Posts Tagged ‘Rally


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!


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.


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.


2011 Waxahachie Cow Creek Classic

Okay, things are getting really, really good.

Form like this, for me at least, comes along once every three or four years, and it’s usually the result of about 8 months of good, solid training, mostly indoors, but it’s also the culmination of a good chunk of time, several previous race efforts on weekends, and dogged determination. You don’t get anywhere, or get anything, in this business, unless you give it good, solid, steady, hard, REALLY hard efforts. The emotions of the late spring’s failures, and the frustrations from the heat, have finally gone by the wayside, and as I said in my opening statement – “Things are getting really, really good!”

Some of you may remember that it was at this rally last year that I where I had my latest bout with heat fatigue, and what I’ll qualify as a stroke, since I ended up having vision issues in my right eye, which still are not 100% corrected (there’s a purple-ish tint to everything, and focus is of by about 10%. Just don’t pass me on the right, okay?). Well, this year, I was bound and determined to NOT let that course get the best of me.

Amy (in her new car) and I drove separately, due to conflicts with the rest of the day’s schedule, but we ended up parking about a row from each other. Instead of dealing with last year’s disappointment when I realized I had forgotten my Camelback pack, this year, I was completely prepared. I had 5 full long-neck bottles of cold SecretDrinkMix, I had had two bottles of the EveryDay SecretDrinkMix before that, and I had my swamp cooler – now being used for the third time this month – a 70oz CamelBack, filled with ice, but with the hose removed, so that as it melted, it dripped down my back and over my legs. I kissed my wife good luck, rolled up to the start line loaded for bear, and after a sweet convocation by a local minister (and a weird comment from the promoter about “Whiskeypalians”), I rolled out with the lead group of combined 78 and 102 mile riders.

Probably because of the heat (though it was overcast, which helped), and the wind, the first 30 minutes of the ride were almost sedate. Unfortunately, one of my prime ride buddies, Curtis Palmer, rolled over a bad pothole in the FIRST MILE, and he flatted out, and abandoned. I had no Mirage or Pirate teammates with me, nevermind the fact that I was riding in my now-traditional “Coldblack” kit, all black, except for the helmet and socks… But right at the 32:00 mark, none other than Chris Powers, one of the most successful and major domo cyclists in the State, attacked off the front in an absolutely graceful move that set the tone for the next 50 minutes. We had just started turning back in to the wind, and there were about 10-12 strong riders, along with about 40 groupies, who lit it up on the rolling hills towards Midlothian.

Now, the conditions for this course, which is pretty rolly, were like this: winds out of the south at 20kts, temps in the high 80’s and low 90’s as the morning progressed, and moderate but growing humidity. The air literally comes in off the gulf, sweeps over all of Texas, and leaves you parched when exposed to it for too long. But following my disciplined plan, I religiously drank my 2 bottles per hour, and by the 1:20 mark on the course, no more than 25 miles in to the ride, we had literally pared the field down to 8, then 7, then 6 (who was completely unable to take pulls), and then 5. Chris, Russ, Brian, Scott, and myself. I had made it. I was among some of the Giants of the N. Texas Peloton. Looking over our shoulders, we saw…. no one. We had literally cracked the peloton in the first 80 minutes!

We continued to take pulls together, backed off on the intensity a little, and began to relax. The wind was bad, but not so bad that we couldn’t get through it, and the heat was bad, but again – not so bad that it couldn’t be handled. The terrain actually provided some challenges, especially my absolute favorite piece of road in Ellis County – FM 308. It’s got these awesome 2-minute rollers at 2-3%, and they’re just long enough to challenge your rhythm at 300-400 watts. Several times I was told to back off, which I did, after noticing that two of our group were suffering.

We stopped at the 50-mile mark to get topped off on fluids and food, and in that 5 minutes, no one showed up on the horizon. At the turn off between the 78 and the 100, Powers, Simmons and I went left, while the other two went right, and the three of us were rewarded with smooth, silent roads, and a blessed tailwind. Our speed picked up to over 28mph several times, and we rolled in to Waxahachie as the first riders across the line for the 78, in a highly respectable 3:33. averaging 21.7mph. Average power was just 186 watts, with a PNorm of 224. This was just under 80% of Threshold. Gratitude and congratulations were given all around, and we literally parted ways to head to our cars, and then head home. My wife had finished just a few minutes ahead of me on the 36, but I didn’t get her message about “finding the Dairy Queen” (a true post-ride treat, always!) until I had passed it. Oh well, there’s always next time!

I don’t know what happened behind us in those first miles. Maybe it was the wind. Maybe the heat took its’ toll, and maybe the humidity hurt some more than others. What I do know is that my hydration strategy, my fabric strategy, and my cooling strategy, are all working. That, and maybe some adaptation, since I’ve been going out to ride middays, with higher sunblock and my Secret Drink Mix. I really think the developers of that product have something going for them. We’ll certainly know more in a few weeks, as the Tour starts, and the RadioShack boys attempt to dethrone the expected giants.


2011 Collin Classic Review

The Coldblack Kit reflects 80% of the IR energy from the sun.

The 2011 Collin Classic bike rally was held on a HOT and breezy June 11th,  and while several of the local racers and clubs were up in Oklahoma at the Tulsa Tough, those who attended this year’s rally were not disappointed. The father-son duo of Texas Legend Chris Calrson and his son, Zach, were present, as were almost a dozen McKinney Velo riders, Jimmy from Park Place, and others. The rally promised to be fast and furious, and with a prime in the middle of the course, on 3 or 4 rollers, the ride rolled out quickly, to establish boasts and bests.

Due to the heat and growing winds, it was almost universally accepted that the lead group would ride the 62-miler. However, as good as this rally is when it comes to parking, registration, waystations with ice and drinks or food, and post-ride food and celebrations, the event continues to be plagued by two small, yet important details – signage and course overlap. Several times, the lead group of riders accidentally overshot intersections where arrows were hard to read, due to their smaller size and smaller “head”. Once the lead group had reached about 40 miles or so, we began to pass riders doing shorter routes, at slower paces. Weeks before, at the Richardson Wild Ride, this was more-or-less okay, due to the fact that most of those roads were multi-laned, but out in rural Collin County, the single-lane-wide roads created conflict with the slower riders. Still, the course is definitely one of the more challenging efforts in North Texas, due to the rolling hills and the season.

Discussion in the pack of riders was lighthearted and noncommittal for the first half hour or so, and riders took equal turns up front, keeping the pace high, but not so high that it crushed people or forced them out. In the rollers, where we began to expect that people would fall off the pace, attrition was surprisingly low. Despite their large numbers, McKinney Velo riders kept the pace manageable and controlled, so there were really no serious breakaways at all. The heat continued to rise, and the wind began to whip up, but the overlap of courses tended to create some speed mitigation, so with about 10 miles to go, we were in a group of about 40. Carlson took the prime by about 80 meters at the halfway mark, and somewhere about 6 miles out, he, a Matrix rider, and Tino, wearing a Ft. Lewis College kit, pulled a quick getaway that left them about a minute up on the pack. We chased hard, but it seemed like the fight had gone out of the MV and PACC riders, and we all rode in.

Attempting to bridge to the group of 3.

Winning time was a 2:28, and my time in the group after the lead 3 was a 2:30. Afterward, we all compared notes on the heat, hydration strategies, course markings, etc. and left with mutual respect for each other and our accomplishment. The Collin Classic broke another attendance record, and Bikin Mike can be proud of his legacy with this event and others. Hats off to my fellow riders, and I hope to see y’all out there again next year.


Waxahachie Rally Review

June 26th will go down for me as one of the absolute scariest days I’ve ever had on a bike. It did not start out that way, but it definitely ended like that, and it led to a serious lesson on limits and riding with your heart instead of your head.

It all started actually on Thursday, when I dropped my wife off at the airport for a short trip up to Seattle. She was concerned about the heat and humidity down here, and wondered if it was the smart thing to do to actually go out and ride in this stuff, when the Cycling Center of Dallas studio was a fresh and comfortable 72 to 78 degrees fahrenheit. I initially showed determination to ride the 75 or 100 mile, since I hadn’t been out in a few weeks, but almost hourly I began to waffle over the next two days. Would I? Wouldn’t I? Should I? and the perpetual question… “Will you be ready for this?”

This was answered at 5am on the 26th, when I woke up early, prepared my bike, car, and a cooler, ate a SMALL breakfast, and headed out. Looking back, it was already too little, too late. I had eaten well the day before, but had not adequately hydrated, and I KNOW, as a coach, that hydration is something that is chronic, not acute. There were a whole host of warning signs that I should have picked up on, including: a twitchy calf the two days before. Not enough sleep. A twitchy eyelid that was related to fatigue and mineral imbalances. And perhaps the most important warning – I brought my Camelback bladder, but not the Camelback itself. They say that it’s often not the last mistake you make in a chain of events that leads to catastrophe, but the little ones that pile up before that. This was true on this day and others in my cycling past.

We rolled out with between 4 and 5 bottles apiece, bars, flasks of carbohydrate, and light, almost still air. It was 83 at the starting line. After maybe 5 miles, we were down to a small group of less than 40 cyclists, and as we rolled around some beautiful roads and countryside, I began to feel almost euphoric. My climbing was spectacular, and my pulls were steady and solid. Farang Ghadiali was working hard at the front, and along with some other Williams Cycling riders, we alternated pulls and worked together like locomotives sharing the load, to pull the train of riders behind us. One time, after an inappropriate but unintentional gap on a hill, I came back to the group to sort of apologize, and one of the other Dallas Racing Works riders piped up – “Dude, we got nothin’! It’s too hot!” So I controlled my pace after that and stayed with the group.

Coming up to the 50-mile mark and the water station located there, we began to notice salt rings and empty bottles all around. We were down to about 20 riders, and we just sort of knew at that point that we needed to hold off and refuel. However, as I began to dismount, my LEFT HAMSTRING (that’s a new one for me) cramped up and I gave warning that I was going to perform a controlled crash in the grass. There were laughs all around, but I noticed that I did NOT need to void my bladder, summed it up as dehydration, and took advantage of the station’s pickle juice and Powerade. Four cups of pickle juice later and 2 bottles of Powerade, along with 4 complete refills, we all remounted, and for a while, things got better.

This lasted maybe 20 minutes though, and by the time we got to the 75/100 mile turnoff, I made a conscious decision to abandon my attempt at a century today, and head for Waxahachie. Temps on the road were above 100, and the wind was beginning to kick up a bit, so hopefully we would have a tailwind along highway 77. But somewhere outside of Italy, TX, my speed began to drop, my cadence began to slow, my vision began to wobble, and my speech was conflicted. My good friend Curtis Palmer took one look at me and said, “You need to stop. You look awful!” I drank what I could, but eventually I let the small group I was with go ahead, and began what I would call the “Death March” to the next feed station. My average speed ended up being around 12 mph, and my average wattage was in the 150’s. Right before the 65 mile feed zone, I remember all vision in my right (weak) eye turning purple, and it was all I could do to climb a good line and not waver or be a risk to motorists at a crawl. I rolled in to the station, where the volunteers immediately began applying ice packs, spraying me with cold water, and choking more fluids down my throat. Finally, they pulled up a pickup, put my bike in it, turned the AC on full, and put me in the passenger’s seat, and began to drive me to the finish line.

The trip was surreal. I remember talking to someone on the phone, looking at the other riders as we passed them and wondering why I wasn’t riding with them, and blaming it on a mechanical. Finally, I got to the Baylor medical trailer, where they put my bike down, lay me down head down and feet up slightly, and injected me with a liter of Dextrose and Saline fluids. The bag took about 30 minutes or more to go in, and while it was entering my bloodstream, I remember the cool feeling, almost like radiator coolant, going up my arm and in to my body. After about 10 minutes, my head cleared and my vision came around, and I started to actually get a sugar buzz! I shot pictures of my arm, thanked the crew, and when another MICU took off with sirens blaring, I didn’t think anything of it. I just assumed it might be someone else in trouble with the heat, like me. As it turned out, there was a small line of folks who needed treatment in the Baylor wagon, and the sirens I heard were a response to a call from the 50-mile feed zone that a cyclist was actually having a heart attack! “Bicycle Bill” from Ennis was later airlifted to Baylor Dallas, where he received a stent in his chest. He is expected to make a full recovery, but it was definitely a close call.

After the injection, I saw a scale in the cabinet, and asked if I could weigh myself, since I knew what my pre-ride weight had been. Now, here’s the really scary part. At 5am, I had weight 153lbs. AFTER all those bottles of fluids (8 total), and AFTER that 6 pound injection of an IV, with NO urge to empty my bladder, I weighed in at 151. So somewhere in the first two hours, I lost a TON of fluids. My replenishment rate for water, salt, and carbs, even at two bottles of drink per hour, was inadequate. I was unprepared, and the euphoria I felt in the first two hours was based solely on my breakfast carbs, and my on-bike carb solution, which I later realized had been diluted from 6% down to 2%. Water alone wasn’t adequate to keep my body cool. I rode with my heart, and NOT with my head.

I read today that June was the hottest month on record, locally and nationwide, as was the heat index. I literally rode the salt out of my body, and put myself deep in to a position of stress that almost led to panic and maybe a stroke. In this heat, it’s absolutely critical to adapt, prepare, hydrate, and replenish your energy as much as possible. I don’t know if the Camelback would have made a difference, but an extra 72 ounces, cold, with sugar solution in there, would not have hurt. Once again I’ve learned my lesson, and I can only thank the gang that I was riding with, and the expert volunteers at Waxahachie, for their assistance on this hot, humid, day of rallying.


2010 Richardson Wild Ride!

Richardson Wild Ride Route

The 2010 Richardson Wild Ride was a rally that practically everyone had second thoughts about attending, due to the threat of inclement weather, but once we got there and rode it, it turned out to be one of the best weekends of riding yet this year!

We started out at the WildFlower Festival, a weeekend-long event held in Richardson to celebrate spring and support several worthy community causes, including the Richardson Cancer Center. Rolling up to the start line, I ran into several fellow pirates, along with friends from other clubs, and numerous clients, past and present. The chatter was cut short by a few announcements, then the National Anthem, and when the siren blew, we rolled out.

The course for this year was different from previous years (for me, at least – it may have changed last year). Gone were the numerous lefts and rights through neighborhoods. Instead, we took at right at Park Lane, and stayed DUE EAST for several dozen miles, until we got out just past the Lake Lavon dam. This was excellent, as we were able to keep speeds high, ride some better roads, and focus on pacelines and shedding some of the weaker riders. I hate to say that it comes to that, but honestly, it does. However, early, maybe no more than 6 miles in, maybe closer to 10, the same Tandem cyclists whom we rode with last week, along with National-calibre cyclist and coach Brian Fawley, slipped away. That was really my only, and largest mistake – I let them go, and they ended up SEVEN MINUTES UP on us at one point. No amount of pursuit would work, and we later learned that Fawley had FLATTED, and they STILL took over 2 minutes on us at the end. WOW!

My only real complaint about my fellow riders is that there were largely just about 8 of us doing the large majority of the work. Several Top Guns were in the pack, and McKinney Velo and PACC represented themselves well, as did Mirage, with Ben Sewell and Jordan Chaney taking strong, regular pulls, but by and large, the rest of the group just settled in and did nothing but eat cheeseburgers and drink milkshakes. Guys, I don’t care if you take a fake pull or not, but you could honestly show up at the front once or twice, at least for the cameras! C’mon!

The day itself ended up being absolutely perfect. Temps were mild, the wind was absolutely minimal, and the humidity was kept at bay. Threatened storms never once appeared. The 64 miles were covered in 2:35, right under 25mph for the average. I do need to boast about two comments made separately. On the outbound leg, I was feeling incredible, and was pulling the pack on some of the 1-2% false flats, when a PACC rider told me I had to back off because neither he nor anyone else could hold my wheel… Not that I believed it, but it was flattering nonetheless. Later, toward the end of the ride, as we were heading back in for the final miles in town, Chris Powers, a phenomenal cyclist with a rich pedigree of victories underneath his legs, rolled up, patted me on the back and complimented me on a good ride with strong pulls. Honestly, that’s really flattering, when someone of that calibre offers a respectful compliment. Earlier, during the chase when we thought we might actually be able to catch the Tandem and Fawley, Powers had come to the front and given a MONSTER 3+ minute pull. The whole time, I was right no his wheel. I don’t know if his teammates were able to keep up at that point.

The finish itself was neutral, since we had nothing really to race for, and we sat up as we went under the banner, congratulating all who finished with the lead pack on a good ride. In the end, there were maybe 25 of us. The Tandem and Fawley ended up breaking 2:31, I believe, which again had me popping my eyeballs back in to my sockets. I’ve never ridden with a tandem that was so smooth and integrated in to the peloton so well… and then crushed us with such incredible ease!

We stuck around for pizza and other snacks, and told tales of our rides, this weekend and previous, and made plans to go for several others. Rally season in North Texas is in full swing, and even while road racing draws down, you can bet that the strongest riders will be pushing themselves and each other to the limits in the 100k’s over the next several weeks and months!

Quick Kudos to my wife, who had her longest ride in about 8 months, 51 miles, and was also very strong. Smiling Amy was missed, and it looks like now she has returned! 🙂

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,351 other followers