Wednesday, October 12, 2011

This is why you wear a helmet?

I couldn't believe it when I saw this, but...I'll let you see for yourself. wow...just wow...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Look Keo 2 Max Pedals

It's been a long time, but I'm back. School has started again and as I head into the second year of medical school, this blog may be finished. Just expect that this will likely be the last of a handful of final posts scattered over the next few months. If you've enjoyed what you've found here, I'm sorry for the announcement. If you're only here to read about the Look Pedals, well then I'll get on with it.

This summer I decided to finally make the switch from my old Look delta cleat pedals that were almost as old as me to something new. Back in April, I tried out the Speedplay Zero. They were a decent pedal, just not quite right for me. Somewhat forlorn, disillusioned (is it possible that Mark Cavendish is that fast for some reason other than his pedals?), I decided to take a look at Look.

My eye fell on the Look Keo 2 Max. I haven't ridden on the Keo pedal before this summer and assumed it would be similar to the old Delta. For the most part, I would say that is true. However, both the cleat and the pedals are much lighter. Just the difference in the cleat was fairly surprising to me. Much more minimalist.

The Keo 2 Max pedal, is light and I worry a little about the durability in the long run, but seems tough enough for my purposes. This is bolstered by a small metal plate over the main contact point of the pedal. As a matter of fact the pedal is so light that it spins more than I am prepared for sometimes after pushing off from a stop. This can make engaging into the pedal a little difficult, but it's mostly just about getting the feel for it. The lightness is all fine and dandy, but it's not what I think is best about the Keo 2 max.

Personally, the best thing about these pedals is the width. They are incredibly wide. So wide, actually that I was a little concerned about the tight cornering I would need to do during the criterium season. However, after a summer of racing I can tell you that cornering really was not an issue with these pedals. And the width is worth every millimeter. On my old pedals I occasionally had the outside of my foot fall asleep (I have kind of big feet). That was pretty much a non-issue this summer while riding with the Keo 2 Max. Also, there is plenty of float depending on the cleats that you use. I prefer the gray cleat with the smallest float, but still some.

One slightly annoying fact is that the only way to put these pedals on and off is with a hex key. My pedal wrench is apparently obsolete now. It's not the end of the world, but it's nice not to have to maneuver around the backside of the crankarms to put your pedals on and off.

All in all, I am very satisfied with these pedals. I think that they are great for road riding and racing. I would especially recommend them if you plan to ride long distances as the width minimizes problems with hotfeet or numbness once you position your cleat correctly. No problems with the float, even with mobility you still have stability. I like these pedals and look forward to using them for a long time.

-Width, by far and away the biggest advantage of these pedals.
-Weight...or lack thereof. Maybe I should say "Lightness"
-strong, easy to use clipping mechanism

-plastic pedals aren't the most durable, but since they are road pedals that's probably not too big of an issue
-If you don't have the right size hex key you are going to need to get one because you won't have any way to use your pedal wrench.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

An Open Letter to the Kindness of Strangers

Last week I got a flat tire. It's been a long time since I had a flat tire that I couldn't do anything about. As a matter of fact, I think the last one was during a triathlon that I did sometime during the summer of 2007. That's a long time.

As any veteran cyclist will tell you, at a minimum it's a good idea to carry a spare tube and something with which to pump your tire up. Last Monday, I decided to ignore this tiny tidbit of wisdom. It's not that I was blatantly shaking my fist at the gods of cycling. I just happened to have locked my saddle bag in the garage when my wife left the house for the morning and I wanted to go for a spin. I was just going to do 15-20 miles and explore a bit of the area we just moved to in Elm Grove, WI. The roads seemed lovely and not dangerous, so off I went.

A little over 8 miles later I found myself leaving Fox Brook Park and feeling a little squishy. My back tire, that is, was feeling squishy underneath me. I was just about to turn to go farther west, so I pulled off to feel the back tire. It was definitely low, and apparently sinking fast. It was safe to roll on for a little bit, so I headed back towards home. After about 2 miles I felt that I had to stop riding on it or I would risk damaging my rims. I stopped, got off my bike, took my shoes and socks off and prepared for a six mile barefoot walk home. It wasn't exactly the way I wanted the ride to go, but sometimes it happens. I had my phone, but no one to call in the middle of the day, so I plodded on.

After about a mile and a half of what had now become a mix of trudging and what probably looked like dancing/tip toeing as I tried not to step on gravel on the pavement or sticks in the boulevard, I saw a car pull a U-Turn not far in front of me. It was a nice car too. As it turns out, it was a 2003 Limited edition Dodge Viper. It looked a bit like this...

2003 Dodge Viper SRT-10 - Front Angle - Dodge Viper SRT10

only it was a nice deep copper color.

The driver was a nice fella named Scott. He asked if I wanted a ride. I told him I was only 4 or 5 miles from home, so it wasn't really that far, and I'd hate to trouble him...yeah, even I knew it was kind of dumb sounding, but it's not everyday someone pulls over in a car that's worth more than your life to offer you a ride home... I looked a little hopefully at his trunk and made what was probably a silly gesture of some sort to which he replied, "Yeah, it won't fit in there." Now it may seem ridiculous, and I don't own a million dollar speed machine of a bicycle, but I would rather walk home barefoot knowing my bike is safe than hide it in the bushes to come back for it.

To my pleasant surprise, there happened to be a girl across the street who was out mowing her lawn. I ran over to ask if I could leave my bike by her garage and come back for it after explaining what happened and that this guy who stopped on the side of the road was about to give me a ride home. She looked a little confused (can't blame her) and a little unhappy that I had caught her sweaty and in her yard-work clothes, but once she snapped out of it, was happy to let me drop off my bike. Happy enough that my ride was safe I hopped in the car, after apologizing a couple time about being sweaty in his nice leather seats, and we took off.

I got home and went back with my van for my bike which was still where I had left it, thanked the lawn-mowing girl and headed back home to fix my flat tire. Despite the misfortune of the day, I have to say I was rather lucky to have gotten a ride home. My feet would of been really raw after 6 miles of barefootness.

All this to say, if you have the chance to pick up a cyclist with a mechanical problem or offer your assistance to anyone you might need it on the side of the road, you should do it. You never know who's day you might have the opportunity to brighten. And if you're late to where you're going because of it, I think whoever is waiting for you on the other end would probably understand.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bravo Cucina/Big Bay Brewing presented by Farmers Insurance Whitefish Bay Classic 7/24/11

Wow, what a mouthful of a name. The Whitefish Bay Classic Criterium was my finale to superweek. It's the first time I've ever spent any time in Whitefish Bay or near the Bayshore mall. It's quite a pleasant location, and very welcoming to hordes of cyclists careening through their streets as well.

Sunday, July 24 was the last day of Superweek and I was ready for a full field of racers to compete against. It turned out that there were only 42 of us. Even though it wasn't at capacity, it's the largest Superweek race that I did this year. I think Superweek's numbers are hurting from the draw that Tour of America's Dairyland has produced. The Cat 4/5 field had 42 riders in total. The course had 6 corners and turns 1-4 were fairly technical with rough tarmac in turns 3 and 4. From riding the course in warm up, I knew that I would struggle a little in the early corners, but could make up lost ground on the long straightaway on the north side of the course.

***Just to clarify why I'd be losing ground in the early corners...I am a confident bike handler and I have good skills to rely on. However, I'm also a savvy enough rider that I don't trust a field of 40 amateur racers trying to cruise around 90 degree corners 3 abreast. In the 4/5 fields especially, the skill levels vary significantly so I'm always a little more cautious than some of my fellow racers. When the pace stretches the group into single file it's not so bad, but that doesn't happen quite as often as it maybe should.***

Aaaaand we're back! I had just moved to a new apartment the day before the Whitefish Bay race and was very tired going into the race after a week of packing, working and moving. I didn't feel very ready to race, but after a 20 minute warmup I was feeling a little more prepared than when I rolled out of bed that morning. On the start line I knew I'd have to follow wheels and pick carefully to make sure I'd stay safe if I wanted to keep up. The whistle blew and we rolled out for 22 laps on our 0.8 mile course. As usual the pace shot up for the first 5 laps or so while the group found its rhythm. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could nestle in behind the main group 15-20 wheels back and ride pretty comfortably. A few people moved to the front and raised the speed, but there were enough riders with teams of 2-4 riders that nothing escaped for awhile. I was starting to wonder if we'd just keep going around in circles without any real signs of aggression when a rider in a bright yellow kit took a flyer off the front with 10 laps to go.

As the attack went, I was probably 3 or 4 wheels from the front, keeping an eye on some of the riders who I knew would be contenders. I pulled off with a couple other guys and let other people start the chasing. The one rider stayed away for a full lap or so and then a couple others started to bridge across. There wasn't a particularly organized chase and people were fighting at the front over doing any work. It was feeling a little sketchy in the back with the surge and slow pattern, especially in corners 3 and 4 where the road was a bit beaten up. With 7 laps or so remaining I found my momentum carrying me to the front of the pack on the north-side straightaway and I made the mistake of letting it bring me to the front to lead the chase. I am really one of the dumbest smart people to ever race on two wheels when it comes to this circumstance. I know the strategy I should use during almost every race, but I don't always stick to the plan very well. I wait and I wait and try to let the group do the work to bring back the break because I never have any teammates, but then it's like dangling a steak in front of a dog for too long. There comes a point where you can't help but do more than just drool over it.

Thus, I found myself on the front riding tempo fast enough to string out the group behind me. I made up my mind to ride the next two corners and then drop off. It was nice having the liberty to take the corners fast and with a perfect line without other riders cutting under me or anything like that. I came into the home stretch and pulled off far enough that the riders behind me had to pull through. A KS energies rider came to the front and rode to the next corner and pulled off. By this point the gap had closed a little, but the rest of the peloton wasn't prepared to do anything. A couple riders jumped across to the break and I got stuck in a no-man's-land of sorts waiting for more of the pack to come through without losing too much speed. The end result was me in the wind for an entire lap too close to the finish. Inevitably, I do this to myself at some point in almost every race. Just a little more patience, or a couple of friends to work with and I'd be a lot better off.

Around 5 or 6 laps to go, the break was caught and we all caught our breath. The pace stayed fairly low until 2 laps to go and then it was a wild ride to the finish. I tried to move up on the north side straight during the finishing lap, but was out of luck. I had used a bit too much energy to make significant progress and didn't want to take the risks of going kamikaze on the last two corners to try to gain position. I moved up to 25th out of 36 finishers by the time I got across the line. Not a stellar performance, but not a bad day given the pre race circumstances either. All told, we averaged 25 MPH for 45 minutes, which felt surprisingly manageable. It's a good sign, but it may be that I'm coming back to form a little too late, now that my racing is pretty much done for the summer.

It's a been a good season. It unfortunately may be my last for a little while. Next summer is my first boards exam, l so we'll see if I can squeeze any racing in between boards and the beginning of third year. But that's too far to tell. I still have three weeks off before school starts again. For now we'll focus on my upcoming weeklong adventure out West in Colorado. Can't come soon enough! This year I'm going to try and ride Big Thomson Canyon up into Estes Park. I'll be back to tell all about it. Until then, enjoy the ride.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Superweek Whitnall Park Road Race- 7/18/11

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to race your bike in a sauna?

I found out exactly what that feels like this past Monday. It was hideously hot and humid as I started the Whitnall Park Road Race at 10:00 in the morning. In my opinion weather shouldn't be unbearable before noon. On Monday, though, it was. Of course, this didn't stop any of us from coming out to race. 23 of us lined up to broast ourselves in the terrible heat for the Men's Cat 4/5 field.

Whitnall Park is where I won a race in April, so in some ways I had a home court advantage. The course on Monday was slightly different--longer actually--and in the opposite direction that I had raced at the Whitnall Park Criterium. The roads were in decent shape, but not fantastic. However, the course had only one sharp turn which was a hard left hander before heading up the finishing climb. The course was rolling and finished with a short steep section approximately 0.5 miles from the finish with a flat/slightly downhill section for the final 300 meters or so. The hill meant the finish would be difficult, but that the final sprint might actually be fairly fast if you could recover in time to give it a go. Although, there was a huge dent in the road just 30 meters or so before the finish (I don't really know what else to call it) that stretched about 70% of the way across from left to right. This meant that my plan was to give a burst of speed on the final climb and then try to stay along the right of the road through to the finish line.

We rolled out only a few minutes late (which is a pretty amazing feat for Superweek) and started our 11 lap (~23 mile) "road race." The race was operated as a road race instead of a criterium which meant no free-lap rule and there was actually a support car driving behind us. Our first couple laps of this glorified circuit race were somewhat blistering in pace as the 4/5 field always seems to like. There was a strong wind from the west, so the north side of the course was a bit difficult as we dove down from the start line and then climbed up into a headwind.

I decided to race this one with my head instead of my legs, so I mostly just sat in following wheels while I let the racers with teammates do most of the work. It paid off and I still had some energy left in the tank to race strong during the last lap. Coming through to the start/finish at one lap to go I found myself in front with a couple other riders as we all spread across the road waiting for someone to take the lead. We eased around our first corner and into the downhill, so I just let myself freewheel easy and wound up on the front. There were a couple piddly attacks as we headed into the headwind and I let myself drift back 5 or 6 places while others initiated the chases. With about a mile to go, an attack lifted the pace as we headed back towards the finish line and I was prepared to stay with them. I got onto 4th or 5th wheel and pushed hard. We hit the hard left hander uphill and I just hung on. I had a point on the hill where I wanted to go all in, but I was forced by the high pace to start my jump two or three bike lengths earlier than I wanted to. It meant that I didn't quite have the power at the peak of the hill that I wanted to, but I was still with the front runners and it stopped me from getting passed by anyone else behind me. I was on the left side of the road and with too many people to make a wild move over to the right where I wanted to be, so I just made the best of my side as I could.

Two guys were strong enough to go off the front over the top and the rest of us were in wild pursuit. Tristan Horvath from MACK racing managed another win against the KS Energies rider who finished second. Meanwhile 9 of us were stampeding towards the line in a group sprint. About 25 meters before the finish I got squinched by the rider on my right as he veered off his line and the rider on my left who was trying to move off the barriers. I sat up enough to avoid a crash and probably sacrificed a place or two in my finish, but still managed 9th. It was a good day, albeit a VERY hot one. Looking back at my heart rate monitor, I recorded yet another new Max HR. 207 this time! This racing back into shape thing isn't going so badly after all.

Next up is the Bravo Cucina Italiana Criterium in Whitefish Bay on Sunday. After that Superweek will be done I won't likely have another race until mid August. Although, I will have more adventures in Colorado to tell about in the interim. Stay tuned.

Before I go. Props to Tristan Horvath! He raced the entire race as a marked man and most of the group made him do work on the front despite being a lone rider without any teammates on Monday. He earned the win the hard way. Nice Work.

Friday, July 15, 2011

South Shore Cyclery Classic 7/14/11

Yesterday I raced in my first Superweek race of the year. I had planned to start my Superweek Stint at the Geneva Grand Prix in Geneva, IL on 7/9/11. However, as luck would have it I was severely undertrained during June and then managed to strain my knee as I began to ramp up my training miles a couple weeks before the Geneva race. Bummer, eh?

That meant that yesterday's race in the South Shore Cyclery Classic was my first race since April. That's a long stint of too little riding and too little training, especially since this is supposed to be my summer of freedom before starting M2 year next year at MCW. I guess that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

Anyhow, back to racing. I was happy to be back and ready to ride after dealing with a couple weeks of knee pain, but knew that I wasn't about to be competing for the podium. This is an important thing to figure out as close to the beginning of the race as possible. Sometimes it takes a few laps to know, but I knew it before I lined up so I set my goals accordingly. There were no primes to try for so I decided that I would try to instigate a breakaway close to the finish. I didn't entirely expect to be able to stay with a breakaway given my lack of miles in the past month but I figured it would be a good test and it would be more interesting than just sitting in the pack and going for a glorified group ride.

As I lined up, I met Ben Stengel of Team Emery's Third Coast Lifecyclists. I've read his race reports a few times while he was riding at ToAD and thought he'd be a good fella to try and align myself with after reading about his attacking style. We set out for 18 laps (19.06 miles) and after about 5 laps I found myself talking with him towards the back of the field discussing an opportune moment to make a break. He had already conferred with a few other riders and told me they were considering an attempt around 5 or 6 laps to go. I thought that sounded good and offered to help get away with them even if I couldn't stick it out all the way to the finish.

6 laps to go as we approached the start/finish line and the pace had just slowed after a surge had been brought back. I told Ben as we passed the line that if the pace was still a little sluggish on the back side of our 1 mile lap that I would hit out hard from the group to try and start a break.

That's exactly what I did, and I did it with all I had. I took off with a full bore sprint to corner #3 on the course. I glanced back and saw the whole pack spreading out across the road as they all sprinted in pursuit. I still had a gap as I made my way to corner #4 and one rider from MACK Racing bridged to me as we were coming out of the corner into the finishing straight. He took a pull and a third rider joined us crossing the start finish line. We weren't the most organized yet and I tried to figure out how to slot back into the line and recover a little bit. We rounded corner #1 and I found myself fighting to grab the wheel of a rider from Flatlandia cycling team. By the time we got back around and out of corner #2 I was back on the front and running out of steam. I pulled off and tried to hold my speed as I now had 3 breakaway compatriots, but I had been redlining for the whole lap and in the wind for about 75%. I decided to drop back to the pack, but as they came charging through in pursuit of the break I was too gassed to hang on there as well. That meant it was 4.5 laps of trying to make it to the Finish Line solo.

I kept my pace above 21 mph for most of my solo trip to the line, but never made any gains on the pack. In the end, the three other breakaway riders stayed away for the win with Tristan from MACK Racing taking it at the line while the other two rounded out the podium. I finished dead last. Yep, dead last. However, I've never had so much fun losing in my entire life. It was great. A few more training miles and I could have stayed with that breakaway (okay maybe double the training miles, but still...).

On the bright side I was able to break away from a hard charging pack and hold out around 30 MPH for almost half a mile before being joined by any other riders. AND I set a new Max HR for myself... 203! Crazy, eh?

In hindsight there were only 19 of us who finished so it might have been a better idea to stay in the pack since the prize money paid out to the top 15 finishers...but what fun would that have been? Oh well. That's bike racing!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Argyle Warriors

Argyle is back and badder than ever.

I think it's fairly safe to say that even after only 5 days of racing the folks at Garmin are having their best Tour de France ever. A win at the Team Time Trial followed by Tyler Farrar's first Tour de France stage win followed by a stunning uphill climbing effort by Thor Hushovd to stay in the yellow Jersey is a pretty stinkin' awesome way to charge through the first week of Le Grand Boucle

And equally exciting...Argyle is back! I for one was pretty unhappy when the always recognizable Garmin argyle got replaced by a classy-but-bland Garmin-Cervelo uniform at the beginning of the cycling season. Having made the typical team Cervelo move of changing from black to white in the heat of the summer, Vaughters must have used a little leverage to bring back that Garmin trademark we've all grown to know and love. I couldn't be happier (with their uniform or their results).

Best of luck to the Garmin boys as the take the Tour by storm.

Friday, July 1, 2011

I am not a Pro

I am not a Pro, and so when things go wrong, I try to take them in stride...unlike some of the frustrated professionals whose bikes are simply office equipment to them.

(I, admittedly, would throw a pen across the room into the garbage if it suddenly ruined an important document I was working on)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Horribly Hilly Hundreds 6/18/11

"Oh, that's right, it's called the horribly hilly hundreds."
"At least it's not the horribly windy hundreds." I replied.

This was the kind of banter and sick sarcasm that was needed in the middle of this ride. But before I get to the middle, maybe I should start at the beginning. A very good place to begin...

I signed up for the Horribly Hilly Hundreds in February. A long time before I knew what kind of shape I would be in come ride time. I just couldn't turn down a event whose motto was "Biking Like a Viking." Could you? I figured I would be in reasonable shape since the last week of school was at the end of May and the ride was June 18. And I was in reasonable shape, more than reasonable considering the fact that I was balancing cycling with med school (among other things); but unfortunately the preceding three weeks before my event were marked with lots less riding (around 75 miles or less in three weeks) than I had hoped for and allergies that were sapping the power I needed to get up steep inclines. And even though I like to fancy myself a climber, I'm not. I'm really just a masochist. A wannabe masquerading in polka dots.

So you can see why an event like Horribly Hilly would appeal to me. 100 miles, 9300 feet of climbing, Viking-like toughness. Not only is that hard to do in a notoriously flat place like Wisconsin, that's just plain hard to do, if you know what I mean. And even though I'm more sprinter than climber, I do have more skill in going upward than the typical sprinting type I might line up against. As the day drew nearer I began to realize more and more what I was really up against. This was going to beastly.

Before the event the weather looked bad. Actually, just "bad" is being generous. I was thinking this was going look a lot from the scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy sees her mean old neighbor lady turn into the wicked witch of the west as she gets sucked into the tornado on her bicycle. Thunderstorms were supposed to roll in the Friday night before the ride began Saturday morning and then continue throughout the day on Saturday. I had a campsite reserved in Blue Mound State Park. It seemed like a good idea seeing as the ride more or less started and finished from there, but with thunderheads rolling in it began seeming like a good idea gone bad.

Fortunately the rain never came. Each time I woke up in my tent Saturday night to a peaceful night without rain I said another prayer that the rain would stay away. Thankfully, it did, as a matter of fact it stayed away an entire 24 hours. When I rolled out at 6:45am on Saturday morning the clouds looked thinner, but still possibly holding a shower to come. As it turned out the day only got better. The clouds rolled away and by 40 miles it was actually rather hot.

I rode the first 30 of the day mostly with a guy named John from Chicago who was riding the 200k route. I was disappointed when we had to split, but that's that. So far I had navigated our first real pretest as we rode up the backside of Blue Mound State Park and twice up Scherbel Road Grade where our first rest stop was. The course looks kind of like a cloud or sheep drawn by a little kid with loops around the outside of a central core. This made it convenient because you stayed near the big hills that make the Blue Mounds, WI area interesting, but never got too far from your destination in case you ran into trouble. You can see the route here.

The first section was one of the hardest. It was probably the second most difficult section. For the 150k (actually 100 mile) route the course was divided into 4 sections with a rest area every 25 miles and some water stops interspersed in between rest areas. This worked out very nicely. 25 miles over this kind of terrain was about enough to drink 2+ bottles by the time the sun was out and heating up the day. The Horribly Hilly organizers did a good job with rest station support and water. As a matter of fact, the spread at the rest stops was AWESOME. The food was fantastic, the volunteers were cheery and friendly and did I mention the food was great.

It was during the first section that I met John from Chicago. He was a Cervelo-Test Team clad lawyer riding a Cervelo S2. I keep meeting lawyers while I'm on my bike. Last year I met a lawyer named Steve with whom I tore it up at the Durand Road Race. Hopefully I keep meeting them on the road and not in the courtroom. John had done the event last year, so he helped me navigate the early course when there were fewer people out to be able to follow along with. We parted ways when the 150k and 200k routes split and I didn't see him again. I rode alone from there until the second rest stop which was located at the 51 mile mark. It was a little lonely after leaving all of the 200k riders that I had been riding with because most of the 150k riders started about 15 minutes after me and hadn't had much time to catch up since I didn't stop long at the first rest stop.

I decided rest stop #2 was my lunch stop. I hung out a little extra long, ate half a peanut butter and jelly bagel, a ham rolled tortilla, a Honey Stinger waffle (My new favorite Honey Stinger product), a bunch of grapes, and even threw down a couple endurolytes pills. The day was getting hot, so I decided to make sure I had enough 'lytes on board. By the end of the day I wound up using 6 Nuun tablets and 4 endurolytes. That's about 5 times what I normally use in a day of training. I also figured that I drank around ten 20 oz water bottles over the course of my ride and immediately post ride fueling.

Shortly after leaving rest stop #2, I met up with a couple of riders wearing Copper Triangle jerseys. This brings us back to the conversation I started this post with. One of the guys was from Colorado Springs, CO and the other from Eagan, MN. They both had plenty of experience in the saddle and I rode with them until we started to break apart regularly on the climbs. I then joined Eric, a rider from Chicagoland. He claimed he was in advertising, but his jersey was plain white which I found it rather ironic in a sport that is blanketed in ads. We stuck together until the third and final rest stop before the finish. I took an extended rest there as I put on an extra layer of sunscreen, force fed myself to try and top off my fuel tanks and looked over the map to see what I'd have to make it through to finish.

I took off without any riding buddies seeing as I planned to put it on cruise control over the last 25 miles so that I could save all my efforts for the inclines. I had mentioned that I thought the first 25 mile section was the second hardest. I'm pretty sure that the final 25 mile stretch was the most difficult. Combining the fact that I had 75 miles under my belt and the day was hot, the final 25 miles still had 2770 ft of climbing to do, not to mention the killer uphill finish. As I rolled away from the final rest stop I broke the remaining miles into each portions, each ending at the top of a big climb. Somewhere on those climbs I think I got passed by Robbie Ventura who was supposedly on the course that day.

Finally, I arrived at the killer finale. It had been my goal to try and be an encouragement to anyone who I passed while going uphill, because getting passed while going uphill is typically somewhat demoralizing. I did a pretty good job of this until the final climb. By the time I got there it was just a matter of surviving. I put my bike in the lowest gear and tried desperately to climb out of the deep dark pain cave that I was putting myself in. I don't remember a lot of that climb, but I passed a lot of people who were struggling and those who had given up the struggle on wheels to walk. My ultimate goal was to stay on my bike and not walk. I managed this successfully and crossed the finish line after 6 hrs and 35 min. That comes out to an average speed of 15.3 mph, and I'm proud to have gone that fast.

It was a long brutal day. Maybe one of the hardest rides I've ever done, but it was worth every turn of the pedals. We never had a drop of rain during the ride (although, torrential downpours came that evening), the wind was calm, the people were friendly and the support was fantastic. Finishing the final climb there was chalk-written encouragement all over the road. If I would have had any reserve mental capacity for reading during the climb it would have been really great...okay, maybe I wasn't that deep in the pain cave. All in all, it was a great day. I would definitely do it again and would recommend it to anyone crazy enough to try.

Thanks for tuning in, I know this was a long one. If you get a chance get out and try "Biking like a Viking," you just might get hooked.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Horribly Hilly Ahead

This weekend I'll be riding the Horribly Hilly Hundreds. I am filled with both expectation and dread. As excited as I am to do this event, my fitness level as of two weeks ago was... wanting, shall we say?

In addition, I have noticed that my allergies are exceptionally bad this year. Or I should say they are exceptionally bad exceptionally late this year. The cotton trees are just beginning to drop their large white puffy balls of fluff. I have noticed that when allergy season is in full swing I have a tough time putting out as much power as I would like. My endurance is still there, but my power is lacking. This makes things like sprints (criteriums) and hills (road races) fairly difficult. It's just not a good time of year for me.

I'm hoping that I can just do a nice long slow distance ride this weekend. Given the chances of rain and bad weather, though, this just may turn out to me my next epic bike adventure...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Spring Prairie Road Race (WI State Championships) 6/5/11

A week ago last Sunday I raced in the Wisconsin State Championship Spring Prairie Road Race. It was hot and quite difficult. I didn't have my best day. And really before I get any farther let me sum up the race for you in three words:

Legs tore off.

That's the bottom line, really. I just didn't have a great day, not even a particularly good one. I have lots of reasons and perhaps excuses as to why, but we'll get to that later and let you decide whether they are valid or not. Until then, just know; legs tore off.

Sunday was a pretty pleasant day. That is if you want to sit at the beach or hang out by the pool. Unfortunately for me I was bike racing. I had just returned from a trip to the Pacific Northwest where the temperature was a mild 75 degrees with a cool dry breeze from the Ocean. I returned home to a day of heat and torture. 65% humidity with temps in the mid to high 80's (maybe higher on the tarmac). It was gross. So hot on the pavement, in fact, that the squiggly lines or tar patches on road were not only squishy but almost slippery in the corners. Tough day.

I lined up with the Cat 4/5 field for our 39 mile excursion in the hottest part of the day at 3:05pm. You can see the route here. Prior to racing I had put in about 32 miles over the past two weeks. Yeah, go back and read that again. 32 miles total in two weeks. Oof, you can already tell that I'm in for a doosy of a ride. This is what happens when Final Exams fall just a couple weeks before a race.

The big selector of the race was the finishing hill on Johnson road. It was claimed at 18%. I don't know if I'd give it that, but it was definitely steep with a capital 'S'. Probably in the 10-15% average range for about 1/3 of a mile. As tough as just about anything else you'll see in this state. The race organizers kindly gave us a neutral roll out that started below this hill, so our six lap route included 7 trips up this grade instead of 6 (note the sarcasm dripping from my keystrokes). Let's just say that the selection began even during the neutral roll out thanks to this design.

I knew from the start that I was going to be struggling just to hang on, so I made that my goal. Just hang on! I tried my best to stay out of the wind and protected in the bunch. It wasn't too difficult as I was basically at the back of the pack the whole time. The first lap was mostly uneventful. A couple small accelerations but no big surprises. There were about 40 of us with narrow lanes and a "no crossing the center line" rule, so it made it difficult to go on the attack.

Finishing the first lap, I got gapped a little bit on the Johnson road grade, but made it back with the pack before too long. Unfortunately, I could tell my selection had already been made. I stuck with the group as we tooled along but by the time we turned back east on Potter Rd I was hurting. A few of us were off the back as the front of the race started to pull away. I looked at the guys around me and did my best to organize a chase. Only two of us were really up to the challenge. We had a headwind at this point and little hope of catching the riders in front of us while on the straight, so we just tried to damage control as best as we were able.

Turning up Johnson road to finish lap 2 was tough. The rider who was with me (Ben from Brazen Dropouts) definitely had more spring in his step for the hill. He got away from me but then waited as I was able to recover some and catch up after getting over the top, but I knew that was the last time my trip up Johnson grade would even resemble racing. I rode with him the rest of lap 3 then told him before reaching our Selectinator (aka johnson), and offered him a big pull before I popped. I launched him at the bottom of the Selectinator and then just survived my third (actually fourth thanks to the roll out) trip up to the start/finish line.

The last 3 laps saw me chugging along by myself, getting passed by the 30+ Masters field which had started 5 minutes before me and finishing in 29th place. Somewhere in there I was caught and passed by two other riders in my field. I tried to work with one of them, but didn't have the legs for it and the other caught me and passed me on my second to last battle with the Selectinator.

Now for the really interesting part. It was a hot day at the race and while I managed to do fairly well with my fluid intake, I don't know that I did well with my electrolytes. I probably only used half of the Nuun that I should have and paid the price on my last trip up Johnson grade. As I approached the bottom I knew it would just be a matter of survival. Sit, stand or crawl I was going to tame this beast one last time. I started up trying to spin, but it got steep enough that I had no choice but to stand. However, when I stood my quads cramped like never before. I actually had to work to straighten them again. In fear of hurting myself or falling over, I sat down but them my hamstrings cramped. Again, hurty and stiff and confusing. I stood again, then sat again, then stood again. At this point is was mind over matter. Forcing my legs to do their work. I made it to the crest and sat back down. Still a hundred meters or so from the finish line I staggered across and coasted to where I could safely stop. (wait a second...Can you stagger on a bike?...well, I did)

I found my wife and parents-in-law who had come to watch me get my butt kicked. My lovely wife watched somewhat worriedly as I collapsed into a camp chair while my father-in-law grabbed me a cold iced tea. Perfect. My nephew then proceeded to quiz me.

"Uncle Craig, why didn't I see you with those other guys?" (aka: the rest of my field)
"Well, because I was riding behind them."
"Why were you riding behind them?"
"Because today I was slower than all of them."
A pause for a moment, a quizzical look and then the knockout punch.
"Uncle Craig, why did you ride your bike so slow today?"

Nice, eh? Nothing like the interrogation of a 4 year old to wipeout any sense of self-pity.

It wasn't my day. Like I told my nephew, I was just slower than the rest of them. That's it plain and simple. Not enough training, too much heat, allergies acting up, whatever the reason I just couldn't keep up. Some days just aren't your day and 6/5/11 was definitely not mine.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Mountain" Biking?

I have no idea what race this is, but apparently, the city is the new mountain bike scene?

Did you see them just go through the inside of that building!?!?!?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Poor Man's Recovery

Cycling is expensive. It costs a pretty penny for all the gear: bike, helmet, shorts, jersey, pedals, shoes etc. etc. Then if you decide to race you are paying race day fees and for your yearly USAC license, plus you may join a club and pay dues so that you can race for a team. Then there's all the time you put it into it. I know that's not money (I don't really think time is money), but it's still a cost.

With all these costs, it pays to be stingy whenever possible. There are definitely plenty of places you can afford to do so. For instance, a $20 cyclocomputer tells you how fast you are going just as well as a new $650 Garmin 800. And that piece of paper you wrote down directions on is still just as reliable as any instructions you'd get from a GPS.

So why all this financial hullabaloo, you ask? Because one area where it doesn't make sense to cut corners is taking care of your body. However, I'm here to tell you that you don't have to break the bank to do what's good for your body. One of the areas of training that is more essential than anyone gives it credit for is recovery. Often the difference between winning and losing isn't necessarily how well trained you are, but how well rested you are. Let me say it again. Recovery is of the utmost importance.

It doesn't matter how much you train and stress your body, if you don't have time to rebuild and repair your performance won't improve much. So let's get down to business and talk practical recovery at minimal cost.

Recovery Priorities:

1) Replenish depleted energy stores.

Basically this means EAT! In my opinion this is one of the best parts of recovery. Especially when you've been out for a really long ride (you know the 2-4+ hour kind). After all that work you're body's glycogen stores are emptier than old mother Hubbard's cupboard. This is the best energy source for your muscles. The recommendation for endurance sports is to replace both protein and carbohydrates. Typically at around 3:1, carbs:protein. There are lots of expensive sports drinks out there that will give you their "ideal" blend. I have teammates who use Recoverite by Hammer Nutrition, but it's pretty pricy.

I prefer chocolate milk. A tall glass of fat free or 1% chocolate milk is just about perfect after an hour or two out on the bike. Plus it helps replenish your lost fluids you lost while you were sweatin' to the oldies.

As it turns out a can of Coke may not be a bad option. A recent study discussed by the New York Times, suggests that athletes that replenished after a hard workout with fructose actually recovered a little faster and lots of people feel that caffeine helps their recovery too.

One Caveat: Just be careful that you don't use your workout to justify eating junk all day long. You have a little leeway to eat whatever you want in the first half hour to hour and a half, but after that it's best to keep on a normal healthy eating plan with lots of fruits and vegetables and reasonable portion sizes.

2) Stop excess inflammation

There are a few options here and the proof that they work is variable. The two main suggestions are ice and compression. You can buy compression socks or tights or all sorts of different garments these days for reasonable prices and everyone says that they make your legs feel great the next day. The scientific evidence for compression garments is lacking, but half of recovery is just feeling better even if there isn't some sort of top secret anything going on in your muscle cells. So if you want to feel better the next day after a hard workout, compression is a good option.

Ice on the other hand is cheap and easy to use: Step one, Remove ice from freezer. Step two, apply ice to recently exercised muscle. The idea is that chemical processes are slowed down by lower temperatures and so the breakdown of muscle tissue is slowed by using ice. This is just difficult to do because it takes some serious self motivation to get out an ice bag for 15-20 minutes after every intense workout or use an ice bath. Unless of course you're a Polar Bear, then you've got an edge on the recovery market.

3) Rest the muscles that just got used

Your muscles need some time to loosen up and rebuild. We've fed them and tried to limit our damages by decreasing inflammation now it's time to rest them and rub them. As the saying goes, "don't stand when you can sit." Lay down if you can. You may not have this luxury since chances are good that you aren't getting paid to lay around at the office, however, if you can sit or put your legs up on a leg rest or another chair you should do it.

Massage is another great tool for loosening up tired muscles. I haven't done any personal research on this but the word on the street is that it's a good idea. Unfortunately, massages are expensive. A foam roller on the other hand is not. Rubbing out your muscles helps keep you flexible and injury free. It also feels great. Check that, the result feels great. The actual process is often quite painful. But it's worth it. (PS- for those of you shaving your legs, the massage part is the one of the most convincing reasons for shaving your legs when talking with non cyclists. If you explain that it's not a lot of fun to have your leg hair pulled out when rubbing your tired muscles and then give them a quick demonstration on their arm if they don't believe you, you will soon have a new convert.)

4) Feel Better

The bottom line is that you want to feel better and to feel rested so that you're ready to tackle your next event or workout. Recovery is just as much a psychological process as it is a physical process. If your brain feels tired, you aren't going to want to get off the couch and do anything. You also won't be sharp enough to be your best at work or play. This part of recovery is very personalized. If it means playing video games, watching a golf tournament (aka napping), reading a book or taking a nap, you can decide for yourself. It's like a choose your own adventure book.

Just remember if you don't have to stand, sit down; and if you can put your feet up or lay down that's even better. Train hard and rest harder.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The June Challenge

After a month off of monthly challenges I have survived spring finals during M1 year of medical school and I'm ready to hit the ground running...or burpee-ing. Inspired by an article in the New York Times, I think I'll make this month's challenge Burpees. I'm going to do 50 a day. Although, after reading the article it might be better to do burpees for a certain amount of time, if you care to join me, you can set a time limit or a number goal. This one will be tough so it's okay that it's a slightly shorter month (I was on vacation for the last week, so I wasn't doing burpees either which means you didn't miss any.)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fitness comes and it also goes

Right now, the fitness I worked to build and used to win a race at the end of April is slowly slipping away. That's the downside of being in school. When tests come calling you have no choice but to answer. Unfortunately, I missed out on the Pedal for Proceeds (I trusted the weather forecast for thunderstorms and it turned out to be a nice day--I wasn't very happy). It would have been my last chance to capitalize on my mini-peak that I reached for the Whitnall Classic.

Instead, I've spent the last three weeks making sure I'm on top of school. I guess you could say I've been in my "build period" for Final Exams. This relegates my bike training back to the same and will set me back a bit in my summer plans. Hopefully I'll be able to use June to my advantage and meet Superweek with the same success that I managed in the early season. However, it means that when the State Road Championships come in two weeks, I won't be quite the contender that I hoped to be. Of course, it will be worth it because even if I get dropped in that race I won't be dropping out of medical school.

I'll just look at this as one of my hill-climbs on the way to winning this four year stage race, I suppose.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Ben King: a Real American Hero

I think I just might have a new favorite US Rider.

Last Fall when Ben King rode his way to a US National Championship out of an early break that turned into a long solo finish I knew he'd be a rider to watch. I was right. King was racing on the Trek-Livestrong team last year when he burst onto the professional scene and now is riding for Team Radioshack in the stars and stripes. I've tried to keep tabs on him a bit this year while he's making his ProTour debut and it's been quite rewarding. He's had is fair share of trial by fire including short stage races in the European circut and even a shot at Paris-Roubaix (see picture above). King is classy and articulate, bordering on eloquent. Clearly enjoying the ride and a great representative for US National Champ. Right now he's duking it out at the Amgen Tour of California in support of Chris Horner.

Check out his three part series at his velonews blog about what the transition has been like so far.

Hopefully he'll have a shot at defending his title with the switch in seasons for the USAC Road Championships this year. It won't be long before we find out.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May Challenge 2011

I'm a little tardy in posting this, and unfortunately for this month you may have to get used to a little sparsity of postage. You see, this month's challenge is not truly a physical challenge like the month's until now. The challenge is in fact almost an anti-challenge.

Every once in awhile it's important to step back and make your physical fitness a little less important. Yes, less important. I know that sounds contrary to most of what you may have ever read here, but hold on just a second and listen a little more. Sometimes (often times) there are things more important than your fitness. Let me give you a for instance...spring finals during your first year of medical school.

I subscribe to the philosophy that fitness should always be an underlying theme in life or else life will suffer. But sometimes it's important to stop your keen eye for your physical aptitude and make sure that you are balancing the rest of life. This may mean scaling back some. Which it does in my case. I have no pending races, but I definitely have pending examinations.

Therefore this month's challenge is as follow. Do enough to enjoy yourself and maintain a little fitness, but no significant fitness gains are to be made this month. Take the time to attend to other areas of life and let fitness sit on the back burner long enough to ensure balance. Then when June comes--and summer with it--get ready to jump back on the train.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


The weather just does NOT want to cooperate. Despite being the middle (ahem almost the end) of April in Milwaukee, this week's forecast calls for rain, rain, rain and cold. The rain is one thing, but when the lows are just above freezing and the highs aren't much higher it doesn't make me very happy. I'm supposed to race this weekend and need a good hard midweek ride. I'm not going to get it outside and risk poor health for the weekend. Sooooo...what to do? I'll turn to Sufferfest for an alternative.

Let me just say this before I say anymore; I AM SICK OF RIDING THE INDOOR TRAINER. Sometimes, though, you have no better choice. To beat the indoor trainer blues you need something to get you through it. This winter I made a find in The Sufferfest. They offer the right kind of stuff to keep your mind off being stuck inside. (un)fortunately when you ride with them, all you can think about is how much it hurts. My torture of choice is "The Hunted." It's a 61 minute battle that keeps my mind interested, occupied and--dare I say--entertained even. For a short sample, see below.

At approximately $10/video to download, you can't beat the price and it's hard to beat the workout.

Say, "Good-bye!" to Coach Troy and his short shorts. Spinervals ain't got nothin' on this ride.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Team Wisconsin (Whitnall Park) Spring Classic 4/23/2011

This past Saturday was the Whitnall Park Spring Classic here in Hales Corners, WI. It's only a stone's throw from home and I couldn't pass up the chance to race on a course so close to my new stomping grounds. Granted, I usually ride to the west of Whitnall Park, but let's not get too picky. The reality is I'm a pretty recent transplant as it is, so I don't have too many claims to stake on any particular territory just yet.

The Course:

Because of it's nearness to me, I decided to go ride the course a couple times within the last several weeks to make sure I knew what it would be like, i.e. where I wanted to be during what parts of the race, what line I wanted take, what the pavement was like, etc. etc.

The route was nice other than some pretty busted up tarmac. It was a short loop (1.1 miles) with two short steep hills. One that peaked just before the start/finish line and one on the backside of the course that started after the 90 degree right turn (#2 if you look at my map) and had a small flat in the middle (at #3). Based on this, I figured that the hill on the backside would filter the field and if I could hang on to the front group over the top I'd be in good shape come finishing time. On race day, there was a stiff west wind which punched you right in the nose as you went up the second half of the backside hill, but helped a little as you finished on the north side of the loop with a subtle cross-tailwind.

It was a course that suited me and I went into it feeling that I could do well, so I set my sights on a top 5 position. I decided that I'd be happy with top 10, thrilled with top 5 and ecstatic with a win. My strategy would be to hang out in the pack close to the front, but let people with teammates do the work since I was flying solo. This is hard for me to do, because I'd rather make a break and work together with a few guys than take my chances in the whole pack, but a quick call to my coach (aka my dad) beforehand reaffirmed what I was thinking and it helped make me a bit more patient come race time. Thanks Dad!

The Race:

The weather was messing with my head all week leading into the race. Last week, after all, was mostly rainy and miserable but there were glimpses of hope and the forecast had very low chances of rain for the day of. Come race day, the weather was beautiful despite rain all night before. The sun was shining and I think the temperature almost reached 60 F. It was certainly in the mid 50's at least. Thankfully, this dried up the roads very effectively and that was one more thing I didn't have to worry about.

I quickly realized it was a good thing that I preregistered because the race was full. 75 riders is a pretty good sized Cat 4/5 field and I started to wonder if my aspirations were a little too high. I started thinking top 10 was worth more than just happy, but I didn't let it damp my ambitions too much. I knew I was a reasonably strong member of the field after the Menomonee Park Crit a couple weeks ago, so I figured I may as well just go for it. Still 75 riders is a lot, and I had the misfortune of arriving on time instead of early to the start finish line which meant I was starting at the back of the peloton. Oof. The good news, though, about starting in last is that there's nowhere to go but up.

I quickly started moving up because I knew if I didn't it would be the death of my goals. They say in criteriums that "if you're not moving up, you're moving back" and with a field as big as this it was definitely true. The race didn't start at a particularly hectic pace and the rolling nature of the course meant that the field shuffled rapidly each time we started up one of the rollers. No one really wanted to work too hard on the front, so each hill saw the riders in back moving up around the outside to the front and most of the riders who had started closer to the front suddenly closer to the back. I tried to stay on the outside edge of the group to avoid getting lost in the mix and it worked really well. I was able to ride within the front 20 wheels for most of the race without sticking my nose in the wind too often. I basically just chose a strong rider who I was near each lap and tried to hold his wheel (which is probably the same thing he was doing).

We continued on like this for awhile. If it wasn't for the naturally frenetic nature of a criterium it would have been almost boring. One or two riders occasionally pushed the pace on the front as we passed the start/finish line, but because of the wind on the backside hill meant our pace slowed too much each lap to ever spit many people off. With 6 laps to go there was a prime. It was too close to the finish for me to be interested so I let myself drift back a little ways so I would stay out of trouble. Finally the pace was enough to spread out the pack a bit. To my dismay it appeared as though the group was no smaller than when we started. I had no desire to throw it down with 74 other amateurs in a mass sprint in the finish, so I made up my mind that I had to be really close to the front at the finish or it wasn't worth the risk of getting tangled up in a messy crash.

With only 5 laps to go, I had to take action. I used the next two laps, slowly making my way forward and using the hill on the backside of the lap to make bigger leaps when possible. With 3 laps to go I was sitting back within the front 1/4 of the race again trying to hold my position. I held steady for the lap and halfway through the second to last lap. This time as we went up the hill in back our pace slowed somewhat drastically again and I found myself being passed by riders on the outside. I tried not to wind up losing too much position. As we came up the hill for the one lap to go bell, the pack was fairly spread out across the road. I was staying as far outside as I could to avoid being boxed in and saw a rider start to go off the front. I jumped to catch him and got his wheel before anyone else reacted. He gave a good burst, but then he was done so a few other riders and I passed him in the low part of the course before turning uphill again (at #2). I felt great, I was rounding the corner within 5-10 riders from the front and knew that I could hold my position if the pace increased.

Behind me I heard the scrape and crunch sound of bike frame and asphalt meeting each other for the first time and all of us who had made it ahead jumped a little extra because we knew now that we would likely stay clear. In front of me, three riders from Rhythm Racing started to get organized and I hopped on the back of their train knowing I had no teammates of my own to help me out. At this point, I wasn't too sure who was behind me, but I was sure there were people close behind me and I just wanted them to stay there. The front two Rhythm guys dropped their man off a little early on the way up the backside hill, so I stayed behind him until I knew I could come around and stay ahead. I passed him just as I crested the hill and then it was just a dip down and back up to the right for the finish.

As we cruised down from the backside peak it was the moment I had been waiting for. My sprinting point was halfway up the finishing hill and I knew it by the long horizontal patch in the pavement. Waiting was killing me. I was using enough energy to stay in front, but didn't want to go too early and get passed on the line.

Wait for it...wait for spidey sense was tingling and I could feel the few guys who were with me creeping up in my peripheral vision...wait for it...GO, GO, GO!

I hit my mark and did the best I could to break the legs off the guys who thought they could go with me. My friend Nick H. was standing on the hill cheering me on (I have no idea was he was saying, but I knew he was there and it helped get me up the hill). As I crested the hill, I knew that my practice on the course had paid off because I had just enough in the tank to keep accelerating to the finish line. I wasn't about to look back and I gave it everything I had.

This is me on my way to the finish giving it everything I have.

I threw my right hand in the air as I crossed the finish line and gasped to catch my breath. It turns out I had a couple bike lengths to spare, but I wasn't about to risk it by being a doofus and sitting up or throwing my arms up to celebrate.

I won! I could hardly believe it. I was genuinely ecstatic (see above). It was a great day. Second and third places were scooped up by David Hudson of xXx Racing and Andrew Zens of Rhythm Racing, respectively. A good solid ride by all... I have to say, though, it's a bit ironic that the Team Wisconsin Spring Classic was won by a guy who recently moved here from Minnesota and the podium was rounded out by two riders from Illinois.

I finished my cool down lap and found my lovely wife who greeted me with a shout of, "You did it!" that only had a slight hint of surprise in it. I couldn't help joking with her andmy buddy Nick after the race that it was the most appropriate weekend for me to win for IC3 as it was Easter weekend and all.

The patience during the race paid off and the early season training has been well worth it. It looks like I'll get to race one more time before I have to put the bike aside for a little while and hit the books for finals (I am a medical student first and a bike racer second after all). Hopefully that means I'll have another chance for peak fitness in June or July when ToAD and Superweek come calling. That's still far enough out not to worry about, though. For now it's the Pedal for Proceeds next week and then concentrate on school.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope it was worth your time. Since you made it this far, here are some pictures to browse through. I may or may not be in wife is still working on her sports photography skills.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cycling is a team sport

The Spring Classics this year have proven that while individuals most often get the credit for winning cycling races, cycling is nonetheless a team sport. Let's take a look at some good examples from this Spring's phenomenal racing.

First of all I will say that there are occasions where a strong individual can blow away the field. However, this usually is because other teams have failed to anticipate that individual. Last year's Flanders-Roubaix double by Fabian Cancellera was a great example of this. No one expected him to be able to ride away from Boonen the way he did from so far out during Flanders. As a matter of fact they were so stunned that no one expected him to do the same thing a week the following week.

This year, however, the other teams were ready and Leopard-Trek unfortunately was not.

Fabian Cancellera came out swinging at the E3 Prijs Harelbeke. He attacked and no one could follow. He chased down the lead group and swung past them as if they were standing still. I have to admit it was a bit of an ironic twist. He passed the group alone the way that a group usually passes a lone breakaway rider. It was pretty awesome.

Then came his troubles. His strength at E3, though, was his undoing. He made it seem as if he could defeat the world all alone and so the world challenged him. No one in the upcoming races was willing to work with him and in the end it was Cancellera stick all. He stuckit to them pretty good, too. But without the team support he needed for Flanders or Roubaix he missed the top spot on both podiums. Both losses were a result of teams working against him. And while Quick Step's Sylvain Chavanel only managed 2nd for his work against Cancellera, Garmin-Cervelo reaped the benefits and placed Johan Van Summeren on the top step, although at the expense of Thor Hushovd's chance to win in the World Champion's Jersey (but that's something different altogether).

Enough of Fabian's sorrow over this year's cobbled classics. (even though they were good examples of teams working it out especially Garmin-Cervelo's Roubaix win). I like the guy and have to admit I'd rather not rub it in. It did take an entire team/several teams/the whole peloton to beat him and even though he didn't win Flanders or Roubaix this year he single-handedly made them spectacular races to watch.

Now that Amstel Gold Race has come and gone we are officially transitioned into the Ardennes Classics and while the terrain has changed, the importance of a team has not. Philippe Gilbert pulled off a fantastic win at Amstel bursting clear of his adversaries on the final assault of the Cauberg climb to the finish. I don't want to take away from his win by saying his team did it, but his team did do it. Their goal was for him to win and as the captain of the team for the day he did a good job marshaling his troops and making sure things turned out in his favor. Ultimately, Gilbert was the strongest and best tactician on the day which led to his win. But what we saw from Omega Pharma Lotto at Amstel was what Cancellera was missing in the cobbled classics. Almost every time the camera showed the front of the race as it got more serious, Gilbert's men were there. He was there with them and took responsibility for his own racing when he needed to, but he always had a couple of men around him to help out.

We'll have to see how things play out as we head towards the final Spring classics to round out this week. A good show from Andy Schleck at Amstel might mean that he gets to put another Classics win in his belt within the next few days. Personally, I'm hoping Ryder Hesjdal has some better luck and stands on at least one of the next two podiums. Regardless of who wins at Fleche Wallone or Liege-Bastogne-Liege this year, it's a good bet he'll have had some help from his team to get there.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Speedplay Pedals

Two weeks ago I had the good fortune of experiencing the Wheel and Sprocket Bike Expo here in Milwaukee. It was a lot of fun. Imagine if all the shops converged for three days to showcase all their inventory and invited other vendor's with similar (but not competing) interests to come along as well. There were representatives for Race the Lake, MS 150 Ride, Ray's Indoor Mountain Biking, Tour of America's Dairyland etc. etc.

There were also some fantastic deals. Unfortunately I didn't walk away with the deal I maybe would have liked...56cm Felt AR4 with all Ultegra...but then again I didn't exactly expect to. What I did go looking for, however, were pedals and a saddle. I'll tell you about the pedals now and come back to the saddle later because that's a much longer story all unto itself.

I had been doing some research and decided that I would see what I thought of Speedplay pedals. Speedplay has been getting a lot of good press lately especially as numerous winning riders have recently been using their pedals in the pro peloton (Fabian Cancellera, Mark Cavendish, Ivan Basso, Cadel Evans to name a few). After looking at what I had heard about the pedals from different reviews and bike shop employees and talking to a friend who bought a pair last year I decided they were worth a shot. I especially liked the amount that you can adjust in a pair of speedplay pedals. The Zero comes with adjustable float between 0 and 15 degrees so that you can either be locked in solid or have plenty of range to swing your heel. They offered a little higher end performance for the price point so I bought a pair of black chrome-moly Zero pedals during the expo. I got a fair price and went home happy.

[Here start's the long version with explanations, if you want the straight and simple bullet points you should jump to the end.]

Unfortunately, my happiness didn't last too long after putting them on my bike. Installation of the pedal was quite easy, all you need is a pedal wrench. Installation of the cleat was a little more complicated because I have a three hole shoe and Speedplay then requires an adapter for their 4 hole cleat, but still not unreasonably difficult. I managed to get the cleats on in a fairly central position on my shoe hoping this would be a good point to start from for adjustments and it was. When I first tried to get into the pedal it was ridiculously difficult. I figured that this was mostly operator error, and kept trying. It was partly operator error, but as it turns out the Speedplay pedal actually needs to be broken in a bit. While it was crazy difficult to get in, I actually found it shockingly easy to get out. As someone who plans to race with these pedals I didn't really like that combination, but thought maybe some adjustments would help. While the pedal did get easier to get into over my week long trial period, it didn't really hold my foot as securely as I would like. I never actually popped out of the pedal while sprinting, but there were a couple situations in which I did pop out enough to lose the hold on my upward pedalstroke while adjusting my ankle or foot while trying to get into the pedal and while spinning on my trainer.

During my first short ride outside on the pedal I actually thought that they might work out all right (my first had been a short spin on the indoor trainer just to get things dialed in). I bombed through the neighborhood nearby and charged up and down the short little hills. I felt pretty good going uphill and pedaling hard on the straight flats, but when I cornered I couldn't help but feel that my heel moved a little too easily on my outside foot (the one that's supposed to be extended for holding your weight and balance). I didn't really like that. Also, when I sprinted hard I could occasionally feel a little sliding of my feet. They just float back and forth a little too easily in a way that makes you feel unstable on the pedal.

I decided the float problem could be easily taken care of by reducing my float. I didn't want the full 15 degrees anyway and thought it would be nice to make it more like 5 degrees or less. At first the adjustment was easy and the design on the bottom of the cleat for this really is genius. But the adjustment screws quickly got very difficult to turn because of their awkward position and the stiff plastic and I almost blew out the phillip's head. I decided that if there was any chance to return these I better leave the screws intact. Again, disappointed.

The final test was a 2 1/2 hour ride to see if maybe I just needed to get broken in. What I found on the long ride was that I adjusted to the feel of the clipping in and out and even the float a little, but that ultimately the platform is too narrow side to side. I have somewhat big feet (usually between size 11.5-12.5), so this might not be a problem for a lot of riders out there, but it was the last straw for me. I gave them one last hopeful spin on the trainer the next day thinking that it could be me not them. But I was wrong. This was not a compatible match.

After a week of unimpressed riding my pair of pedals got returned to Wheel and Sprocket with an exchange for the Look Keo 2 Max (review pending). They were friendly and helpful with the exchange, but probably not happy to have to deal with returned pedals and cleats considering that no matter how lightly you use Speedplay pedals they always show some wear and tear because most of the pieces and contact points are plastic and metal combinations. I figured that up to this point I've been riding an old pair of Look pedals that still use the delta cleat...they're almost as old as me...and if a new pair of pedals can't improve on that, I don't see any point in replacing my old ones.

To sum it up...

Things I liked about the Speedplay Zero:
-Easy maintenance
-low profile/good clearance on corners
-Diverse adjustment ability (can adjust float, side to side cleat position even place shims for leg length discrepancy)

Things I didn't like about the Speedplay Zero:
-Too easy to come out of
-Float in pedal actually made my platform seem somewhat unstable especially when cornering hard or sprinting
-Difficult to get in (this may change some over time)
-somewhat high maintenance
-poor quality adjustment screws
-small pedaling platform for a person with big feet

I've tested the new Look Keo 2 Max pedals once and once exams end this week I intend to spend plenty more time on them. Look for another review in the next few weeks.

Friday, April 15, 2011


That should read "in-cred-EE-blay!" I was thinking about how much I'm going to miss the NSC Velodrome this summer as I'm going to be in Milwaukee instead of the Twin Cities. I found myself at this video of Gregory Bauge. He's a big French track racer with numerous wins to his name including several Match Sprint world championships in that palmares. But more impressive than almost any of those wins is this...

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Puncheur

I learned a new cycling word this week: Puncheur.

Here is the definition... "Ein Puncheur ist ein Fahrertyp bei Strassenradrennen, andere Fahrertypen sind zum Beispiel der Rouleur, der Sprinter oder der Kletterer. Der Puncheur hat besondere Stärken in welligem Gelände und ist oft auch ein starker Sprinter"

Oh wait, that's in German.

Roughly it translates as: "A Puncheur is a type of rider in road cycling races, other types of riders are, for example, the Rouleur , the sprinter or climber. The Puncheur has particular strengths in rolling terrain and is often also a strong sprinter."

That's guys like Phillipe Gilbert, Sylvain Chavanel, Thor Hushovd and the likes. These are the fellas who have the legs to fight the short steep climbs over rolling terrain and then still kick it in a sprint. They may not always come out on top in a mass sprint finish, but watch out if it's only a select group left over.

After analyzing my past race results and the kind of roads I do best on, I think this may just be me. Cool, eh? Hopefully I can incorporate that into my future races. Sounds like I need to look for the breakaway and help make it stick, then try to recover enough to kick it in the finale. Stay tuned and if I'm lucky maybe one of my next races will have a report that sounds just like that.