Archive for the 'Travel Commentary' Category

10
Oct
11

2011 Inaugural Gainesville Disco Bike Rally Review

Richard Wharton Steven Emerson Pirates of the Peloton Gainesville 2011

Richard Wharton and Steven Emerson, First Finishers in the First Disco Bike Rally, Gainesville, TX 2011

I absolutely love Fall bike rallies. The insane heat has passed, the courses are usually a lot more scenic and challenging, and with Fall comes wind, and honestly, I have actually become one of the few riders who tends to embrace windy rides! The skill required to hold a line, pace properly, hold good cadence, and work incredibly hard, just so you DO NOT lose a group of riders, be it off the front or the back, is a chapter in the book of bike skills all unto itself.

About midweek in prep for the rally, I contacted the father of one of my juniors, and asked him if Steven could join me out at the Inaugural Gainesville rally. With his permission, I met the kid at his house around 5:15am, where we loaded up his bike and started the 90 minute drive toward the state line with Oklahoma. I hadn’t had much sleep (I don’t tend to sleep well when the winds blow in overnight), but as we drove north, we both noticed the flags, illuminated by the highway, sticking STRAIGHT OUT, dictating that the wind was coming from the EAST. Weather reports indicated steady winds at 12-20kts. Now, if you’ve ever been to North Texas, you know that it’s basically carved out of the prairie. I’m always reminded of the last lines in Steven Spielberg’s “Cast Away”, where Tom Hanks finally meets his Angel…

Bettina Peterson: You look lost.
Chuck Noland: I do?
Bettina Peterson: Where’re you headed?
Chuck Noland: Well, I was just about to figure that out.
Bettina Peterson: Well, that’s 83 South. And this road here will hook you up with I-40 East. If you turn right, that’ll take you to Amarillo, Flagstaff, California. And if you head back that direction, you’ll find a whole lot of nothing all the way to Canada.
Chuck Noland: I got it.
Bettina Peterson: All right, then. Good luck, cowboy.
Chuck Noland: Thank You.

And that’s just it – there is plenty of nothing, and there are small, perfectly black and tan ribbons of road laid out all over this country to connect the dots. They’re really nothing more than wagon trails paved with county-best chipseal, and for this weekend’s rally, that was just fine.

We rolled out on time with roughly 300 other riders. Immediately, a group of State Farm cyclists, all from Gainesville, went to the front – SPRINTED to the front – and rolled away. I really didn’t pay them much attention, but stayed within about 50′, when they abruptly left the course and went on the TEN MILE route. I think the whole thing was staged for a photo shoot, but it was distracting, and we never saw them again. By the fourth mile or so, there were roughly eleven riders in the lead pack, including Steven and another client of mine, Marc. We winnowed it down to about 7, but from the start there were signs that this group might not have the best skills for pack cycling. Two triathletes alternated between grinding the gears and bouncing their butts along their saddles. Two other riders were slow to pick up their role in the paceline, and gaps frequently rolled out all over the place. I tried for about 45 minutes to organize them, and we were sort of successful, but we ended up dropping Marc while we were still out on the outbound leg, and it’s always a big no-no to leave someone exposed and solo in those high-wind conditions. In fact, as I speak, a rally in Oregon is STILL looking for a missing cyclist, weeks after the fact, because he rode a portion of road solo, and just… disappeared.

Steven picked up the pacelining really quickly, and after the first hour, to hour and a half, we just rolled West, then North, and ended up going over the course from the Muensterfest. The area just prior to Forestburg is about 12 miles of rolling one-minute and two-minute hills at 2-4% max, and while this one rider from Oklahoma insisted on staying out front and pedaling at 110 rpm, the rest of us just made a five-man paceline and ignored him. We got in to some scattered spits of rain, so we cautioned each other on road conditions, but by roughly the 90 minute mark, I had had enough of the slinkies and the risk that members were creating in this groupette. So, prior to a hill I knew rather well, I told everyone that Steven and I were going to power up it, and that we’d try to regroup with them at the top. Well, the top plateaued on to a BEAUTIFUL false flat, and, looking over my shoulder, the only jersey I could see was Steven, roughly 15 seconds back, and I waited for him and him alone, and then told him to “Hang on.”

For the next 30+ miles it was just the two of us, as we rolled over fresh pavement (thank you, oil & gas tax revenues), flirted with two girls in a red Jeep Wrangler who were shooting photos, took solid pulls, and just enjoyed the moments of living and doing something we both enjoy. We left familiar terrain when we turned right to head back to Gainesville, leaving the Forestburg-St. Jo road, and it was at the top of the second or third hill, when we left the cover of some trees and ended up with the winds now coming off our right shoulders, with heightened velocity. This part of the course – the last 20-25 miles – had to be one of the most absolute challenging portions of road I’ve ever, ever experienced. The terrain dictated uncountably numerous 1-minute rollers at ~2-3% incline, but the headwinds prevented much of a recovery on the back sides. At one point, there was a short detour as the course did an out-and-back, just to make it as close to 100k as possible, and on the return portion, we both counted over SIX MINUTES before crossing paths with the next rider. And this was on an overlapping segment! With that in mind, and Steven’s legs starting to feel the shred of the previous rollers, we both agreed that I would do the majority of the work, but we would ride by HIS tempo wattage and comfort level.

We continued on, together, him on my left shoulder, protected, and talked about bikes, wheels, the terrain, different rallies, the weekend, school, family, other coaches, etc. It was spectacular. It’s part of my history now, but way back in the 1990’s, right after I had a moment of epiphany about cycling and decided I wanted to make a career out of it, I ran a Junior Development Team out of Bozeman, Montana. I was young, they were younger, and we had about five years of incredible adventures, driving all over the Western United States, attending mountain bike events and building more than just racing resumes. I still keep up with about half of them, and have attended weddings as they grew up. They’re almost all still involved in cycling and outdoor activities, which also makes me proud. I did it again in the early 00’s, at the Frisco Velodrome, but it wasn’t the same. I really missed that feeling of mentorship and comradery, the joy of being on the road or singletrack, just living that whole Gypsy lifestyle. Here, with Steven, out in the middle of nowhere, it all came flooding back, and it really spurred some fantastic feelings of respect, success, responsibility, and that mantra by which I try to live every day…

“To know that ONE LIFE has breathed easier, because you have lived. That is to have succeeded.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Steven never once complained, he kept the smile and concentration on his face the whole time, and we were both pretty ecstatic to see that final left-hand turn back on to the highway, signaling an end to the crosswind, and the gentle push down hill and back to the Start/Finish. We completed it in 3 hours even, and were rewarded with medals, muscle milk, and fresh pancakes & sausage! The trip back home was spent talking with his other coach and reliving the tale of the trip, talking wattage, power meters, acceleration, aerodynamics… just BIKE GEEK and BIKE GUY STUFF!!!!!! After dropping him off, I sent his dad a text telling him what a great kid he had, talent and otherwise, and he responded that Steven was absolutely shelled the rest of the day. That’s not a bad thing. You have to see just how hard these practice events are, and learn how to respond to challenges, and see where your strengths lie in relation to others around you, in order to best achieve your goals, both intrinsic and material.

Steven, it meant a lot to have you ride with me, and to finish with me. You’re on your way to bigger and better things, and I will be there to help as long as you want or need. There is NO doubt in my mind, that you won’t be needing my draft in the near future – it’ll be me turning my lungs inside out to hang with YOU!

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02
Oct
11

2011 Glen Rose Paluxy Pedal Bike Rally Review

Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s been month since I last wrote. Honestly, though, I haven’t had much to say or think that was worth putting up. I had a once-a-year-or-so ocular migraine at the Goatneck that left my strong eye (left) seeing double, while my weak eye (right) lost focus. The eyesight issues alone left me a little shaken, even though I had done everything right in the 48 hours leading up to that point, about an hour and 15 minutes in to the rally, and when I got to Glen Rose, I pulled out and asked Amy to come get me. To add a cherry on my sh*t sandwich, I got a ticket in Keene on my way home, a town which ranks in the Top 10 in Texas for Speed Traps.

So, I basically shut it down. The Secret Drink Mix bought me about 7 weeks in a summer that I thought would leave desiccated cyclist corpses strewn all over the state, but after DNF’ing in “The World Rally Championships of North Texas”, I called it a season. I rode some in Washington State (See October’s Texas Racing Post for an article about that), but really didn’t do much in between then, and maybe 2 weeks ago, when I decided to, yet again, start training for the next season, and see if I could reach a new high in volume and Threshold Power. I tested myself in August and September, and was shocked to find that my threshold had dropped from 305w/20m to barely 267w/20m, and my weight had jumped from 152 to 157, with periods above 160. OH. MY. GOD. Let me tell you, folks, turning 40 is like dialing back a switch in your metabolism. The whiskers on your beard get grey, then stiffer, the skin starts to sag, the crow’s feet grow, shrinking the eyes, and the weight, no matter what you do, gets easier to keep and harder to lose. I thought for the longest time that it wasn’t going to be a problem, but when your summer inventory of bike shorts start to protrude with a baby belly, it’s embarrassing!

This week was the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hoshannah, so I took advantage of the JCC being closed (and the CCD by default), and rode outside just about every day that we had available. Amy’s home now (selectively unemployed), so I went in to Saturday’s Paluxy Pedal bike rally feeling like I would be lucky to just hang on to the lead group, and I was resigned to a mostly tempo ride. But somewhere, maybe Thursday night, things started to look up, and I began to feel like this weekend might be special.

We drove down on Friday night, staying in Cleburne, roughly half an hour away from Glen Rose. All of the hotels in Glen Rose were booked in advance for the Paluxy Pedal, which ranks as probably one of the top 3 rallies of the year in most North Texans’ minds. We awoke to temps in the low 50’s, zero wind, and about 1000 registered riders, all lined up for the 8:30 start.  A TON of our friends were there, including neighbors Lila & Emmett, Michael & Brandy, and about half a dozen or more clients, past and present. Everyone remarked about what a great day was shaping up, and whether we were going to go 45, 60, or 80 miles. I assumed I would do the 80, and Amy agreed to do the 45.

Now, I need to sidetrack a bit. Amy’s been dealing with chronic back pain ever since November of 2008, and we’ve been through a LOT of ups and downs since then – basically, her ability to ride with any power has been destroyed, and it was not until maybe August of this year that she was able to string together anything close to 25 miles at 14-16 mph on flattish terrain. I’ll write about that ordeal some time later, but the good news is that August saw a breakthrough, and in September, things got even better, so her decision to put 3 hours on a bike with a few stops, was something that really lifted MY spirits, as much as hers. So she rode with friends, and I rode with the leaders, also friends, and we took off to the thunderous roar of the HAND CANNON that marks the start of this rally every year.

Paluxy Pedal "Hand Cannon"!

Immediately, once we rolled out of town, I began to look around to see who was who and what was what. There were about 20 of us, including veteran Michael Gacki, his fiance Shelby, Todd Lafleur, and several of the regular rally riders. However, it’s the presence of Camillo Borondy and Scott Simmons, both of whom are locals to Glen Rose, and both of whom are SERIOUS Cat 2 competitors, that left me feeling like I might be in for a tough day. Scott most recently won a State Championship, and in a brief conversation at the beginning of the ride, mentioned that he had gone FROM THE GUN at that race…. and then proceeded to do the exact same thing in this ride!

For a solid hour, we rode the rolling terrain of what should be called the North Hill Country, popping a few riders here and there, and letting some guys get maybe 10-15 seconds ahead, then reeling them in. The tempo was plenty hot, and we held around 23mph, climbing about 700 feet in total terrain. Michael, my Pirate teammate, came around and took some good pulls, and there were some people that did little but sit in (I’m talking to you, Mr. Cyclo-Core), but it was clear from the beginning that Scott was in a league of his own. He took longer, stronger pulls, his attacks were nothing severe, but were longer and just fast and hard enough that it was easy to lose contact, and he would return to the pack with no sign of fatigue. But the best part was that we never quite lost sight of him. For 90 minutes, give or take, there was a pack of about 12-15 riders, with two or three leaders, yet at the hill on the back side of Fossil Rim Game Preserve, about 28.7 miles in, that the lead peloton completely and utterly blew up.

This hill is about .8 miles long, averaging just 4.2%, but it’s the fact that it’s midway through the rally, and has a false-flat area of 2-3% sandwiched between a 6% segment and an 8-9% segment, capped by a false plateau, that just ripped the legs off of most everyone. Scott literally danced over it, as did Todd LaFleur, and I was eclipsed by some dude in a BrewMasters jersey, but that guy promptly throttled back at the top, and over the next two minutes, I caught up with Todd, and we closed in on Scott, until we came to the base of “The Wall.”

Michael Gacki earns his patch for climbing "The Wall!"

“The Wall” is a rather short climb that has grown in infamy ever since this rally began nine years ago, and conquering “The Wall” usually earns you a patch, distributed by the local Boy Scout Troop, at the top. The patch is complete with “19%” stitched on the base. It’s maybe a 1/4 mile long, has poor sight-lines and a railing on the side, thus adding to the mystique. Overall, the thing really isn’t THAT BAD, averaging maybe 12%, and it’s nothing compared to the final climb up to the observatory at Ft. Davis, but it’s still kind of tough. Scott practically danced up the wall, making it look easy, finishing in what must have been about a minute and 40 seconds. Todd was next, at about 1:55, and I came in a hair over 2 minutes. But if you’ve read any reports of my experiences at “The Wall” before, you know that it’s not THE WALL that counts, but it’s the next half mile to 1.5 miles that makes the split complete. Once again, I reeled in Todd, and the two of us pacelined it to try and catch Scott, who held back just enough that we were able to make a strong threesome, all the way out to about mile 50.

The conversation those next 15 miles, from the regroup to the last pitstop and turn off for the extra miles of the ’80’, were all about bikes, bike parts, family, Todd’s wife’s recovery from a serious accident, his own fears and fatigue, training, deciding whether to do those extra miles and deal with the chipseal, and the perpetual, renewing hope of success in the new year. This part of the rally is probably my favorite. The roads are rolling, the farms have a more dense set of trees and shrubs, and there are a few homesteads and churches dotted throughout. It’s really pastoral, and the climbs are in the 1-3% range, each lasting maybe a minute or so.  Todd was out of fluids at mile 50, so Scott and I just ghost-pedaled until he was able to fill up, when, lo & behold… we got caught by 5 stragglers that we thought we would not be seeing again until the pizza party at the finish line!

Camillo and three or four others joined in, and we used the last 10 miles to roll in pretty quickly. There were a few attacks, but nothing stuck. Then, with no more than five miles to go, Scott, who had been really praiseworthy and just, well, nice, whispered as he passed in the paceline – “At the bottom of the next hill, we go, okay?” I nodded in agreement, knowing that this would be the final act of a REALLY fun, REALLY successful rally. Unfortunately, as I approached the hill, I was the leader of the rotation, and got stuck there, unable to mask my own efforts or intentions. I waited until my speed began to bleed off, ever so slightly, and then PUNCHED IT, throwing out 620w/20sec, but it was Scott who once again danced away, gapping me over the course of the entire hill by about 30 seconds, and then holding us off all the way to the finish. My own effort on the climb totaled 1:10 at 412w, so his must have been in the 450-470w range. It was a thing of beauty to behold, and whereas in the past I would have been bitter about it, muttering under my breath about my own inabilities, in this case, I just watched in wonder and enjoyed the spectacle of seeing someone just a few years younger, who had once been a contemporary Cat 3, combine his passion, his talent, and an empirical sense of developed skill, pedal away from me by at least 1.5 mph. I soloed all the way to about a mile from the highway crossing, but was caught by three others, including Camillo, and we all declared a neutral finish in the final half mile. Holding the hand of a contemporary named Chris, who wore a Wake Forest Cycling jersey, I was gifted a 2nd place finish, and we all rode up to Scott, already off his bike and leaning against it, happily munching on a slice of pizza.

It took another hour for my wife to roll in, but it was time well spent, sitting on the steps of the school, eating slices of pizza, drinking water and juice, and catching up with friends as they rolled in and dismounted. The day continued its’ perfect weather, but the best feeling I got all day was the elation emitted from the smile on Amy’s face as she made her final turn, which I saw clear as crystal from a hundred feet away. I was in mid-conversation with the Phillippi’s when she rolled in, and they’ll attest to my own glee at seeing the joy on my wife’s face as she completed her first 45 mile ride in roughly a full year.

The Paluxy Pedal is one of those rallies that is a complete Can’t Miss. It has the advantage of climate, seasonal colors, fantastic organization and support, and terrain. The group at the front is always lively, and everyone returns with a complete sense of accomplishment that the hot summer rallies just can’t duplicate. Next year is their 10th anniversary, and I fully intend to return and ride with the front-runners yet again, only this time, I hope I’m not as shocked by my own success.

*** One quick note: There was a group of riders from Keene, TX, all wearing some neat jerseys, and really enjoying themselves. Guys, I do hope that you continue riding, but I would REALLY like to ask that you convince your police department and City Council to get TXDOT to put up larger signs on Hwy 67 announcing the change in speed limits from 65 to 50. I think the town’s reputation as a speed trap is valid, and I wouldn’t want your town to suffer from a boycott because Officer “F” was so intent on playing Sharks and Minnows with our Insurance Policies. In fact, driving AT the speed limit this weekend, reconfirmed my opinion that the many semi’s and fifth wheels hauling gas, oil, and water for the sand fracking process, are MUCH more dangerous and worthy of your speed sensors, than two cyclists returning from a rally in Cleburne who were, in fact, DECELERATING when they realized simultaneously that the speed limit had abruptly dropped, and also that they’d been tagged at the apex of the hill. Ask Officer “F” if his city coffers are that low, ask him if he sleeps well at night in his selective enforcement (out-of-towners over locals), and ask him if he’s ever been to one of the rallies just south of his town, and seen the love and joy these events bring to their communities, as well as the funds raised and commerce generated. Then ask him what’s best for the city. I hope he gets it.

07
Sep
10

OH, I did get to have a true and honest FANDANGO this summer!

DOM

DOM

I completely spaced this one, but yeah – the summer details would be incomplete without a review of what ended up becoming one of the most fun ‘guys only’ escape weekends I’ve had in a long while.

The story goes like this:

In 1985, this small film came out, called “Fandango”. The film was set in May of 1971, when five guys, “The Groovers”, either attend their own graduations, or, not making their grades, get drafted in to the Army. With three or four days to report to duty, they decide, impromptu, to go on one last “Fandango” together before they all have to grow up and move on with their lives. The title of the film has three meanings:

1)A lively type of music,

2) The dance that accompanies said music, and

3) A foolish Act.

All three themes are hit over the next 90 minutes. Budding actors Judd Nelson, Kevin Costner, Sam Robards, and Chuck Bush, among others, filmed this thing in FAR WEST TEXAS in March and April of 1983.

Somehow, I ended up watching the flick in the late 80’s, and to this day, the film hits me in a soft spot. The movie is about growing up, not knowing what your future is, enjoying the last vestiges of youth, and the bonds and tests of friendship. The music accompanying the film is spot on, and the scenes of love and loss and adventure in this remote-as-hell part of Texas ring true to me, 25 or more years later. I bought the VHS cassette and pretty much wore it out, memorized the lines, and showed it to buddies and girlfriends alike, but none of them really seemed to ‘Get It’. So, I just locked the movie in the back of my brain, watched it when it came on from time to time, and generally lost interest.

It wasn’t until about 2006 that I stumbled across an entire website, dedicated to the film, and to the actors and locations where it was filmed. It was like finding a lost tribe or family. We posted comments, garnered facts, quoted lines, pondered what-ifs, etc. It was really, really fun! I felt like some of the Harry Potter fans who write fan-fiction about minor characters and such. It was just an absolute blast. Then, when the time came for all of us to try and come together and participate in an “ULTIMATE FANDANGO” , well, I was in!

Now, before we begin with our own Fandango, there’s one more thing you need to know. In the mid 1980’s, at the school I attended, I was friends with probably the smartest guy in the school. His name was David, and we traveled to England together on an ecumenical youth conference, as well as all through school together, for six years. He wasn’t as much of an athlete as I was, but we were often in the same class together, served as class officers together, and he was just one of those rare, non-agenda, random good guys. AND, he was SHARP with his words. He later became a lawyer and now teaches Government in Dallas. We hadn’t really talked for over 20 years, but through that miracle known as Facebook, we ended up chatting, and I invited him to my birthday party, which he attended, along with his Gorgeous girlfriend, a lady of international class.

David McCoy - my adventurous buddy.

During that party, my forthcoming trip out west came up, and David suddenly announced that not only had he seen and loved the film (it’s about the University of Texas, which he attended), but that he had never, ever been out that way before! I offered to bring him along, and surprisingly, he said yes! COOL! I got a wingman!

And honestly, once we got out there, I was GLAD to have him, in more ways than one!

We left on a Thursday afternoon in mid-July, and flew out west to Midland. Here’s the first fun but serious anecdote. I show up with a Clive Cussler serial novel that I just picked up at the airport bookstore. He shows up with “The History of Western Philosophy”… and he’s actually reading and highlighting it. For fun. THAT is the level of genius this guy is on. I was transfixed. We caught up over the hour of the flight, got our car, and drove over to the hotel, where we each got a room, despite that whole area playing host to about 200 softball tournaments. Then we drove over to the official hotel, where we ended up meeting about two dozen other “Fandangoistes”, and none other than Chuck Bush, the character in the film who has very few lines, but plays perhaps the most important role in the whole story, as the pillar of confidence and quiet intelligence, as well as being almost everyone’s moral compass through his deeds and actions. Chuck is HUGE, but he’s also the sweetest guy on the planet, and I knew that his stories about the shoot were going to be priceless.

Chuck Bush with his fans

Seeing him, I had to play a quick little trick. We meet, shake hands, engage in small talk, and then, in front of everyone, I pull out of my pocket a roll of quarters, and tell him, “Now can I get you to finish rinsing me off?” It pertains to a line in the film where Judd Nelson is getting a ‘shower’ of sorts in a car wash, and the guys run out of quarters, just as “Philip” is covered in soap. It’s just one of a million little moments in the film that everyone would remember, and it set the entire room laughing. We knew it was going to be a blast from that point forward.

Fandango at the Drive-In

From there, we all drove over to Midland’s Drive-In Theatre, where, for one night only, “Fandango” was showing, 25 years after its’ first release. David and I hopped back on to the highway, found a Wal-Mart, bought some folding chairs, and then got back to the Drive-In just in time to indulge in some ‘famous’ drive-in food and desserts, and then watch the film.

Fried Cheese Jalapeno Peppers! MMM!

Sunset at the Drive In

Okay – there’s more to this story, but I’m running out of time, so I better get going. I’ll write Part 2 in a couple of days. Hang in there.

07
Sep
10

Wow, has it been that long? A short essay on aging and training and competition.

No reports since the end of June? Wow, yeah, just… wow. Sorry about that.

Fun times at Mattito's Tex Mex!

Amy and Richard with the Gescheidles and Colleen Klaudinyi

The only reason I can come up with is that after that scare with heat stroke, I pretty much took most of July off, and half of August. I just didn’t ride. The heat and humidity really affected me, and I ended up staying indoors, not riding much, and pretty much just waiting for our trip to Washington State to get out of the heat. As a result, my threshold dropped at least 10%, and I had some enthusiasm lowered for continued riding competitively.

Right around my birthday, which was an awesome celebration (THANK YOU AGAIN SWEETIE!), I began to take stock of life, direction, and, well, the grey entering everything hairy on my body. Turning 40 really does represent a milestone. And almost like a switch had been turned, everything started to change. My power dropped, my willpower dropped, my whiskers got thicker, and hair started growing in strange places, like my ears, my nose, and my back. Not trying to gross anyone out, but dammit, I actually started to feel OLD! The straw that broke the camel’s back was watching Lance Armstrong as he suffered through a crazy first week, and then ended up just shaking his head on that one stage… and that was it. He DID show up to the Tour ready to fight and race hard, it was just that, well, his recoveries took longer, and his ability to accelerate or jump and hold it just wasn’t what it used to be. He also probably just willed it out of his mind. Turned it off. Just like that. NUTS.

I can’t say that I’m not still IN to racing. I love it. I love riding, I love training, I love racing. Last year was a blast! This year began as a blast. But my lack of preparation, my lack of intuitiveness about racing, and the fact that I really WAS starting to go up against kids half my age, just sort of left me feeling a little bit blah. I rode the Simple City a ton, and I worked on ways to try and improve my classes, the room, the studio, marketing, all that stuff. The 10 days in Washington State were a chance to recover from the repressive environment in N. Texas, get out, ride in clean air, hit some hills, and SLEEP consistently. Ironically enough, even though I logged about 400 miles, I actually GAINED about 7 lbs. And it’s taken some time to get those lbs. off! Go figure.

Since then, however, I’ve been pretty consistent on my riding, both indoors and out. I skipped the HH100, and we did get a break from the heat for a couple of days in late August. My threshold wattage is slowly creeping back up. I’ll race the 3’s and the 40+ state RR, but I’m going in with zero agenda other than to ride hard and fight well and support my teammates. There is another offer on the table, which is flattering, but I have to see if it fits my schedule or even my abilities.

I’ll write up some more soon, but suffice it to say that in Texas, I think it’s okay to take some of July and August off, especially if you start your preseason in November, like most of us.

Thanks for reading – I’ll have a review of the Joule 2.0 up shortly.

08
Jun
10

Ah, the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia!

Again – more words later, but for now, here are some images to whet your appetite.

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07
Apr
10

Ft. Davis Loometh!

Hill Climb Stage at Ft. Davis

Gawd I love hills! I can’t wait for this event! Look for some tweets and postings about the race soon!

25
Aug
09

2009 Tour de France trip – Part 2 (deux)

Depart from Flumet

Depart from Flumet

Remember how I said that climbing the Col de Roselend was probably the hardest thing I’d ever done on a bike? Up to that point… yes. Well, the next day topped it by a HUGE margin.

There were two options to ride on this day, and since I am never one to shirk from tough efforts, I elected the more sadistical of the two. We started off in a steep, tiny village called Flumet, and then rode in the shadow of Mont Blanc over three incredible passes – a Category 2 (Cote de Aranches), and then two Category 1 climbs, the Col de Romain and finally, the Colombiere.

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The start was fairly tame. We rolled through the closed course at a moderate speed, trying like the dickens to stick together. Our guide on this day was the Frenchman, and while I enjoyed him, I think he was also somewhat overwhelmed by the size of the group and the different levels of fitness we all showed. Within about an hour, two guys had gone off the front, some of us had gone the wrong way, and we were bogging down, before even really hitting the first real climb. But we finally got to the foot of it, and I caught the two guys, along with Victor, the billy goat from Durango. Once again, he basically soared away, but I was still feeling pretty darned good, and I climbed the Cat 2 climb in just over 20 minutes, I believe.

Going for the Sprint

Going for the Sprint

Then, the rain hit.

And I took a wrong turn.

And the descent was filled with steel plates on the road that were just begging to break someone’s hip.

And I did have a jacket, but not nearly enough energy drink.

And the stuff I did have, well, it soured in my stomach….

Yet we carried on.

At the top of the Cat 2 climb, and the wrong turn, I realized that another member of our group was right behind me. The woman, who was from Guam, was riding really strong, and we decided to buddy up as best as possible, for the next two hills. Victor also met us at the bottom of the Col de Romme, and together, we all started our ascent.

The Col de Romme basically goes from dead flat to STRAIGHT UP, with a couple of sharp hairpin turns, and several narrow kilometers of road, where you have a wall on your left, and a cliff on your right, as you make your way. The steepness kept me within sight of Victor for about a 1/3 of it, but it became clear once the % grade went from 10 to about 6, that he was once again going to just walk away from both of us. I continued my climb on my own pace, but was a little disheartened to see my wattage start to drop down below the 250’s. We climbed in and out of rainstorms and ever-thickening crowds, and on one turn, I noticed the ubiquitous Devil’s Pitchforks in the road. DIDI!!

Didi is an icon of the Tour de France. For decades now, he’s been attending the major Tours, dressed in a Devil’s suit, to goad the athletes, especially on the steepest cols. He travels in the sparest of campers, and the rumor is that he specifically won’t shower, so he can add to the mystique of his incredibly strong body odor. I didn’t see him (it was raining), but I yelled out, “DIDI!”, and almost immediately, from one of the campers on my right, he poked his head out of a door, dividing the kitschy hanging plastic rubies, complete with horned cap, and stuck his tongue out at me, glaring and cheering, “HE HE HE HE HE HE HE HE HE!!!!!” It pretty much made my hour.

The top of the climb was pure, complete chaos. There were people and tents and parties everywhere, and the storms had contributed to the chaos, whipping up a wind that had tossed some chairs and tables around. I went a little bit beyond it, to the start of the descent, and then got off the bike to relieve myself. My gut felt like it had mercury in it – I had probably set my concentration of EFS gel too strong for the day – and as I was standing around, deciding whether I should venture back to the crowd for some food and water, I absent-mindedly checked my rear tire pressure…

Uh oh. Soft tire. The weather had brought out all the microscopic glass and debris on the roads – stuff you couldn’t sweep away. One of those was in my tire, and I wasn’t taking it out, for obvious reasons. I had been wondering why I was not climbing so well, but I thought it was my gut, the terrain, or the weather. This was just icing on the cake.

It wasn’t flat per se, but it certainly wasn’t full, and I was NOT going to descend a 30-minute hill with a soft tire and end up in the back of a 4-wheeler somewhere. So, I unzipped my saddle bag, whipped out a Co2 cartridge, and filled up the tire, saving the cartridge for the inevitable re-inflation I’d need in an hour or so.

About that time “X” met up with me, and we decided to descend together after she got some water. I told her about my dilemma, and we agreed to ‘punch it’ up the Colombiere so we could get over the pass and down in to Le Grand Bournand, and get some real food. I also wanted to see my wife, who had done the ride that went straight from Annecy to the finish and back. The descent went okay, though it was still wet (there were no steel plates this time), but when we got to the village at the base of the Colombiere, I sort of lost all hope. “X” was with me, and I eventually told her to go on. My tire, the weather, and my flagging energy were leading to a major bonk.

But I had no choice. I gathered what I had left, and I climbed. I climbed at 170 freakin’ watts. That’s slow for me. That’s slow slow. And slower riding is actually harder than faster riding. I started cursing the crowds. I started cursing the weather. I started cursing the climb. I started cursing the trip… I started to lose my mind.

Looking back down the Colombiere

Looking back down the Colombiere

Almost exactly an hour later, after literally CRAWLING and refusing to get off my bike, I crested the Colombiere. There must have been 100,000 people on this section of the course alone. But panic had started to creep in – my gut wasn’t working with me, and no matter what I drank or ate (not much of either), I started to get gut cramps, and slow down. This put me up against something even MORE serious – a closing of the course. That meant I would be stuck at one location for about 3 or 4 hours, until the race completely passed by. When I got to the top, I could see a Gendarme rolling tape across the road, closing it off. With every last bit of energy I had, I bolted between the officer and the retaining gate, and slipped over.

Top of the Colombiere

Top of the Colombiere

About 100 meters past the fencing, I pulled over, got off, went to the ditch… and barfed. I hadn’t barfed on a bike in YEARS. A few Gendarmes witnessed it, but paid me no mind, and honestly, it did make me feel better. I had nothing but a miniclif bar to get the ick out of my mouth, so I chewed on it for a while, then spit it out, climbed back on the bike, and began my descent.

Now, remember – I was up against the clock. The Tour de France officials will close courses well ahead of time to try and ensure the safety of the cyclists’ and the caravans that come before and after. I was maybe 10k from the finish line, and was looking forward to a Coke to settle my stomach, and something really bad for me, like an entire pizza or sandwich or even a freakin’ pasta plate. So I started to descend, trying to blitz my way through crowds walking UP the descent, dodging the puddles or slick spots, and basically trying to keep my head up.

But two events foiled my plan.

The first was this. As I was descending, I came upon Dory Holte, another infamous icon of the Grand Tours who has popped up in recent years. You’ve probably seen him with a pair of Texas Longhorns, or elk antlers, or even Eagles’ wings, as he runs up beside the pack and let’s them know he’s their #1 fan. Most of the time his jersey is a Montana jersey, with “Leipheimer” on the back, but he’ll also show support for Lance and other Americans with a HUGE flag of the “Stars & Bars”.

Dory Holte, the "Raging Longhorn"

Dory Holte, the "Raging Longhorn"

I had to stop and talk with Dory. I mean, it was only a minute, but you know, he’s almost as famous as Didi the Devil, but he’s different, and… He’s an American. So I called out to him, pulled over, and said hello. I got his website (raginglonghorn.com), got some photos, gave him a slap on the back and went on my way down. It took maybe a minute, but that was all the Police needed. They were shutting down the course.

I BLITZED through road checkpoint after road checkpoint, until finally, I was halted to the point of injury by a little girl in a reflective vest and Gendarmerie cap, a huge whistle, and some sort of taser on her hip. We were 5k from the end.

DAMMIT!

I looked around, saw “X”, and then, right behind me, a whole bunch of cyclists from another Jemison tour got stopped by the same girl. There was nothing we could do. We could almost see the end of the course, but we knew that there were more police further down, and since there was only one road in this steep valley, there was no way we could sneak past them. I could almost taste the food and drink, but we were stuck.

We spent the next 3 or more hours praying that it wouldn’t rain, getting to know each other better through dialogue, making friends with the 50 or so people who had been stopped there as well, and begging the parade caravans to drop food, drinks, or whatever, down to us so we could stave off human sacrifice and a “Lord of the Flies” meltdown. I will say this – French versions of “Cheetoh’s” absolutely SUCK.

Caravan of Dreams

Caravan of Dreams

But eventually, the helicopters showed up overhead, and I got several INSANELY cool shots of Alberto and Lance,

Venga Alberto! Venga Venga Venga!!!

Venga Alberto! Venga Venga Venga!!!

Lance vs Liquigas

Lance vs Liquigas

and we were finally cleared to descend after the “Lantern Rouge” cyclist passed through. Then, we joined the throngs of spectators (about 150,000 of them), descending, braking, bike-walking, and just desperately trying to descend on this poor little tiny town that usually held maybe 20,000 residents. I won’t go in to details, but suffice it to say that more chaos ensued, and I lost contact with the gang with whom I’d spent the afternoon, and finally, my French guide and one other rider showed up at the appointed spot, where we waited futilely for others to arrive, and finally rode back to Annecy on our own.

We arrived at the hotel starving, cold, and a little angry. I was REALLY upset. I wanted to see my wife, I wanted to eat, and I wanted to get warm, but everyone seemed nonplussed about it. We finally dined at around 9 o’clock, but my epic day had sort of been spoiled by a lot of little things, and I was only slightly mollified by an interview I gave with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal, about, guess what, power and epic climbs and energy. Marty and Jill were as great about the situation as they could be, but honestly, this was a bit overwhelming, and we later learned that the gal I’d spent the day riding with, had gotten separated from everyone, and eventually rode back to Annecy on her own or something like that.

Lance on the Colombiere

Lance on the Colombiere

Still, I have to reflect. This was almost certainly the hardest day of the Tour de France – the infamous “Stage 17”, and I’d conquered (barely) 3 of the 5 cols, and had climbed the back side of one of the cols the previous day. This is what we’d paid for. This is what we should have been expecting. It gave me a new level of respect for the athletes who compete and even just complete the Tour de France. The energy required, day after day after day, is almost supernatural. I can understand why people would be suspicious of these athletes and the history of performance-enhancing drugs at the Tour. Just to recover from a day like this day would have been epic. I continue to be awed by the capacity of this sport to impress me.

I’ll stop here for now and will post up Part 3 later on. Business beckons, and I just learned last night that my dear Grandma has just passed away. I’ll be in South Texas for the funeral on Thursday, but I’ll try to post up again soon.

More to come. Thanks for reading.




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