great race and I'll be back in 2012.
Monday, April 11, 2011
This was my only moment of glory for the day
Thanks to Tracy Wargo for the shot
The results are in, and it seems that I finished a dismal 105th at the Tour of the Battenkill. Of my five participatations, this is by far my worst result. The lackluster placing, of course comes courtesy of a flat tire that I received after hitting a pothole on our second traverse of Roberson Road somewhere in the neighborhood of mile 24. Today I present my race recap. Tomorrow, I have a few thoughts on the event itself.
I rode with these guys for a while
But didn't see them after this photo was taken on Carney-Cassidy Road
Is this a disappointment? Let me put it to you this way: I started training in December, and built my entire training program around a peak for this weekend's event. Then, in late February, I found out that I'd be traveling to Belgium less than a week before the race.
Although I underestimated the effect that the jet lag would have on my legs, I knew, when I decided to go, that my race at Battenkill would be in question. I decided that I'd raced Battenkill a bunch of times, but had never see the Ronde Van Vlaanderen live, or ridden on cobbles. Besides, I thought, I'd probably be able to pull out a good race anyway.
That's a long way of saying that while I'm very disappointed not to have had the chance to find out how well my carefully-trained legs were capable of going, I also know that my priorities are different now than they were a year ago, and I'm glad I went to Belgium, but I was still hoping for (and dreaming of) a good result.
As for my legs, they'd felt like ass the whole week after Flanders, and they felt like ass on Sunday. Unlike last year, the race was on from the gun, and people were riding aggressively, using the whole racing lane. I started at about mid-pack, which, with a field of 150, was a long way from the front of the race, and I was having an impossible time advancing. I was finally able to start moving up when we turned left to cross the Eagleville covered bridge, and on the first trip down Roberson Road, the first dirt sector.
My solution to the state of my legs was to continue advancing, arriving at the front just in time for Juniper Swamp Road, the steepest climb at the Tour of the Battenkill, and to push myself hard over the top of the climb.
This worked out surprisingly well. The thing is, I know I worked hard to train for the Battenkill, and I knew the fitness for a good race was in my legs. I just needed to suck up the jet lag and push through the pain. So, after getting through the 90-degree turn at the bottom of Juniper Swamp first, I rode the entire peloton off my wheel (hitting my max HR on the way) on the climb, cresting the hill first and clear, to the cheers of John, Terry, and a few other friends who were there to watch the pros after wrapping up their races earlier in the day. John was gracious enough to take a photo of me.
An effort like that, although it hurt, was sort of like hitting "reset" on my legs. Once over the top and recovering on the descent (and once my heart rate fell south of 200bpm), I felt a lot better, and the pedals were turning over a lot easier. A little farther back in the pack, we rolled to Shushan, and turned left to complete our first half-lap.
For some reason, there was a crash just after the first feedzone, on a flat, smooth section of pavement. I was behind it, and had to skid to a stop, but was able to continue with just a brief interruption, and got back in the field with no issue. The race was on again to the Eagleville Bridge for lap two, but I got on the right side of the road this time, and was able to position myself in the top 15, a much better place to be, or so I thought.
The pace went up again after crossing the bridge, and the hammer stayed down on the lap's first dirt. I was feeling better sitting in and hoped that the pace would stay high over the smaller paved rollers that lead to Juniper Swamp, thinking it was a good chance for the peloton to trim some fat.
Disaster struck toward the end of Roberson Road, when a rider in front of me jinked suddenly to the left, revealing a lobster-pot sized hole directly in front of me. Boxed in on both sides (and incidentally passing a parked fire engine), there was no where for me to go but straight over the hole. I lofted the front wheel over the hole, but couldn't get my rear wheel off the ground in time, and it slammed into the hole's lip with a loud thud. Even so, I thought I was OK -- for about five seconds, until I felt the air going out of the Continental tubular.
I threw up my hand, and let the entire peloton pass around me. Once at the back, the Mavic Neutral Support moto was there in seconds. I already had my wheel off, and the moto mechanic slammed a new wheel into my frame, before giving me a serious shove to get my chase going.
He didn't want to give me water because he was on the wrong side of the road
Noble, but at 20 minutes down, I think it was OK
Despite this being about the fastest wheel change I've ever experienced (and a far cry from the last time I flatted at Battenkill and had to wait 5 minutes for a wheel), I just couldn't get my legs going again. Other flat-suffering and dropped riders were passing me and urging me to chase, but my legs just wouldn't go fast. Convinced my earlier sensations were wong and that I really had crap legs, I was all set to drop out -- until I crested Juniper Swamp for the second time, and stopped to talk to my friends who were still hanging out.
Looking at the borrowed Mavic wheel I noticed a key problem -- in his haste to get me going again, the Mavic tech hadn't got the wheel straight in my frame, and it was rubbing my chainstay. Balls.
Trying not to be upset that I'd potentially missed my opportunity to chase back onto the field, but relieved that my legs weren't total crap (I guess that's debatable), I re-set the wheel and carried on, figuring I'd ride to the feed zone to let Steve know that my day was done, then return to the car.
I rode with a few people along the way, then stopped to let Steve know what was up. I still wanted to quit, but the saddened look on Steve's face (I'm kind of his cycling hero (his words, I swear!)), was enough to get me to continue riding north along the course.
I eventually linked up with a rider off the back of (and yet somehow ahead of) the pro men's race, and we pressed on together, passing and dropping other 2s along the way. Yup, I'm pretty sure I was the fastest 2 off the back of the race.
I picked up some water from Team Manager Kozak at the second feed zone, then did my best to stay ahead of the oncoming pro race on Mountain Road. Pulling over at the top of Becker Road, the pros passed me, and once the wheel vans had passed I carried on.
On Meeting House Road I hopped on the back of a train of dropped pros who were riding the race out, eventually finishing in almost exactly four hours for the 82 miles, and 26 minutes behind the solo cat 2 winner.
So, I didn't get the chance to find out if my jet lagged legs would have been able to carry me to a result. After riding all day, I think I had top-10 legs, and if things had played out differently, maybe I could have parlayed those legs into podium legs. But, as it was, the 20-up field sprint would not have been well-suited to my skills, so maybe it would have just been another lackluster result for me. The world will never know -- but that's bike racing, and that's why I love it.
I'll be out for revenge at Battenkill 2012.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Our first trip up Juniper Swamp Road
Thanks to John for the photography
For the love of Caffelatex, that is. My run at the 2011 Tour of the Battenkill ended unceremoniously at about mile 24 when I hit a large pot hole and suffered a rear puncture. Some sealant probably would have kept me in the game. Oh well.
Thanks to Steve for standing out in the feedzone for me, and for motivating me to finish the race, even if I was off the back, and even if he didn't realize he was doing it. Thanks, once again, to Jamie and Rachel, for giving me a place to stay for the weekend. Thanks to Colin and Aimee for a much-needed (and perfectly timed) dinner tonight, to Zack for the beer, and to Dante for commiserating with me all the way from Saratoga to somewhere in New Jersey.
Congrats to James on taking a well-deserved second place.
It's late, I'm tired, full report tomorrow.
Thursday, April 07, 2011
Well readers, I'm going to level with you. My legs feel like absolute ass.
When I first thought about going to Belgium for a weekend, back in February, I didn't think the travel would really effect me. Boy was I wrong! I've felt heavy and rough since I got off the plane on Monday, and things have only got marginally better. Oh well.
In another year, I might be all upset that I don't feel at my peak just two days ahead of the Tour of the Battenkill, but this year, I feel pretty calm about the whole thing. After all, even if my legs don't feel good, I know I've done my work this winter and spring, and that I'm as well prepared as any of the other 149 cat 2s taking the start in Cambridge on Sunday.
Even if my legs don't feel their best, the speed and power is there -- it's just a matter of digging deep and leaving everything on the road, so that's my plan for Sunday. The course is demanding, and the Battenkill is always an unpredictable race, to a degree greater than most other events I've experienced. I'm hoping for a good race Sunday, but it's really anyone's game.
Incidentally, I'm mostly writing this post to satisfy one particular commenter.
I'm packed for the weekend, and planning on leaving for Saratoga right after work tomorrow, and will be hanging out on Saturday, and doing a shake down ride and hoping my legs are starting to feel better by then.
Good luck to everyone racing this weekend, and please stop me to say hello if we cross paths at the race!
Check back Sunday evening for a report on how the race goes down.
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
The clamp is large, but not as heavy as it looks
I'll have a matching bar and stem set up shortly
Check out my sweet photography in the current header of the Embrocation Cycling Journal.
For a guy who's not usually afraid to risk fucking something on my bike up in the name of pretending to have a modicum of mechanical know-how, I got surprisingly stressed today about swapping seat posts.
It seems that at some point I over-tightened the seat post binder bolt (must have been before I bought a torque wrench), cracking the Champion System seat post. It's been cracked for a while, and although it never broke, I'd recently noticed that the crack seemed to be getting worse and the creaking noises were getting worse.
With Battenkill coming up fast, it was a fortuitous time for a new EC90SL post from Easton to arrive for testing. Being sure to use some carbon prep (courtesy of South Mountain Cycles), I made the swap in my office this afternoon.
I followed the old adage, measure four times, cut tighten once, basing my saddle height off the position set last spring, when I was fitted on the bike. Even though I measured many times, and was spot-on according to the measuring tape, I still wound up with a saddle that was slightly low.
How could I tell if the measuring tape couldn't? As soon as I got on the bike later in the afternoon and starting pedaling, my knees hurt and my thighs felt all jammed up. The thing is, when you spend so much time riding and racing in one position, your body becomes very sensitive to minor changes in position. In only had to move my saddle up about a millimeter -- a chance so subtle a casual rider would never have noticed -- and I suddenly felt much better, like i was back to my normal position.
So, for anyone who rides a lot, take care with minor adjustments. Easton, incidentally, also sent me a new EC90 SL bar and stem -- but I'll wait until after the Battenkill to check those out -- changing the post out was a matter of necessity, but we're way too close to race day for a new cockpit set up!
Finally, a quick note on poor planning: Today was my last workout before Battenkill. Coach Scott had prescribed a micro-burst workout, but since I've been away for the past few weekends, I asked him if it would be OK to ride the Wednesday evening Derby instead, figuring that would be a fairly hard workout. With his blessing, that was the plan. Although the forecast was calling for a chance of p.m. rain. But, when I woke up, the sky was blue, and it was warmer than it had been. So, I figured the forecast must be wrong.
In the end, I was wrong.
Right after my co-workers returned from a lunch ride under clear skies, it started raining. I made the wrong bet, and paid the price by riding the rollers while it was raining outside. So it goes.
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
This is going to be a really short post, because I'm still whipped from this weekend's trip. After riding parts of the Tour of Flanders course on Saturday, I spent Sunday watching the race, both live and on TV.
You can see more photos here and here.
Here is the day in photographs:
This, it turned out, was harder than it looked
Also, not as cool as it looks
I don't think he did, but it didn't matter in the end
The crowds filled the town city in Brugge
Each team had one car in the caravan
Larger teams leapfrogged to the cobbles in other vehicles
The lowly guys had the longest wait
All the big names arrived right at the end
This was taken in a bar right after the start in Brugge
Many fans do an admirable job tailgatting the race
I would have liked to see more climbs, but this one was pretty awesome
There was concrete on the road, but barriers kept the riders on the cobbles
By this point in the race, only about 40 guys were still racing
The rest were done for the day
The rolling enclosure required surprisingly few vehicles
And none of the residents seemed to care.
The race was on a few TVs, and it was standing room only
The Belgian were all for Tom Boonen, and cheered when he reached the lead group
After the race, passerbys were cheering for the mechanics
I saw Bjarne Riis in the hall, he was very concerned that his outfit wasn't slick enough
Riis is reacting to an in-the-car video of his reaction to Nick Nuyens' win
It was quite a party in the hotel bar
Monday, April 04, 2011
I spent many years working in bicycle-related retail and something that maybe should have been obvious a long time ago just because clear to me while riding the Ronde Van Vlaanderen Cyclsportif on Saturday: a cyclist wearing a pro team’s kit is not necessarily living an act of Fredly ignorance about what’s cool and what’s not – instead, it can be an act of homage. On Saturday’s 90-odd mile ride across the cobbles, bergs and winds of Flanders I realized that the dozens of Saxo Bank/Swiss champion (Fabian Cancellara, circa 2010) jersey, or Quick Step/Belgian champion (Tom Boonen, Stijn Devolder), or Cervelo TestTeam (Heinrich Haussler, Thor Hushovd, crica 2010) jerseys I saw on the course were worn not by the clueless, but by rabid fans out to support their favorite riders.
That’s pretty cool. It’s *almost* enough to make me want to go out and buy that Cancellara jersey.
I suspect that after Sunday’s race, there will be a rush on Saxo Bank/Sunguard jerseys at shops across Belgium, in support of Nick Nuyens. Within minutes of the race ending on Sunday, Belgian news websites declared, “we have a new hero.”
Pretty cool. All though I’d visited cycling’s heartland once before, this weekend’s trip was my first chance to steep myself in the country’s cycling culture. In many ways, the jersey thing is analogous to football fans in the U.S. – many fans have a favorite team or player, and not only might they wear that team’s jersey to the bar to watch the game, but they’d likely also wear that jersey to a pickup game.
I will admit, though, that a football jersey is more conducive to use as casual wear than a tight-fitting cycling jersey. Still, it was pretty fun to be faster then so many pretend Cancellaras and Boonens on Saturday.
How much faster ways I? Let me tell you a little bit about the cyclosportif. I’ve done a lot of long-ass rides over the past couple months and years, many stretching to five hours and beyond. Saturday’s ride, which I completed in just about five hours, went by the fastest of any of them, by far. This was mostly due to the amazing weather (70s and sunny), and a really fun parcourse.
This was the first time I’ve ever participated in a cyclosportif, a non-competitive event that mixes all levels of cyclists. At one point, I suppose, there was as a traditional start, but the event is designed so that riders can roll off at any time during the day. So, our group—all guests of Giro, and comprised of myself, a few others journalists, including Ronde Van Vlannderen veteran Joe Parkin, several members of Giro’s marketing and product staff and Gerrard Vroomen, whose company supplied our bikes for the day—after driving an hour from the hotel, took our time in hitting the road.
Once rolling, it was immediately apparent that “all levels” was to be taken literally. There were families with kids on 20-inch wheel bikes and there were old folks out on hybrids. Then were plenty of riders “racing” the sportif, attacking up the climbs and forming echelons in the cross winds.
Realizing that I would not be participating in the formal “start” of the event, thus missing a chance to “win,” I settled in to complete the ride at my own pace, along with 18,000 others. I fell in with Aaron Gully, my roommate for the weekend, and set off for the first section of cobbles.
Despite riding a super-compliant Cervelo R3 equipped with Vittoria Pave tires (in the 27mm widthway), the first section of cobbles was shockingly rough. I mean, you theoretically know what’s coming and you’re kinda prepared for it, but the frequency and sharp resonance of the vibrations coming through the Zipp 303s made the ride (yes, even with those big tires), jarring, to say the least.
I tried riding faster and slower, in the hoods, drops and on top of the bars. As you’ve heard from Phil and Paul on Versus, it really is easier to ride over the cobbles at a faster clip, kinda floating over the stones. I also found riding in the drops, with my hands furthest removed from the wheels, to be the most comfortable spot. As someone who hardly ever wears gloves, I was glad to have chosen to wear a pair on Saturday. The one trick that really worked for me was riding on the margins of the road, in the dirt gutter. It wasn’t always possible, but made for faster, smoother rolling when I could. The big tires were plenty forgiving for riding up and over lips in the road when you needed to change lines, and I never had an issue with traction (of course, had the stones been wet it might have been a different story.)
The non-cobbled sections were unremarkable in terms of the roads themselves, although the overall course is remarkable for the way it’s almost always winding through one village or another. There were brief stretches of open road, surrounded by farm fields (and ripping winds), but the majority of the route linked populated areas.
Fortunately, the first cobbled section proved to be the worse, with the largest gaps between stones. Later sections were still rough and jarring, but less painful to ride over, especially as I got better about choosing smart lines.
The first climb was the Paterberg. Evan and I came into the bottom of it and immediately hit a wall of people walking up the road. I rode until I couldn’t make any more progress, and was then forced to join the crowd in walking. Evan and I became separated over the top as we both headed toward the Koppenberg, the steepest of the Flandrian climbs, and one of the most famous.
Despite explicit instructions from Bill Strickland not to dab on the Koppenburg, this also proved to be an impossible task. Organizers were letting groups onto the climb in waves, but not allowing enough time for one group to reach the top before unleashed the next. Starting at the back of one wave, I stopped at the bottom and waited until the group ahead had progressed, then started riding. I made it halfway up before I hit the mass of people, and had to dismount, a pretty big bummer that I’m sure I’ll hear about at work this week.
Then the next wave of people hit, and the faster guys at the front shouted at us to move aside. Like magic, the sea of people parted, and a few were able to make their way through. If only I’d known that little trick.
Oh well. Once over the top I re-mounted and set off in an attempt to catch up to Evan, who I was convinced was ahead of me. I cruised over a few more cobble sections, interrupting my chase a few times to talk to other Americans on the ride (I recognized most by apparel branded with recognizable bike shops and a few others grabbed me, having figured that the guy with the English text on his calf and “Bicycling” bibs must speak English). Conversations were mostly about the cobbles, and there was a reverence we all felt for the hallowed roads we were traversing. I also got to talk to a few industry folks, including executives from distributor QBP and wheel maker Zipp, both companies that hosted events to coincide with the race.
Having nearly caught up to someone I thought was Aaron, (everyone in our crew was wearing a Cervelo-branded jersey, along with about 8,000 other people wearing similar clothes) I flew onto the base of the cobbled Eikenberg. Something had been rattling on my bike, but I was convinced it was a bottle cage and continued without addressing it, figuring I’d stop at the next rest area.
Instead, it turned out that my saddle was loose, and as I hit the base of the cobbled climb at about Warp 9 my saddle came off with a clatter. This was a little troubling. It stopped to text my host, then set about contemplating my situation. The saddle was easily recovered, but the bottom half of the clamp was tougher to find on the cobbled road surface. While I was searching, Aaron, who apparently was not ahead of me, passed in a blur, followed shortly by James Huang, another member of our elite crew.
Once I’d found the missing piece, I rode, standing on the pedals, back down to the climb to a corner where I’d scene a marshal, hoping he’d have a multi tool. He didn’t, but a man working on a house on the corner came out with a full Bondhus set, which got the bike back together in minutes. I fired off another text to let my host know that I was taken care of (neither text, incidentally, ever arrived), and set off again.
The Eikenberg, mercifully, was not nearly as crowded as the previous climbs and I flew up it feeling very pro with my saddle intact and everything. I caught back up to James a little while later, and he lent me a multitool to adjust my position, before we became separated on some cobbles.
A little while later I met some Belgians (they started talking to me in Flemish, which means, I figure, I was doing a reasonable job of blending in while on the bike, even if my off-the-bike fashion is most definitely lacking European sensibilities) and fell into a paceline that lasted all the way to Gerardsberg, home of the race’s most iconic climbs—the sequential Muur and Kapplemuur (or, the Muur Van Gerardsberg, if you prefer). The Belgians I’d been with couldn’t hang on the long, paved Muur, but I was happy to be doing my best Cancellara imitation, flying up the steep incline.
In the town square, I swooped through the right hand turn onto the Kappelmuur, dodging slower riders on the winding, cobbled road to the Chapel on the top of climb. Toward the top there were lots and lots of people sitting on the sides of the roads cheering and drinking. I seriously doubt I’ll ever get to race De Ronde for real (I mean, it’s just never going to happen), but this experience was pretty amazing, and I’m grateful to have had the chance.
From the top of Kapplemuur, it was a fast descent toward the Bosberg, the bottom of which is lined with giant caricatures of riders, including all of the next day’s favorites.
For shits and giggles, I sprinted to the finish line in Nineve. Why not, right? After all, I’d ridden nearly all of the cobbles the pros would race the next day, and completed a significant portion of the race mileage, albeit a lot slower, and I totally out sprinted some kid who was sitting on for, like, the last six Ks. I reconnected with Evan, James, another journalist who had completed a shorter route, and Vroomen at the finish. After a quick beer and sausage (we were in Belgium, after all), Vroomen drove us back to the hotel.
I do a lot of long rides, so aside from grabbing a couple energy bars, I hadn’t done much thinking about the ride beforehand. I came away with a greater appreciation for a more casual style of event. It was fun to talk to so many different people, and to still have the chance to hammer up so many famous climbs.
Personally, I would love the chance to go back to Belgium for the Vlaanderen sportif, or a similar event, and I certainly encourage anyone with the means to go check it out. The cobbles may be momentarily uncomfortable, but the chance to ride while sharing so much tradition with so many like-minded cyclists makes the trip worthwhile.
Sunday, April 03, 2011
Live from Flanders, the time has come for my annual treatise on the Tour of the Battenkill. I’ll be back home tomorrow and will be posting some photos from the trip and writing about De Ronde, but as we’re still pretty busy here I’m going to make you, my five readers, wait for my account of the biggest one-day race in Flanders, and instead offer a post on the Battenkill, which I actually wrote on the plane over to Europe on Thursday evening.
Every year, for the past few years it’s been my pleasure to field emails, facebook messages and blog comments requesting some kind of secret to the Tour of the Battenkill. There’s no secret, but I’m certainly willing to share what I know about the race.
Although I’m not the fastest amateur out there (not by a long shot!) I have had the chance to study the Battenkill more closely than most, and probably more closely than I should admit. Witness: My former home in Saratoga Springs is only a short ride from the Southern Washington County course, and I used to regularly train on many of the roads used in the race and this year will mark my fifth participation.
Each spring for the past four years I’ve made a point to study the course. Sometimes I started in the fall. Unlike Prospect or Central parks, you can learn something new on each trip around the circuit. In 2009 I pre-rode the course no fewer than three times before race day. This year, geography has made that a little more challenging, but I still managed to ride the revised route with promoter Dieter Drake last fall, when it was brand-new, and again last weekend with John and Scott.
Considering all this effort to study the race, my Battenkill palmares is somewhat lacking. My best race was in 2009, when, as an upwardly mobile cat 3, I finished sixth or seventh, depending on whom you ask (that year is also remembered by “epic” problems with the phototiming equipment.) I upgraded to cat 2 shortly thereafter. 2008 could also have been a good year, until I got a flat at mile nine -- after telling the wheel van driver that I was going to win. Smooth.
I was fat in 2007, so there’s nothing else to say about that. I came into the race fit last year, but was undone by negative racing, and wound up somewhere in the top-40. Not satisfactory by any means, but still good enough to elicit congratulations from some newer racers.
Further still, it has been my pleasure to cover the professional men’s event at the Tour of the Battenkill for three years, interviewing a succession of gracious winners, while getting the best mobile seat in the house to watch the drama unfold. There was nothing quite as cool as watching eventual winner Caleb Fairly and runner-up Floyd Landis race across Meeting House Road in the closing miles of last year’s race. It was a sporting moment I won’t soon forget, regardless of my personal feelings about Landis. With the race’s consolidated format this year (and my new job) I will not be covering the race in any formal capacity, which takes some of the pressure off my weekend, but will also leave me out of some of the insider aspects of the race—which I’ll certainly miss.
So, between the racing, writing, study and practice, it may be fair to call me a Battenkill scholar. Or, perhaps, a student of the Battenkill? Disciple? Maybe that last one is taking things too far.
Regardless of the label, it’s now less than a week to race day, so it’s time for me to impart some of my accumulated knowledge, paying particular attention to the course revisions that will define this year’s event.
First of all, a couple of key points, frequently asked questions, if you will:
1) What tires should I run?
Whatever tires you usually run for a road race. The dirt roads in Washington County account only for about 25% of the course, so while you’re not likely to win the race by running a fat tire to gain additional traction on the dirt, you could lose the race by sapping your legs on the pavement. 23 or 25mm tires will do just fine, but there’s no reason to go any wider. Also, the roads are in good shape in general, and especially this year—meaning the surface of most roads is nearly indistinguishable from the paved roads, at least as far as your tires are concerned. I would say, though, that you might consider running slightly less pressure than you normally do, to increase the traction on your road wheels.
2) What are the roads like?
See above. When I rode the course last, the roads were in really good shape. There was one spot where a creek had blown out the road and fist-sized stones had been used to fill the gap left on Meeting House Road, but even that small section is rideable. Otherwise, there are just the usual potholes to watch out for. Keep in mind, though, that the condition of the roads can change with the weather. Things could go to shit in a hurry if it rains and gets significantly warmer (incidentally, since writing this, the Capital Region did get a lot of rain, stay tuned to temperatures this week), or if any of the roads get graded between now and race day, which has happened in the past. It certainly pays to be ready for anything.
3) What climbs should I look out for?
This question was the subject of a rather lengthy, disjointed email I sent a relative of mine a couple weeks ago. I will summarize the email thusly: Battenkill is not marked by one iconic climb, but by a near-endless series of small, steep climbs. To do well at Battenkill you must master them all. Race near the front to make sure you don’t let others gap you off the back. Here are the key points: Joe Bean Hill is the longest, but the long descent down the backside gives even slow climbers a chance to catch back on. Juniper Swamp is the steepest, but it’s so short that most fields will just roll over it without blinking – even the elite fields that have to race it twice. Still, it is really steep and you probably won’t be able to stand up, for want of traction. Plan on churning your 25 or 27. In fields unable to roll the climb, some riders may be forced to walk – again, it’s best to stay near the front. The climb out of Shushan is long and grinding, as is the climb out of Salem, but neither are very steep. The three rollers that comprise Meeting House Road are not the most challenging climbs on their own, but the quick succession makes them hurt. For many, if not every, field, the race will be won and lost on Stage Road, the last climb that brings you from Buskirk back toward Cambridge. If you have anything left at the bottom, twist the throttle wide open and hold it there. Burton Road is part of the addition, read more about that below.
4) What dirt roads should I look out for?
As I’ve mentioned, all of the dirt roads were in good shape when I saw them last. Hopefully they will remain in relatively good shape. The most critical of the dirt sections is the four-part sequence that stretches between the second feedzone and the finish line: Mountain Road, Becker Road, Meeting House Road and Stage Road. Mountain Road trends uphill at a generally painful slant, before dumping you out onto a short, paved incline. Then it’s a white-knuckle descent down Becker Road. Not only is the trip down the hill fast and potentially scary (depending on who’s around you), but you take a hard left at the bottom onto the paved portion of Meeting House Road, before that quickly transitions back to dirt. Despite the relative smallness of the three rollers on Meeting House, a peloton intact at the bottom of Becker will have exploded by the time it reaches the end of Meeting House, most often leaving just a small group to settle matter amongst themselves. A longish paved section follows, before you arc back north and eventually hit Stage Road. If you’re still racing at this point, make your companions suffer on the climb -- it’s steepest at the bottom and eases off toward the top. After 60 miles of racing (or 80, depending), this climb will hurt, a lot. Once back on pavement, you’re nearly done – just hit the jets and burn for home.
Now for the new sections:
It used to be that after climbing Joe Bean Road and descending Bunker Hill Road and Ferguson Road, you turned right onto NYS Route 29 and enjoyed an easy ride along the Battenkill for about 8 miles until you hit Greenwich and racing resumed. For most people this was a chance to recover, eat and take stock of the situation on the road.
You can go ahead and forget about all that.
Now, you’ll turn left at 29 for a short stint, then bang a right over the Battenkill, and will be subject to a series of punishing climbs on Carney & Cassidy Road. Then you get a brief respite, before more climbs, both dirt and paved on Cambridge-Battenville Road and Center Falls Road and Old Cambridge Road. Once you’ve started foaming at the mouth, you’ll descend back to a right-hander onto NYS Route 372, followed by a left at the familiar intersection with County Route 74, and the course resumes as it’s been raced for the past few years with a trip through the Burton Road feedzone. Steve will be holding my bottles, and if you try to swipe them I’ll put you in a ditch.
A friend emailed me last week and said that he’d heard the new course additions would be a game changer. I denied the claim. No doubt, the addition is very challenging, and doing away with the only bit of rest on an already-demanding course is just the sort of cruelty that Dieter likes to traffic in. But a game changer?
The Battenkill has always been about mastering the many climbs and dirt roads. The new section is therefore just more of the same. Dieter isn’t changing the game; he’s just asking us to elevate our games a little bit.
But that’s not all. There’s also a new finishing sequence. For the last couple years, the race has come north on Tunpike and South Union into Cambridge, then turned right at the IGA, for a 300-meter long finishing stretch to the firehouse and Rice Mansion Inn.
This year, you’ll skip the right-hand turn and cross Main Street, going one block farther north and taking the next right onto Spring Street. Then, in a turn that will be familiar to anyone who raced the dearly department Balloon Festival Classic, you’ll turn right on Broad Street, for a shorter finishing straight to a line in front of the Cambridge Hotel, birth place of pie ala mode.
The new finish is more technical, and some of the pavement in the last half-mile is in fairly poor condition, meaning that you will have to think and keep your wits about you as you come to the line. Suddenly, in addition to mastering the climbs and dirt roads, you’ll also need to pull a trick or two from the crit racer’s bag of tricks to win the race. Is this an improvement? Certainly not for me, but it doesn’t necessarily hurt anyone’s chances either – the Battenkill doesn’t come down to a close sprint too often, and when it does it’s never a big bunch gallop.
I happened to bump into Dieter after John, Scott and I had finished our pre-ride, and he listed two reasons for the new finish: First and most obviously, the new finish allows him to be a better neighbor by keeping Main Street open to traffic. Secondly, and more important for the family you’re dragging up to Cambridge for a weekend of “fun watching Daddy race,” the race expo is in Railroad Park in Cambridge, across the street from the Hotel – which means that your family can watch you finish will enjoying everything the expo has to offer.
So, we can debate the relative merits of the new finish from a racer’s perspective, but for the spectators and the promoter, it certainly makes sense.
Now, go out and win (unless you’re in my race.)
Feel free to post questions here, I’ll do my best to answer!