Archive Page 2

21
Feb
12

Cedar Hill Road Race Reviews –

Wow – has it been a while, or what? I can’t believe that 2012 has progressed so rapidly, and that so much has happened. I know I need to update everything, but I’ll try to do it in progressive order, so that the thoughts follow the line of time. Please bear with me. There’s a lot to tell.

February 11th and 12th were two days that I’ll never forget. Coming off the success of the event in late January, I looked forward to this circuit race, a 1.9 mile effort that had about 90′ of climbing on a 6-8% wall. The first day the race went counter-clockwise, while the second day’s effort went clockwise. Temps were pretty cold both days, in the 40’s, and the breeze coming off the lake didn’t help much with wind chill. It was my second race as a Master for the season, but I was surprised to see some top talent lining up for the event. By the top of the first hill, however, it was pretty much me, Bret Crosby, and a McKinney Velo rider. We got separation by the top of Lap 2, and with a pro rider from Elbowz (an Australian whose name I can’t remember) giving us our gaps, Bret and I took turns pulling (the MV rider did NOTHING, but it was understood that his presence was necessary, because his teammates were obviously doing a great job blocking for us), me pulling strongly the first hour, he finishing it off the last 30-45 minutes, that we ended up freaking LAPPING THE FIELD by the end of the race!!!

Now I need to give a sidebar note on this. There’s something really incredible about lapping the field in a race, something I’ve never done before. First – I witnessed Bret do this once before in a race up in Denton, and it was incredible. Then, to actually be a contributor to this – WOW, just…. WOW!!!!! The only problem with the lapping was that we ended up in the pack for their sprint, though by gentlemen’s agreement we did not challenge the results – we went Elbowz/Mirage/McKinney Velo, and I later rolled up to Bret, thanking him for the ride, the race, and the privilege of knowing what I’d just done, with one of my absolute heroes. He’s VERY humble, but he needs to know that he’s a model athlete and contributor to the sport.

The next day, with similar temps and a slightly smaller field, I ended up in the break with another friend and mentor, Mikey Brown, also of McKinney Velo, and an OKC Velo rider. We didn’t quite lap the field, but we did get about 4/5 of the lap in. The break took a bit longer to get started, and the course was slightly easier – the clockwise hill at least SEEMED easier – but in the end, Mikey pulled another signature move, backing off and losing contact in the last corner, about 800 meters from the finish, and then ROCKETING off the left hand side of the road, to get a sustainable gap. I was left battling with the OKC rider, who happened to be a National Duathlon Champ or something like that, and since his pulls at the front were negligible, he ended up attacking in the last 150 meters and getting a 3 second gap on me. I’m no fan of OKC Velo, and this didn’t raise my opinion of them much, but all’s fair in love and racing, and he did contribute somewhat. I’m kind of a hard-liner, taking solid pulls and doing a lot of work early to establish a break, hoping that my work will be recognized and rewarded. Saturday, it was, but Sunday, less so. Still, I’ve earned the respect of those around me, and this was an absolute blast of a weekend.

One other interesting note. This was the first time I rode with someone using Di2. Mikey Brown had it on his bike, and it was awesome hearing the motor shift him from 39 to 53 at the top of the hill. I was using my new SRAM red, and, well, my hands kept going numb. Sheesh.

15
Feb
12

Success…. And Victory.

The Whareagle wins his first road race – ever.

***Well, it’s been over two four five! weeks now, and I’m sure everyone wanted a fast response, but honestly, I was solo for two weeks at home, and there were other things going on in my life, and I went to Fredericksburg with a friend for the next weekend, and, well, I kind of fell in to a depression, and the high from this race didn’t last nearly long enough. SO, that said, I’ll resume and hopefully finish this today. Thanks for your patience.

I’m going to open this with a monster caveat – this is going to be a LOONG post, so make sure your coffee is hot, your mouse scrolling wheel has fresh batteries, and you have the phone set to ‘airplane mode’, because this may take a while. I have a lot to say.

This last weekend, January 21st, to be exact, I raced the first event of 2012, the annual Copperas Cove Classic, this year, renamed the “Megan Baab Memorial”. Megan was a young, effervescent 19-year old racer who grew up  in the Texas Cup Series, but tragically lost her life in mid-December of 2011. The whole state mourned her loss, and a scholarship fund was set up by Andy Hollinger, the race promoter, with a portion of the proceeds from the race going to the fund. I drove down with long-time client Janna Doss, who was entering her first race. We discussed the usual pre-race nervous talk, with tactics, strategies, nutrition, hydration, offense, defense, etc. Well, I never knew that my own version of the race, separate from hers, would ever succeed so spectacularly.

Saturday dawned cold and breezy, and despite my planning, I did fail to bring an extra undershirt, and was about to wear my Mirage jacket, when teammate and Mirage President, Gary Dutschman, offered me a Helly Hansen undershirt that was perfect. Janna and I pinned each others’ numbers on, and we rolled out for the 7:30 start. I decided a while ago that I would start acting my age, and would race the 40+ category, seeing as to how I’d been beating my head against the Cat 3 ceiling for 6 years, and an upgrade was probably out of my range, especially given my inability to race on weekday evenings, which is where most North Texans get their upgrade points. Trying to do it on weekends only is just really difficult, and there’s always the nagging doubt about whether you’re good enough to stick it with kids half your age, with a lot more vigor under their legs.

I had a number of teammates from Mirage, known and unknown, in the group, and we really didn’t have a strategy, but they were all experienced enough to know to at least block or screw up pacelines if a teammate got away, and, well, as it turned out, that’s exactly what happened!

It was still about 41 degrees when we rolled out in a neutral start, and we were averaging about 11 mph. When the car let us go, everyone just stuck next to each other and kept this slow speed. By this point, I was truly shivering, from a combination of nerves and cold, and I ended up telling myself – “Screw this – I’m going to warm up!” So, about mile 2, I literally just rolled off the front –

and that pretty much turned out to be the whole freaking race!!!!!

At 3 miles, I wasn’t really racing, but I was definitely riding at about 90% of FTP, and when I looked over my shoulder, I had about a 30 second gap. By mile 6, it was about a minute, and there was one brave rider trying to bridge. By the time I turned off on to the loop, at about mile 8, the rider was about 30 seconds behind me, and the pack was at 90 seconds. I then thought about how much riding I had ahead of me, and how it might be fun to have a rider to paceline with, so I backed off, waited a few seconds, and when the rider caught up to me, we made introductions, guesstimated the gap, and started taking turns.

The rider, Jim Slausson, was a 47 year old from San Antonio, riding for Bicycle Heaven, and had about 5 years of experience as a racer. I mentioned that I knew Jimmy Vaughan, one of the owners, and we instantly established a good rapport. Now, here’s the interesting thing – we were both riding Cervelo Soloist/S3’s, we both had tubular deep-rim wheels, and we both had power meters, and knew how to use them. The only difference, physically, was that he weighed probably 25 more pounds than I did. On that course, which is one of my absolute favorites, due to the rolling terrain and the ever-present wind, plus extremes in the cold or the heat, we were set up perfectly. My pulls ended up being longer, his shorter, but together we stitched and weaved our way over the whole course.

At roughly mile 35, just before the right turn on to the worst part of the course – a 12 mile segment of caliche and pea gravel with divots and potholes galore – Jamie, one of my absolute most favorite officials, pulled up beside us and rolled down his window.

“Jamie – what’s our gap?” I asked.

He looked at me, gave me his huge, awesome, most genuine smile, full of white shiny teeth, and said, “SUBSTANTIAL!”

Jim and I then knew this really was going to be a special day.

We hit the gravel section with a semi-quartering tailwind, and lit up the speed to over 28 miles an hour. We passed a few of the 1,2,3’s who had been dropped, but we saw no one after the second feed zone. However, the section that closes the loop, between the entry on to FM roads, and the left hand turn that heads back to the Start/Finish, had some challenges of its’ own to throw at us. Specifically, there’s this one section that consists of two rollers over short bridges, then a climb/flat/climb/flat/climb/flat, to the crest. It’s maybe just over a mile, but usually, if there’s wind, it’s an area where riders get popped. Today, however, I worked pretty hard with Jim, and took him up about 2/3 of the way, before I heard a faint “EZ!” and I backed off. Fortunately, at the crest, Lee McDaniel, the event photographer, was there, and he captured Jim and I in perfect sunlight and image. It’s probably one of the best images I think I’ve ever had taken of me in situ.

Cresting FM580 before Topsey

We continued trading pulls and made the left turn home, knowing that the event was ours, but also knowing that we couldn’t back off too much, for fear that someone might be bridging. It was there, in the area before the final three hills, where Jim said to me “Just get me to the finish – I won’t challenge you.” I thought about it, thought about the ride up to that point, thought about the weather and how it had gone from completely cold to fairly warm-ish, how the wind had never really been too much trouble… and a story came to mind.

“Jim – what was that tennis player’s name who married Steffi Graf?”

“Andre Agassi?”

“Yeah – that’s him. Well, a couple of years ago, maybe 15, he was playing in a charity match somewhere, and was just beating this poor nobody up and down the court. The guy finally came up to the net and said, ‘Hey, man, I’m not feeling it – I think I need to forfeit.’ Agassi, who was really in the zone that day, told him – ‘No man, don’t forfeit… let me spot you a point, and LET’S JUST PLAY.’ So, they agree to that, tell the judge, and keep playing, and Agassi keeps beating him, so the guy says, ‘Dude – you’re killing me!’, and Agassi says ‘I’ll spot you a game. LET’S JUST PLAY.’ Meanwhile, since this was a charity match, and people were paying to observe, well, more people started showing up, and cheering both players on. This went on and on and on until no one was keeping score, Agassi was lowering his game to make sure that his opponent was having a good time, and THEY JUST PLAYED.”

“That’s what I’m feeling like right now.

We’ve won the race, it’s a beautiful day, I’ve made a friend and enjoyed a great ride at the start of the New Year.

LET’S JUST RIDE.”

“Dude – that’s the best philosophy I’ve heard since my own tale.”

“Oh yeah? What’s that story?”

“Well, I was riding with my friend Jason Sager, and I’d just completed a six week ride across America, when he said, ‘I can’t wait to do that ride with my son some day!‘ And I replied ‘Dude, I can’t wait to do that ride with you AND your son some day!”

It was at that moment that I realized the difference between Success, and Victory. I’ve been trying so hard to win, to be victorious, to be the first across the line, all these years, in two aspects of the sport (MTB and Road), that I forgot to open my eyes and realize that the GREATER Victory comes from being successful. Success is intrinsic. Success is knowing that you’ve given it all, left nothing behind, seized the moment, and pursued your goals. Success doesn’t depend on victory. Success is its’ own victory. Success is knowing that a sound mind, body, and attitude are better tools than a ranking on a sheet of paper. Success is…. Success.

We rode the final five miles in pretty much together. I gapped him on the hills, he caught up with me on the descents. I couldn’t and wouldn’t really shake him, we just opened small gaps and closed them. In the final 500 meters, I raised my left hand, grabbed his right, and we crossed the finish line together, sharing the win. It was the culmination of 2+ hours of some of the absolute best cycling I’ve ever experienced, and in the end, there was no cutthroat push or throw-your-bike-across-the-line. It was almost anticlimactic, but it was the absolute best way I could think to end it. I finished by making the cross sign and kissing my fingers  up to the sky, though most of you know I’m more of a Deist than a labeled Christian. I guess it was just a way to give thanks – for the blessing of the day, the achievement of this level of success in my competitive career, and the taste of victory, which may never come again. I certainly FELT like I had a guiding hand on my back….

Afterward, we gave each other pats on the back, circled back to the start/finish, gave interviews to the local paper, and watched the rest of the riders roll in. We got a few photos, and I looked around for Janna, who was finishing her first official race. Unfortunately, her day was not as good as mine, as she suffered a flat roughly 2/3 of the way through the race, but up to that point, she’d been in the mix with the Open Women’s division, which impresses me mightily! High-Fives and fist bumps and hugs were abundant, and I got a little emotional, remembering all the times that this course has vexed me, that I’ve sworn to quit, that I couldn’t share this with my wife and family… But it did feel good to finally WIN something! BOO YAH!!!

Always good to have teammates at the start – and the finish!

The trip back was full of recounted tales, texts and Facebook postings, and Janna was as stoked as I was about everything. I donated the winnings to Megan’s Memorial, clearing it with the other Mirage guys first (I ALWAYS pay out to teammates when they block. ALWAYS). The celebration at home was more muted, and that’s another story for another day, but I’m grateful for the way this ride came together, how it ended, and what it achieved. Success –

17
Dec
11

2011 Turkey Roll Bike Rally Review

I really wanted to call this review, “2 Minutes”, because when I look back at the 3 hours of the overall ride, there was one, single, two-minute segment that made the ride. It reminds me that with all the riding and training we experience and enjoy, that it’s frequently one moment, be it 8 seconds here, or half a minute there, which defines the rally or ride or race for yourself, and everyone else involved.

The 2011 Turkey Roll was held on a mild but windy day, and I guess it had been two years since I had last participated, because the venue had changed from the Fair Grounds to a Catholic Church parking lot, making departure to the traditional 100K route a little more neutral and controlled. Once we hit FM 428, however, we were working on a broad, smooth shoulder with a 20mph tailwind. Several of the better riders were in attendance, and we took longer, but equal pulls for the first 8 miles. However, it was right after the turnoff at mile 8, on to FM 2153, that the defining moments of the rally were established and set in my memory.

The turn North meant that what had been our helpful tailwind was now a brutal, steady, left-front crosswind. The road, which had been wide and with a shoulder, was now narrow, pitted from heavy use, heavy with chip-seal, and had zero shoulder. This is where experience, knowledge of the course, position, and honestly, wheel selection, made a huge difference.

I immediately went in to the red zone when I came to the front and put in what must have been a 450-watt effort for one-minute, riding perfectly in the left wheel-well. There was space for about four riders to ride off my right hip, but anyone else would be forced to either ride along the white line, or attempt to form up on a second echelon. Matt Stephens, Colnago Chris, Chris Powers and myself all took equally good turns in rotation, but at roughly the 10.5 mile mark, I went to the front for my turn, and between the four of us, we put in a solid 2- to – 5 minute effort above 25mph and between 356 and 320w that, when we made the short hop onto Running Bear road, then on to FM 455, well, there was absolutely no one behind us. And by that I mean NO ONE.

We went on to ride at very solid, very high paces, talking, drinking our bottles, pushing but not too hard, for about 2 hours. Finally, at about mile 45 or so, Matt, Chris Powers and I unfortunately lost Colnago Chris, and we would not see him again until the finish. By mile 60, the three survivors had declared détente, and we rolled back through the neighborhoods and in to town, finishing in an official 2:53, without the pit stop at mile 40. We later learned that the trailing cyclists, around mile 10, had NOT formed a second echelon, and had instead suffered a crash that broke up the peloton, leaving us as the undisputed leaders whom no one could possibly catch in that wind. No one was seriously injured, but several bikes and wheels were totaled.

If I could summarize the work and the success of the break, I would say that it was those critical 1, 2, and 5 minute efforts, at high cadence, with equipment that was literally built for those types of conditions (aero bike with aero wheels that actually reduce drag or flutter in crosswinds), at high cadence (95-110rpm), at intensities which were well in to the Anaerobic and Vo2max zones, that made the ride. When you look at North Texas rallies and races, and the perpetual wind, it’s THESE efforts that determine success more than any other type of effort. Train this way, do similar intervals, and your chances of looking over your shoulder to see… no one, grow tremendously.

16
Oct
11

2011 Kiwanis Crazy Kicker

Did I mention last week how much fun these Fall bike rallies are? Here we are, in the middle of October, just coming off one of the hottest summers on record, and I am on fire. The stamina is there for a 4:40 100-miler, the strength is there for some of Palo Pinto County’s hills, and the speed is coming from that combination of cooler, calmer air, good comrades out on the course, and of course, my beloved bike, wheels, and kit. I’m serious – I think this is shaping up to be an incredible end to 2011’s year, but also will portend a great pre-season for 2012. So, with hope in my heart, confidence in my gut, and experience in my head, my newly-returned-to-cycling-from-injury wife and I drove out from Dallas on Friday evening, spent a quiet evening in Mineral Wells, and drove the 2 miles to the American Legion Post and City Park for the 8:00am start.

Last Tuesday, in what can only be described as pretense & confirmation of some solid training in September, I blew my highest wattage FTP for any October since I’ve been keeping records. Saturday’s Crazy Kicker offers the option for a 65-miler as well as a 100-miler, and knowing how important the hills, the tempo, and the volume can be when applied appropriately, I opted for the 100-miler with a handful of folks, including Michael Brown, my buddy with Mirage, the Pirates of the Peloton, and TBD. The ride began with just over 300 riders, and within a mile, the entire team of studs from Colavita, including newly-crowned Cat 2 State Champ Bryan Reid, rolled to the front and set a solid pace to try and shell any early stragglers.

The absolute beauty of this course comes from the relentlessness of its’ rolling, 2-3 minute hills at 2-6%. Whereas the week before in Gainesville, we had a return trip of 40K in to a headwind with 1-minute rollers at 2-3%, the hills here are longer, rounder, and the roads are more varied in their condition. One, no, two, no, THREE of my favorite race courses are out here, and over the course of the next 5 hours, we hit elements of all three. The road to Graford was the first challenge, with three fantastic 2-3 minute hills at ~4% incline. It was weird, though. ColaVita sent one rider out hard, early, on each of the three hills. Yet he would either fade or Reid and one or two others would end up reeling him in well before the crest of each hill. Reid’s another one of those just Epic Texas Cycling Studs, and the way he trained for his Championship run was enough to make any other man want to crawl in to a ditch and quiver. The man trained for Paris-Brest-Paris, held just weeks before the State Championships, and THEN he came home to win that race! It’s pretty freaking incredible! And this morning? Well, Bryan showed up on a FOLDING, PORTABLE CX bike with heavy wheels and treads! The man OOZES of HOMBRE, and he really is two different people on and off a bike, much like the captain of a 180-ton aircraft, which he is. Anyway, I stayed up front with him, two or three of his teammates, my buddy from two weeks ago with the Deamon Deacons jersey, and a fair-faced rider with a long, wispy pony tail who was a member of PACC and PBA. By the time we reached Graford, we were down to <30 riders total, but the pace had been pretty hard, and several people were just hanging on.

It’s usually an unwritten rule in rallies (remember, there really are no rules, per se), that the hot dogs will partake of the longer distances, unless it’s known ahead of time that the course for that longer stuff is either too challenging, or the road conditions too poor, to make for a good ride. Now, I didn’t do that in Glen Rose, because the Ride Director warned us ahead of time that the extra miles were freshly chip-sealed, and this was confirmed by Scott Simmons, the guy I rode with on that rally, who was a local. The beauty of riding the 100-mile option out at Mineral Wells is that there are bailout options between rest stops where you can cut the course to 75 and 85 miles, along Highway 16. So I was surprised when, just about 14 miles in, a TON of riders at the front, including the entire ColaVita squad, opted to head left and do the 65 miler. This left me with 6 or 7 riders, including Michael, a Bikes Plus rider, the PACC rider, and a few others. One was on a TT bike, one had aero bars on a road bike, but looking around, I saw that this could be a decent group of people with which we could attempt a quick, solid sub-5 100-miler.

We quickly made friends, and headed out, rolling along at a steady pace, not really pacelining, not really rotating or pulling through, definitely getting a little separated on the hills, but regrouping on the crests somewhat. We started to see damage from the two incredibly damaging and scary fires that started out there this summer, and commented on how lucky we were to still be able to even get out on these roads, since they can actually melt in the intense heat. At mile 28, however, two or four riders went on ahead, while the rest of us pulled in to a famous traditional rest stop – the Home Made Cookie Stop above the Dam at Possum Kingdom Lake. The on-site resident Manager of the lake, well, their whole family, make HUNDREDS of awesome cookies for the cyclists coming through, and they are YUMMY! I figured I really should stop and eat, because, well, we WERE going to ride 100 miles and, well, as good as Clif Bars are, well, they’re NOTHING like fresh homemade cookies! So we stopped, enjoyed the view, got each others’ names, filled our water bottles, and after about 10 minutes, headed back out.

Having forfeited our place with the four leaders, the goal now, at least for me, was to attempt to catch them before the end. And that would make for an incredible challenge.

The hills over by “The Cliffs” resort were charred black from the fires, and the road was Grade 1 (worst) Chip Seal. By the end of the stretch, about 7 miles, we were picking up and passing a number of others who had not stopped at the Dam, but we could NOT find the leaders. The PACC rider, also named Richard, Michael and I were the only ones left, and at about 43 miles, Michael also dropped off, leaving me with Richard. Richard was originally an enigma – a mathematics professor at UTD, younger than me, I’m sure, with a relatively slow cadence, a baby face you couldn’t shave more than once a month, but the hairiest legs I’d seen in a long while. he rode a 20-year old Cannondale with maybe 8 speeds, and had old Shimano commuter-style shoes, but MAN, THAT GUY HAD SOME POWER!!!! He literally pulled over a solid chunk of the hills from mile 30 to 50, and we DID catch one of the original four riders as we entered another section of road with which I was more familiar.

The turn on to that section put us back on some rough roads, and in to the wind, but we did make good time as we did what I’ll call the “Lake Palo Pinto” loop. We began to overlap the 65 mile course, catching and passing slower cyclists, but it wasn’t until we got past the bar/trading post/post office of “Lone Post”, just before the infamous “Cherry Pie Hill”, that we learned from the hanger-on that there were only two riders in front of us, and that there was no way we couldn’t catch them. This renewed my drive, and when he said good-by at the foot of Cherry Pie Hill, Rich and I both pumped a little harder, to see if we could catch that pair of ghost riders who were always just out of sight. However, that goal pretty much ended with our second stop, this one at Palo Pinto Courthouse, where the growing temperature and wind forced us to make a pit stop for more cookies and hydration.

The segment of road from Palo Pinto to Graford is one that I have a love-hate relationship with. It’s short, only about 8 or 9 miles long, and it crosses back over the Brazos River, which is really gorgeous, but the road is pretty rumbly, and it comes with the dread of knowing that your LAST 12 MILES are going to be IN to the wind, going OVER the same damned hills you climbed heading OUT, when it was at least 15 degrees cooler! But those ghost riders were still out there, and every once in a while, like a desperate cowboy out on the prairie trying to decide whether what he’s seeing is a mirage or a lost calf or something else entirely, we DID see one ghost rider out there, roughly a mile or two away, at times. Rich was starting to fade, however, and if you’ve been around me enough, you know that one of my mantra’s is, “you don’t leave  your wingman”. I didn’t want to leave him, knowing that we would BOTH end up going slower in the long run, but by the second-to-last hill on the return trip, when I DEFINITELY saw reflections on the horizon, he told me to go. But the mantra held true, and I gained too little, too late, and was just able to see that one rider make his left turn back on to highway 16 for the 2-mile ride back to the City Park. I pedaled as steadily as I could, finishing in a ride time of 4:37, maybe 2 minutes behind the sole rider I could see ahead. I never found him in the park, but I think it was the TT rider, as he was always visible on the climbs, but outpaced me on the descents and straightaways at the end.

I think one of the most beautiful things in the world is seeing my wife find her mojo again. She was under the shade of a tree, stretching on a yoga mat, when I rolled in, and she proclaimed excitedly that she’d just finished her longest ride in about a year and half, doing 55 miles solo and enjoying every minute of it. Michael, my friend , neighbor, client and club mate, had opted for an 85, and was supremely satisfied with his own early season performance. My ride partner, Richard, met us at the Kiwanis Grill, and we all enjoyed a burger and recollections of the day. The guy was a huge part of my success on Saturday, and I gave him credit for his strong pulls, even pedal stroke, and good company. The guy we pulled to the base of Cherry Pie Hill also came up to thank us, and Amy and I departed with some strong feelings of accomplishment, love for cycling, the outdoors, the friends made out on the course, and a sense of appreciation for the work required to put these events on. We celebrated with a stop at the Mineral Wells Dairy Queen, and drove back to Dallas, where we both promptly sacked out, exhausted (but in that oh-so-great way), for a two-hour nap of which I have ZERO memory!

Get out to Mineral Wells and support this rally. There were just 300 people, but it is on par with Muenster and Glen Rose for its’ beauty, its’ challenges, and the course variety. Oh, and don’t forget – you get serenaded by Elvis at the Depart, and upon your return! Can it GET any better than that?

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!

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.

20
Jul
11

Four sleepless nights and one inadequate breakfast later….

The Eiffel Tower in Paris (TX)

I’m writing this fresh from my return from the event, so that I can recall some details which are important, but this may be a little convoluted, so hang in there…

The 2011 Tour de Paris, TX Rally, located about 100 miles from Dallas, gave me an opportunity to hit a rally that I had not seen in at least five years, and see if I could continue my trend towards some top finishes, in fresh terrain, and under the challenging conditions which riding in July in North Texas offers, mainly, THE HEAT!

I decided to title this entry this way because I felt that it described a key element in training, racing, competition, and life. I once read a Sports Psychology book from a guy named Jim Garfield, and in that book, an Olympic  High Jumper says, “It’s not the nights before that count. It’s ALL the nights before that.” So, take the heat, the fact that it wasn’t cooling off at night, staying up late watching the Tour and then the news and talking about our days with my wife, dealing with two or three early mornings, and then a full moon on top of that, and the ingredients were there for a lot of insomnia this week. I also decided to attend this rally really late in my planning, so that added one more late night and early morning, to the mix. Sleep meds don’t help in situations like this, and sometimes I find that they leave me drowsy on the road (Dangerous as hell), and with a high heart rate the remainder of the morning, once the rides start. I also did not adequately plan my car and bike and coolers, so I dealt with ice and gas at 4:30am, instead of going over to either of my favorite greasy spoons and eating a calorie-dense meal. A tuna fish sandwich from 7-11 at 7:30 with about 20oz of milk does NOT make for an adequate pre-ride meal.

That said, the way the rally played itself out was… different. One of my favorite guys from Matrix took off from the time the siren went off, and blitzed through the town square, and out on the course, rolling at a really impressive pace. Then, he drifted back, and you know, I never saw him again until the turnaround! So that was weird. At the beginning, the course rolled over the same set of train tracks… twice. And for the second time in 5 weeks, my left-handed Arundel bottle cage ejected my 750ml, super-expensive Camelbak water bottle from the down tube location. I asked for it after the ride, but the volunteers had either drunk it, pitched it, or had not turned it in. The first 7 or 8 miles were on a State Highway, with a pretty good shoulder, but it also included a closed off lane for the return trip. In the middle, there was the ubiquitous rumble strip. So, with this wheel-eater in the middle of a shoulder that had some tire debris, and a chipseal lane on the left, we had to make a decision, and stuck to the shoulder. Once we turned off the highway, things were fine, and we took the lane, but ya gotta remember, shoulders are not the panacaea for cyclists that advocates want you to think they are, and

the size of the strip, along with the ubiquitous shredded tires, made for an interesting paceline. Once we got off of the highway, things got better quickly, but I guess I would’ve enjoyed the road more.

Sidebar dumb Q of the day: Why put rumble strips on the edge of the shoulder? I mean, you want people to drift OFF the road, not on to it, and you don’t want sleepy drivers over-correcting and going IN to oncoming traffic, right? It’s a DOT mystery to me.

The 18 or so leaders rode single-paceline for quite some time, and I recognized more than a few faces. I also counted Power Meters, noting at least 5. That said, there’s always a jackwagon in the pack that either skips turns repeatedly, doesn’t ride smoothly, keeps his cadence way too low, or pulls too hard. After about 10 miles of it, I decided I’d had enough, and tried to get everyone to roll in a double-paceline. It worked a little bit better, but we only shelled it down to about 12 riders or so, and some of the ‘riskier’ riders stayed with us. I wasn’t feeling great, but about 5 miles before the turnaround, on some good, honest rolling hills with 1-minute efforts, a regular RBM’er put in an attack, and shelled the pack. I was one of two or three people to go with him, and we eventually shelled the 3rd rider. He and I alternated pulls all the way to the turnaround of the 110k, and kept going. We were led by a great Harley Moto official, and I think we even had a trailing EMT for a while. We alternated pulls in 30-45 second bouts, and I kept drinking, going through 48oz in 1 hour, and emptying the Camelbak in 90 minutes or so. I figured we were on track for a 23-24mph average, but fate, in the form of heat, energy management, and a change in strategy from the previous weeks, intervened to leave me OTB and solo-ing in.

About mile 40 or so, maybe even around 35, I began to overheat. I had changed my strategy to include the camelbak as a drinking device, and not as a cooling device, and I had also ignored my usual, and successful, pre-ride meal of a hot breakfast with lots of carbs, protein, and fat, usually at Denny’s or Cafe Brazil. Instead, I drove out early, and did not eat until about 7:30, and the meal was just one simple Tuna Fish sandwich. So I showed up short on stored calories. The Camelbak as swamp cooler worked all through June, and I should have known not to mess with success, but I wanted to try and drink what was on my back, instead of carrying all those extra bottles. As the minutes ticked by, however, my pulls lacked the usual 240-280w averages (they’re always lower in the heat – make sure you recognize that your performance may drop as much as 10% across the board), and were instead in the 180-220w range. They were also shorter, and I was drafting longer. Then, my GUT began to cramp. Rack THAT one up to, well, not having a peaceful constitutional prior to the ride start.

I informed my breakaway partner of my diminishing capabilities, and he asked me to hang on until Mile 50, when we came up on a water station. The Tour de Paris people know that their ride has inherent risk due to the heat, so instead of stations every 10 miles, they placed them roughly every 5 miles apart, and it makes a BIG difference. I heard there were people who literally rode from station to station, just to keep their bodies cooled via towels and ice baths. Knowing that I might end up in a situation like I had a year previously in Waxahachie, I bid my partner good-bye, and rolled in to the feed zone, where I was IMMEDIATELY refreshed with two ice cold bottles of water, promptly dumped on my head and back, and one down my throat. The stop was only about 90 seconds, but in that time, I was passed by at least two or three other 110K riders, and while I rolled out to try and catch them with my refreshed energy, I could not bridge the gap. At the next station, the Boy Scout troop there was completely unprepared for the riders (disappointing), and I rode to the next station. Along the way, I began to notice riders from other route distances hiding under trees in the still air, some sitting upright, others on their backs. All of them looked exhausted. When I got to the next station, I alerted them about the situation, and the SAG wagons got in to action. My final 8 miles or so were spent back out on the highway, between the cones and the rumble strip, facing traffic, which actually was driving pretty slow and in control. I rolled in at about a 3:16, disappointed that I’d broken my record of top finishes, but also completely aware of my surroundings, and what I’d done wrong. The ride finish was enhanced by the sight of two clients taking a photo of the iconic “Eiffel Tower”, and we chatted about the heat, our performances, the trip, the course, and strategy for the rest of the summer’s classes.

I think the most important lesson from this rally is that you don’t mess with success. IF you have a routine that works, stick with it. I failed to eat a big meal, and I did not use my Camelbak as a swamp cooler, instead using it to drink. Next time, I’ll ride loaded for bear – Ice-filled Camelbak, five bottles of Secretdrinkmix, and Coldblack gear. The decision to make this trip was made far too late in the day to adequately prepare, and when combined with the stress from the heat, a lack of consistent sleep, not eating enough, and changing cooling strategies, well, I didn’t deserve to ‘win’ the rally.

That will change in two weeks, at Goatneck. See you then.




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