Posts Tagged ‘Travel

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?

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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!

07
Sep
10

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

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

Fun times at Mattito's Tex Mex!

Amy and Richard with the Gescheidles and Colleen Klaudinyi

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

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

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

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

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

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

02
May
10

Mineral Wells Stage Race 2010

Well, the helmet kept me warm, at least...

Okay – it’s been a few weeks since the race ended, and honestly, it took about that long and then some for me freakin’ dry out, since it rained the entire weekend out in Palo Pinto County. But honestly, the rain was not a problem. This had to be one of the most fun events I’ve ever done on a bicycle in my 18 years of racing.

The Mineral Wells Stage Race was actually held in and around Graford, Texas, population 570 or so. Palo Pinto county has got to be one of North Texas’ best areas in which to ride a bike, with great roads, wonderful scenery, varied terrain, and proximity to Dallas and Fort Worth. The racing loop is about 24 miles, and the TT was held on the highway between Graford and Mineral Wells itself. The race itself was unique in that it was not just a stage race, but it paid out based on a points system, and emphasized the money on the TEAM results, with the Top 3 riders of each team getting scored from first place down to 25th or something, like a Cross Country running event. This changed the tactics completely, since time didn’t matter – place did.

The Mirage Cycle Club Cat 3’s showed up to win, and Sean Daurelio, Jason Jacobs, and myself felt confident that we could go for individual wins as well as a high placing overall. For the effort and the challenge, we weren’t disappointed.

Andy Hollinger, the Race Promoter and Director, put the Cat 3’s in Center Stage, giving us the first start of the day. Unfortunately, mother nature added to the challenge, as it rained the entire weekend (reports were later confirmed that the county received between 5 and 9 inches of rain in 48 hours, and that all the floodgates at Possum Kingdom Lake had to be opened at some point on the Brazos). Several dozen riders elected not to attend. However, Andy’s payout remained the same, so we took full advantage of that opportunity and raced hard for just over 2 hours, finally earning 8th, 9th, and 10th in the sprint finish. While we didn’t take home individual Palmares, this tight grouping gave us an incredible advantage in the Team event, and after the first stage, we were well on our way to First Place/Team.

The second event, a Time Trial, was just over six miles long, and it had three distinct hills, which removed a lot of the advantages of aerodynamics, and placed more emphasis on strength, especially on the last hill, which was a little over half a mile long and grew to about 6 percent slope. I used some knowledge of the duration of the event, and what my expected power should be, given that it was the second event of the day, and was also mostly done in the aero position, and finished a respectable Top 10, with my teammates once again performing well enough to continue to vault us in to the lead via points for the Team Overall. However, the time spent napping on the floor of the gym in Graford, along with the continued rain and a growing chill, meant that I was getting more fatigued, and I ended up relying on friends in Ft. Worth to bed down for the evening.

Cat 3 Peloton in the Rain

On Sunday, the rain continued unabated, and numerous athletes with Smart Phones were variously playing a game of “Will It or Won’t It” with the predictions of rain cessation or continuation, but we suited up nonetheless and decided to get out there for one more hard ride out on the course. The course itself is epic, with about 650 feet of climbing per lap, and one great hill with a LOOONG false-flat afterward, so there’s no chance of easy recovery. To add to that, the wind was pretty much coming down our throats after the right hand turn at the end of the Big Hill. The rain all weekend led to poor visibility conditions, which made things ripe for a breakaway attempt. However, this time, my own goals were secondary to the teams goals, especially since Shawn Daurelio was sitting in Second Place overall, and we wanted to either preserve his place, or have him challenge for the overall win. To do so would have required that he topple the winner of the previous two stages, though, so the goal was pretty ambitious.

Early on, there was a two-man break with contenders who were no serious threat to the overall, and my own efforts were muted as we kept the group mostly within sight. The moto ref kept signaling gaps of between 2.5 and 3 minutes, which grew and shrank as time went on. But no serious moves were made until the last lap, when teammate Jason Jacobs launched a solo effort early, before the hill, only to get caught about 2/3 of the way up. Then, Shawn Daurelio launched, and two riders went with him. Unfortunately, one of them was 1st place in the GC. Teammate Jacobs and I blocked and foiled numerous efforts to bridge to the pair of 2 and 3 up the road, and in the end, it was enough for us that while Shawn didn’t defeat his rival and take over the GC (in fact, we made a mistake and let one cyclist in the first breakaway steal a spot from him, thus earning him 3rd overall), we did ride strong enough and consistently enough to win the Team GC title by well over half the other team totals!

Unfortunately, as the rain continued, the temperatures finally started to drop, and by the end, my mid-pack finish was brought on by blurred vision, moderate nausea, and a heavy bonk that left my words blurred and my head hard to keep upright. Teeth chattering, I realized that my overnight stay in Ft. Worth had left me unprepared for my post-ride recovery, and furthermore, that my only weatherproof jacket was at my friends’ home. With the energy I had left, I loaded my bike in the car and headed out to Mineral Wells for coffee and a hot meal (Graford, while nice, is too small to support a Burger King or even a 7-11). I received the reports of the finish from my teammates, and drove home satisfied, but ready for a hot shower and bed.

Boulle Climbs the Wall at MWSR 2010

The Mineral Wells Stage Race revealed a part of bike racing that has been completely underserved in recent years, but with it’s growing popularity, ought to be considered by more promoters. Team Racing and a Points Race is the perfect melding of individual effort and team function. Riders can decide on going after the win, and the higher points, or going after the lesser points in greater numbers. It helped that Jason, Shawn and I knew each others’ strengths, had worked together before, and were interested in a common goal. At 40, I also realize that, despite my own goals, the restrictions I face for training, and the fact that, let’s face it, youth eventually DOES outpace wisdom, leaves me accepting my role as a teammate, and not that of a captain. I did that in Copperas Cove in January, and I missed it in several of the other races that occurred in the Spring. Mineral Wells gives everyone on a club or team a chance to participate, engage, and work together towards a common goal. It made the racing that much more fun, and when combined with the challenges of terrain and weather, made for a weekend of racing that I am both proud of, and will never forget.

19
Apr
10

Mineral Wells Stage Race – Mirage C3’s Take Team and a Podium Spot!

Climbing a Hill in Palo Pinto County

What a difference a weekend makes!

Awaiting photos (if any of the cameras survived), but this was a wet, wet, wet, wet, WET weekend. The course was awesome, the racing FAR better and smarter and more fun than I could ever have imagined. Andy Hollinger and Team Bicycles, Inc. put together one fantastic event, and it showed, despite the rain.

I’m in the middle of a long essay about this event, but the results this weekend were all about TEAM. Team, and realizing that my role in things is becoming that of domestique. I hate it, but I love it. Domestique or chessmaster, using myself as a Bishop, Knight, or Pawn. I’m starting to realize that, at 6-8 hours a week, I’ll probably never be as powerful as the Queen is on the chessboard. However, I know how to attack, I know how to block, and I know how to pull. Pull like an F’ing drafthorse. The crazy thing is – I’m sort of racing myself in to some level of fitness.

Now, if I could ever get outside for some real riding on a regular basis…

I better go pull the bikes out of the car before they completely rust from the never-ending weekend deluge.

19
Aug
09

Covering France

View of Paris' Les Invalides

View of Paris' Les Invalides

The 2009 Tour de France cycling trip that Amy and I took last month was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done on two wheels. The rides were epic, with long, steep cols, variable weather, unbelievable crowds, and limited options. I’m proud of my wife for riding as much and as well as she did, but we both think this will be our last “Tour” trip for a while.

The trip started out pretty well. Amy was due for a relaxing time, and the three days that we spent in Paris, adapting to the jet lag, and temperature changes, were fantastic. We slept, ate at small cafes, walked all over the city, finally went to the Louvre, visited the French Air & Space Museum, and watched the Tour de France, in French, on television. We had the pleasure of staying at the home of one of Amy’s friends while she was out of town, so it was even more comfortable and quiet.

Carpaccio!

Carpaccio!

I think we slept for hours every day. Napping, sleeping in, etc. The town was almost too quiet, though, and we speculated that it must have been because of vacations or maybe even the economy. The tourist sites were busy as usual, but the residential areas were sparse, kind of peaceful, kind of creepy, too. It rained every evening just a bit, and the cooler temps were welcome, coming from our hotter ‘n hades home in Texas.

I have to give two quick shouts out about some things. First off, our host had a ‘Nespresso’ machine, which completely rocked! Here’s a photo of it.

Mmm! Nespresso!

Mmm! Nespresso!

Second, we ate a great meal in MontMartre area, and watched a stage finish of the Tour at the restaurant. The proprietor, however, was a cyclist, and he couldn’t wait to show us his new mountain bike! So here ya go, Frankie! And thanks for the good time!

My friend Frankie

My friend Frankie

Amy and Richard in Montmartre

Amy and Richard in Montmartre

The second half of our trip began on a Monday, when we went in to the Gare de Lyon train station, bike boxes in tow, and loaded up on a TGV headed to Annecy. For those of you who haven’t traveled via TGV bullet train, you really do have to experience it. Smooth and fast transit, with comfortable seats, are the rule, and everything in France is literally within 4 hours of Paris. Amy slept most of the way, but I read a book, and watched the world pass by. I got especially interested once the terrain became more and more mountainous. Several other cyclo-tourists were on the train, and it was a bit of a jumble to get the bikes out, with all the people pressing to exit. But no worries.

We arrived in Annecy right on schedule, and were met by two of our guides, who helped us carry our luggage to the “Hotel d’Annecy”, an awesome 4-star establishment right in the heart of the city. Annecy is a spectacular and scenic town, in the heart of the French Alps. Lac d’Annecy is a cold, clear, glacier-fed lake that is a small version of Lake Tahoe, complete with some casinos. We got our room, moved our bike boxes up to the mechanics to assemble, grabbed a salad at a cafe, and then rested up for an afternoon ride.

Heading out

Heading out

Marty Jemison and his wife, Jill, have been hosting bike trips for almost a decade now, and they still make an effort to personalize each event, and accommodate everyone. While it doesn’t always turn out that way, they certainly do try. However, I think the enormity of this year’s Tour, with the return of Lance Armstrong bringing over a million extra people a day to the stages, led to logistical issues that no one could have adequately prepared for. For us, the tour was good, but it did leave us with fewer cycling options, and the physical demands conspired against Amy the whole week.

Amy at Lac d'Annecy

Amy at Lac d'Annecy

Our first ride was a tour around Lac d’Annecy. It was mostly flat, and mostly on the region’s extensive bike trail system. The day was gorgeous – sunny, warm but not hot, and mild breezes. Everyone stayed together, except on the one significant hill, where Marty and I got up to our old game of ‘rabbit’, where I would go, he would chase me down, and I would then work doubly hard to stay on his wheel. This time, it worked, and I passed him before the final hairpin to get to the top of the hill first. It was awesome! We waited for everyone to arrive up the hill, took some photos, and then descended for the hotel, a quick shower, and a great meal.

Richard in his VES jersey

Richard in his VES jersey

One of the fun things about taking a trip like this is that you get to meet new people and make new friends. This is exactly what happened that first evening with the group. We walked to a great restaurant, were seated randomly, and ended up dining with a couple from Cincinatti, as well as one from Durango.

New friends

New friends

Throughout the course of the evening, Amy and I learned that the Durango couple were native Texans who had fallen in love with the Western Slope, and the Cincinatti couple included a Level 2 coach for USAC. So we had a great evening getting to know each other. The coup de grace was that it was Michael’s birthday, and the restaurant had a unique tradition for celebrating those, which you’ll see in the photo below.

Um....

Um....

We woke up to a cloud-covered, cool day, ate a decent buffet breakfast, and then headed out from the hotel for a trip along the lakeside to Albertville. Once there, we stopped, had some food and drinks, and then Marty led us up a quiet road, surrounded by dark green trees and tall grass, and for the next 93 minutes, we climbed… and climbed… and climbed… AND climbed… up the Col de Roselend. It was awesome! It was epic! It was… SO FREAKING HARD!!! WOW! Holy Cow I never thought I was going to see flat terrain again! At one point, Marty was pulling us, and we went around a left-hand hairpin, and BAM. He just rolled away. One foot became five, then ten, as he and several others passed me, and I had to start dialing it back. I was embarrassed. I was angry with myself. But there was no stopping now! We passed through a town famous for its’ cheese, but I didn’t really see too much else except trees, pavement, grey sky, and other riders’ wheels.

Slowly, and surely, I started to reel people back in, and by the time we got to the ‘Chateau de Roselend’, the first flat spot, but NOT the end of the climb, I was 3rd, behind Marty and a fantastic rider named Victor, from Durango.

Victor made it all look easy

Victor made it all look easy

RW at the Chateau de Roselend

RW at the Chateau de Roselend

I’d climbed most of it alone, but had ridden with some people from our group as I came up on them. We stopped, got some water, waited for a few people, and then Marty and I rode up to the crest of the Roselend Pass together, while Victor basically cruised up past us, finishing first and getting to the sandwiches a good 10 minutes ahead of us. Average power for the first part of the climb was 229w, a solid Tempo pace, for 93 minutes. It still felt like the hardest thing I had done on a bike. Ever.

Roselend Pass

Roselend Pass

We ate lunch, waited for others to make their way up the mountain, and then descended down the back side, over what must have been about 4 dozen switchbacks. We landed in Bourg St. Maurice a few hours ahead of the racers, found a great spot to sit, drink some soda, and soak in the atmosphere, and watched the circus.

And the Tour de France really IS a circus! It’s a 3 week festival of sweat, scenery, support, and unbelievable sights. Think of the race course as a 90 to 120 mile parade route, and almost every meter along the way, you get to see people celebrating and rooting for their team, their favorite cyclist, or just enjoying the spectacle. Motorhomes abound. Children cheer with their grandparents. People from dozens of different cultures around Europe, the US, and Latin America set up tents, listen to commentary on the radio, watch fuzzy TV’s, and wait patiently for the caravan of promoters to come by and deliver what must be thousands of pounds of goodies along the way. And the racers? Um, you get to see them for maybe 2 to 5 seconds, and the whole thing is over in less than half an hour in most cases. Then they pack up and head out and do it all over again somewhere else along the way!

What is that? Oh, a YETI.

What is that? Oh, a YETI.

In Bourg St. Maurice, we were stationed at the 300m mark, and we saw the caravan come through several times. They tend to do this at finish areas – the parade will loop through multiple times before the racers get close, so that everyone gets a chance at a free cap, some “Livestrong” chalk, etc. It’s kind of fun, even if it’s people-watching. And again, the racers? Um, we barely caught their jerseys as they flashed between crowds on either side of the barricades. The cars were there, and we heard the crowd’s roar, but that was kind of it. Not a letdown, just a different perspective of the race.

After that was over, we were all packed in to the vans again, for a climb back up the Roselend Pass, and a descent and turn off to a part of the course for the next day. We then climbed and descended through two more villages, perched on some REALLY steep terrain, and beside some REALLY steep gullies, and some REALLY narrow roads, to get back to Annecy. It had been a long day, and I was definitely ready for the hotel room and some dinner.

Easy way to get carsick

Easy way to get carsick

I’m going to stop here, and post this, along with a few photos, so you can read it and enjoy. I’ll try to catch up some more tomorrow if time permits.

04
Jun
09

Durant, Oklahoma Rally review

THIS is starting to get really fun!

The absence of a local race, and the fact that the Tulsa Tough was going on the same weekend, gave Amy and I some time to actually head North a few miles, up to Durant, Oklahoma, for a small rally that has a beautiful reputation. The “Magnolia Tour” coincides with Durant’s outdoor festival, and we made the 90 minute drive, arriving in an area that is rolling, green, and has few of the usual complaints that go with country cycling, namely, “chip seal”.

Though there were barely 140 participants total, there were a number of really good cyclists with whom I was familiar, including Cindy and Armand Phillippi, and their teammates. My old friend Duane Neu parked right next to us, and we all had a great time catching up before, during, and after the ride.

The event itself went off without a hitch. There was a batch of maybe 40 of us that ended up in a solid paceline for the first 10 miles or so, but after a while, I realized (as I have a lot this season), that there were only a few of us who were actually doing much work. I rolled back and tried to compel some others to take their turns up front, but got little response. That frustrated me. It frustrated me a lot, so I decided to do something about it.

The terrain in Durant is perpetually rolling. There’s no flat stuff at all, just false-flats, steady climbs, and rolling descents. I went to the front and took some strong 2-minute pulls at about 360w, just enough to put the last person in line under stress. Then I’d get to the top, and drift off, to let someone else do some work. The winds were minimal, but they were present, so there was little time to truly recover.

After 20 miles, we were down to 15 or so, and when a good 1-minute hill came up with about 4% incline, I put the hammer down and pulled the string to the point where a lot of riders fell off the pace. That left us with a solid group of 7 or 8, and by mile 30, we were down to 5 or 6. We continued to pull and do some work together, though it was obvious that the other riders were getting fatigued, and by mile 45 or so, we just had four riders at the front.

Looking at the group, and realizing how silly it would be to try and solo in on a course I didn’t know, we worked together to keep the pace high enough that we could continue getting a good workout, but slow enough that no one would get consciously dropped. In the final 400 meters, though, a McKinney Velo rider tried to steal the Finish from me — and I passed him, finishing a good bike length ahead.

Another ‘victory’!

The day wasn’t quite as good for Amy, who suffered from fatigue, stress from our dog situation (she’s been recovering from palette surgery), and just general dismay about work. She finished in a time that she felt was slow, but I encouraged her to look at the bright side; it was sunny, the weather was perfect, the course was smooth as silk for at least 30 miles, and we got out of town for a ride someplace new! That night, we ate at a new restaurant for us, “Bolsa”, in Oak Cliff, with our buddy Todd, and called it a night early.

I really think the mix of rallies and races is leading to some solid fitness and results, and I can’t wait for next week’s rally in Mesquite, so I can see what is possible in a stronger field!




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