Friday, July 31, 2009

Death Ride Training - Part I

Mostly 8% grade for 8 miles with ~ 2,800 ft of climb

My old riding partner, Bruce, is on vacation, and while watching the Tour de' France we got inspired by the Mt Ventoux climb and decided to have a go at Monitor Pass, the first, longest, and hardest (E side climb) of the 5 climbs of the Death Ride. I should also say, in fairness to riders like Bruce who did the Death Ride back in the day when it usually lived up to its name, the current Death Ride is pretty tame. It used be close to 200 miles and 21,000 ft of climbing. I wouldn't even consider such a ride, but at 129 miles and 15,000 ft of climbing, it is just one hella bad ride I might be tempted to try.

Originally planned for Friday, we rescheduled for Sunday due to persistent rain and wanting to watch Lance Armstrong give it one last shot on the fearsome Mt Ventoux. We got started about 1:00, and it was already 96 degrees in the shade. It was also extremely dry. My guess would be at or below 10% humidity. Our plan was to do the W slope of Monitor and then tackle Ebbetts Pass from the parking lot where hwy 88 "T"s into hwy 89. We should have done Ebbetts Pass as it has a northern and eastern exposure, the road is narrow, lined with trees, and water at a park half-way up. Live and learn!

My water was frozen solid in the ice chest at the start, so I slammed half a 7-Up and hoped for the best. Starting a bit dehydrated wasn't so great. I also forgot to start my Garmin recording, so I was 2 miles and 25 minutes into the climb before the traces start. My Gatorade, spiked with Power Electrolytes proved to be too strong in the hot conditions, so after stopping once to hydrate, fix my dragging front brake, and turn on the Garmin, I stopped again a few miles later to bum water off a nice elderly couple driving a new Prius. I could have easily drained both 12 oz bottles, but I left them half a bottle in case it was their last. The diluted Gatorade went down much easier.

Bruce had left as soon as he was set up, so I had to do the climb alone - we need a little heart to heart on that issue. Not cool! I have to say, except for being very aware how bored I was, the climb didn't seem at all strenuous. I am going to try experimenting with playing some music and see if that helps with the boredom. I was very happy my HR was holding steady at 147 while climbing at 4~5 mph. That's just squeeking under Zone 5, but manageable, and not bad for the 3rd ride in 6 weeks after Hamilton. I rode and trained from November '08, so needed a sustained break.

Monitor Pass is a special place for me. My Ex and I crossed over Monitor on our very first bike tour, and camped overnight by the small lake just before the summit. The east side's switchbacks are big, open, turns that you can carry a lot of speed through. I remember having a blast flying down to hwy 395 with 55 lbs in full panniers, loving the low center of gravity and amazing speed. What an idiot I was!!! The views are stunningly expansive. The valley to the south extends over the horizon.

We didn't go over the top, but did take some photos at the summit marker. With all the rain the trees and grasses were green and creeks flowing. After hydrating until our bottles were dry, we headed back down the mountain. I was having a blast flying down the mountain at over 50 mph in a full aerobar tuck when I ran over a rock with my back wheel.

Within a couple of seconds it was flat and felt like it was sliding on greased glass. It put a serious scare into me as a fall at those speeds can be fatal. I was very, very lucky and got it shut down within a few hundred yards. I'm installing puncture strips on the tires, because this is just not acceptable.

We drove up to Ebbetts Pass to scout it out, and took some pics there too. Bruce faked it in his riding clothes, but I don't like to foul my Karma like that, so changed into clean, cool, loose clothes and took some decidedly unglamorous shots.

After endless hours trying to adjust every imaginable thing, I have given up trying to use a 24T granny on my bike, because it drops the chain often enough that all the paint and then some is now torn off my bottom bracket. The seat tube swells below the water bottle brackets, so I can't use a Deda Dog Tooth, and there isn't enough material on the 24T to safely drill it so I can use screws to pin the chainwheel. I have a 28T that should work fine, but I am going to try a 26T first. Gear charts don't lie.

45 rpm produces lots of muscle fatigue, but not much power

As you can see from the trace, even on the relatively mild slope of Monitor, my cadence was too low to make good power with a 30T. If I had a larger frame I could get by standing, but with my frame I just don't have enough cockpit room to climb out of the saddle, and when I tried it my HR alarm went off within a few seconds. 125% of the power. 200% of the work. All that core and upper body burns lots of fuel and oxygen that starves the legs and burns the lungs.

PS: Kik, Lance Armstrong's Ex, had this special chain restraint custom made to keep the chain from falling past her granny. I don't have carbon "braze-on" dérailleur mounts though, so not sure it will work for me, but I'm looking into it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Update on Aaron's Bike

I am finally getting around to refurbishing my old Nishiki Competition for my nephew Aaron. I pulled it down from the hook on my balcony and walked it downstairs to my mechanic's apt. I am very fortunate that he used to be a mechanic back in that mid-80's era and still has all of his tools.

I wanted to pull the headset and bottom bracket first and make sure the bearings were OK and there was no rust on the races. If either of those needed replacing the project would get pretty expensive. Amazingly, except for the grease degrading to wax (grease in those days was made of oil mixed with wax, and eventually the oil oxidizes and dissipates) both assemblies were in absolutely pristine condition. I was a bit worried because I lived at the beach in Florida for nearly 5 years and that warm Atlantic salt air can eat steel alive.

I used a little carburetor cleaner to thoroughly clean the bottom bracket cups, wiped out the inside of the BB tube on the bike, wiped off the solid steel bracket, wiped the bearings dry and clean with a clean rag and repacked them with Mobile 1 synthetic grease. Ditto for the Omas Italian headset and bearings.

Awed by the condition of the bike I decided to really push my luck and air up the tires. I don't think I have ridden this bike since 2000, so was shaking my head in amazement that the tires have now held 40psi for over 4 hours. No kidding folks, I could get on it and ride it down the road!

I am ordering new chain, gum brake block hoods, and a properly sized handlebar (I will hate to part with a pristine Cinelli bar, but at least the Cinelli aero stem is going to see many more years of service) The Campy chainrings and Sugino crank are in perfect condition, as is the DuraAce rear deurailler, SunTour front deurailler, and SunTour downtube shifters. I have some beautiful Robin-egg blue, dappled grey and white Torelli Moda Chunky handlebar tape that will match the blue on the bike perfectly.

After new tubes and tires, all new cables and cable housing, chain, handlebars and tape, I'll put on a new seat and go do some riding. I'll have to wear my mtn bike shoes, as the pedals are aero racing SPD, but classics in their own right. I am super-psyched! Can you tell? What a beautiful machine! I'll take some pics, I promise. Too good to not share.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Miracle on Lake Natoma

What's that calculation again? 220-age?

As indicated in my last post, I have been pushing my max HR, and monitoring fatigue, to see how far I can push for threshold power, where the aerobic and lactate thresholds edge into anaerobic lactic acid spikes and extreme muscle fatigue. As Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong's trainer noted, pushing into Z5 created so much fatigue for Lance when first recovering from cancer he was not able to ride again for days. I have noticed the same thing is true for me.

I have done 2 rides since the Mt Hamilton ride on June 13th, because after training from mid November 2008, more or less with no breaks, I needed to take some serious R&R time. Last Saturday, July 4th, I did a short 28 mile climbing route with a couple of guys I hadn't ridden with in a long time. They really pushed me, and actually handily dropped me on the short, but super-steep climb. When I got home and uploaded my Garmin 305 to Training Center I saw I had spent 24 minutes in Zone 5. The next 3 days I was pretty tired, so lots of fatigue.

Since high altitude climbing is so demanding on the cardio system, this is an important unknown I would like to nail down, not only for the Death Ride, but for cooler mid-summer rides in the mountains, and for sprinting and general threshold power. Pushing back and forth across your aerobic threshold is also how you increase your VO2 Max. For all of these reasons I am at a point where I really would like to know how hard I can push a bent ticker.

I got my answer, or at least a big part of it, much sooner than I anticipated. On a ride Sunday night with the Feisty Fun & Frisky Fitness group, I was doing a little racing along the west side of Lake Natoma, pulling at the front of a draft, when I had to fall back, jump on the back of the peleton and then sprint up a short 3-4% hill. At the beginning of the ride the very dry air dried all the moisture from under the HR strap, and I got a few false readings in the 170s, so I dismissed the audio alarm with an annoyed glance and pushed on in spite of a reading of 173. Only later did I realize the readings were correct, or at least I think they were. (I will definitely repeat the experiment, but didn't see the kind of flaky readings going from 175+ to 120 or so in 2 seconds)

As you can see, I spent almost double that, 44:44 in Zone 5 Sunday, and no ill effects. Aside from general rest there are two things I suspect are helping me - Acai berry and CoQ10. I had this same experience 3 years ago with CoQ10, but stopped taking it when my peak HR returned to it's expected peak at 220-age. Almost on a fluke I started taking it again about a week ago, and given my past experience, this seems the likely reason for my heart's rather miraculous performance. I had no chest pain during the ride, after, or since. I am a little freaked out, and pretty excited. Taking my HR up from 166 to 176 should give me a 6% increase in cardio capacity. WOW, I'll take it!

Can you spot the guy who showed up without a helmet?

Pre-miracle grinning!

Photo credits to my friend Jeffrey Thorne

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Death Ride Regrets

West Walker River Valley on approach to Sonora Pass from 395 Side

I was studying the course for the Tour of the California Alps - Death Ride a couple of nights ago and started to regret that I stopped training for a few weeks after my Mt Hamilton ride. The course is not as difficult as I had imagined, and also not quite as high or steep. In addition, I have done all three of its passes before - touring with 45 lbs in my panniers - although I was in my 20s at the time.

The Death Ride is a very difficult course, comprising 129 miles with 15,000ft of climbing and 5 passes at over 8,300ft, but does not take in Sonora Pass, as I had imagined it would. Sonora Pass, at 9,624 ft is signed as 26% grade, so it requires much lower gearing, or much younger legs. It does take in Monitor (twice), Kit Carson, and Ebbetts Pass (twice), just to the north of the posted map. (you can see Ebbetts Pass in the far upper left on this map)

I have some slides somewhere of the valley looking back over hwy 395 at Wheeler Pk and Mt Patterson to the east from our campsite at the edge of a cliff. Judy (Ex-wife) and I stayed there overnight, exhausted from a hard day's climbing, after getting a large water donation from a friendly Winnebago. We learned the hard way that night that when you get within 1,500 ft or so of the top of a mountain range, there is no water. Live and learn. We got up very early the next morning and went over Sonora Pass, because by about 9:00 the air starts to heat up and it gets very thin very fast.

View Larger Map

I am looking for a slide scanner so I can share those, but THAT was a climb. At 5' nothing, and 125lbs, she chugged up it behind me on a 28 lb bike, with 10 lbs in the panniers, turning 24f - 28r gearing. Even the US Marines were impressed, saluting us as they held onto their truck, crawling up the mountain. At any rate, sans Sonora Pass, the Death Ride is a much easier course to manage. The pic posted above was taken much earlier in the year, but AFAICT, from the same spot. Our view was of a breathtaking yellow, orange, and amber Alpine-glow, with the setting sun brilliantly burning the west side of the range.

I will have to study the course more, and try a few rides at altitude, as my 24 minutes in Zone 5 Saturday have left me very fatigued. My training for threshold power is going to have to be very carefully scripted if I am to succeed, but I think I can manage that successfully, so hope my altitude work will bear fruit. The event is this Saturday, and I wish I had prepared to ride it. For those that are, best of luck!

The gorgeous and green Monitor Pass

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

TDF - Stage 7

It's all about the (Arcalis) "O"? Ya gotta love the French

Looking ahead to Stage 7, finishing at 7,350 ft at the ski resort of Arcalis in Spain, it culminates a climb of 5,500 ft from the mid-race base, and is a long, tough mountain stage. The final ascent is "only" 7%, so not a super-steep, but coming right at the end, and given the lead-up is all climbing, it will test climbers like Cancellara, Contador, Armstrong, and Leipheimer. The resort road is broad, and well paved, so there should be a lot of jockeying for position right to the end.

I found some excellent coverage on VeloNews, and this great piece on climbing. Even more so than they suggest, I shun climbing out of the saddle for the huge waste of energy using so much core and upper body strength represents. I should also say that my 54cm frame is a bit small for me, and I would no doubt find a 55 or even 56cm much more comfortable to climb in standing up. It just takes more energy to climb in a straight line with a long stem on a smaller frame.

I expect even the pros will be putting on their compact cranks sporting 34/50 and 11/28 gearing, because they will lose a lot of power above 5,000 ft on a hot day. IIRC the air-density altitude on a hot day will be around 11,000 ft at the top, which reduces their power output by about 30%, so this will be a real test of cardio for all the riders.

I am looking forward to some drama in Stage 7 after today's snooze-fest, although I think even Lance misjudged the effect of the tailwind in compressing the TIME left to the end of the race. By adding 5-7mph to the break-away group's speed, the TIME to the end of the race was shortened substantially, and I don't think anyone reacted correctly to that.

On the other hand, there were a lot of tired riders in the strongest time-trialing teams, so it kind of makes sense that the team that crashed so badly yesterday, losing a full 5 minutes, sported the winning rider today. He wasn't doing much work sitting around waiting for his crashed teammates to catch up yesterday, and no point rushing to defeat either, so I'm sure those that didn't crash wisely converved their energy. Still, great to see the French get a stage win - FINALLY.

• Mountain Passes: Cote de Montserrat located at 32 kilometers - 4.1km climb to 3.8 percent grade - Category 4; Port de Solsona at 97km - 5.8km climb to 4.3 percent - Cat. 3; Col de Serra-Seca at 127km - 7.7km climb to 7.1 percent - Cat. 1; Port del Comte at 136.5km - 3.1km at 5.3 percent - Cat. 3; Arcalis at 224km - 10.6km climb to 7.1 percent - Hors Categorie

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lance behind by a Swiss Second

Team Astana put on an incredible performance today in a team time-trial event, winning Stage 4, and leaving Lance Armstrong just milliseconds behind Fabian Cancellara. More impressive still is the overall standing of Team Astana, with riders in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th place, they OWN the field. Beyond that, they put 2-3 minutes of time on the big threats in the race.

Tomorrow will be hot, windy and flat, and should favor strong team riding, so there's a good chance Lance will take the yellow jersey tomorrow. I want to watch the Verses coverage before commenting further on today's event, but wanted to share this thrilling result.

UPDATE: Not much to watch on a team time-trial, but watching team after team make errors and outright blunders, I feel compelled to say that winning in many, many things is about attending to many, many small details. It is a rare human endeavor where a good field of competition has not already found all of the larger elements of success, leaving only a blizzard of little details left to you to exploit on your way to victory.

Perfectionism, far from being a disease, as our current cultural ebb insists, is the mark of someone who knows their business. It has always been so, and always will be so. Only a fool thinks otherwise. It isn't a substitute for leadership skills, or a great attitude, but it is very necessary to succeed in any contest. One can only hope that Trunk's pilot, surgeon or electrician has taken her advice to heart so we will soon be rid of this cultural siren of mediocrity.

Getting Respect Sir Lance's Way

Sir Lance being congratulated by Mark Cavendish, the stage winner

Watching the Tour de'France coverage with a friend, I excused myself for a minute to use the bathroom. The talking heads on Verses were repeating my comment of a few minutes earlier that the Peleton was getting really stretched out. It seemed to me a large break-away group was over-due to make dash off the front.

I had been able to make out some of the advice Hincapie got from his team car 5 minutes earlier, and then the announcers began wondering aloud why Lance was being such a work-horse for his team, pulling hard at the front of the Peleton. All of that info said one thing - break-away, and in numbers. The ideal situation for a break-away in heavy winds is to sprint through a cross-wind, and then turn as a tight group into a howling headwind. It makes bridging up from the front of the Peleton nearly impossible.

Upon returning a couple of minutes later the announcers were going on about nothing again, when I happened to notice a bend in the road, and an echelon staring to form, with a lot of yellow jerseys in the gutter to the right. As I was yelling at my friend that a break-away was imminent, it happened. As Armstrong said later when interviewed, "it doesn't take a genius", but Contador, brought in by Astana to replace Lance as the team leader, sure didn't see it, and is now 19 seconds behind Armstrong in 4th place. Lance and Popovych and one other Astana rider went with the break-away group, and the rest got left behind for good.

A break-away group of 27, with one entire, in-tact team like Columbia High-Road defending yesterday's win, is not going to be reeled in. That's enough power to drop the entire Peleton, and they did just that. I was grinning from ear to ear. Lance may be old and past his prime, but he's savagely brilliant in managing a race, and when he calls for a favor or starts directing traffic, people listen and obey. He was just absolutely masterful, and got heartfelt hugs from Hincapie, Cavendish and the entire Colombia team at the finish line.

His move from 10th to 3rd place in the race was just brilliant. It was thrilling to see him barking orders and organizing competing interests into a solid and sustained break-away effort. Pop, just like in the Amgen Tour, was right there, helping him in any way he could. I am also very curious to know, and sure it will not be known for some time, if ever, if George Hincapie, an old friend of Lance's, tipped him off to Colombia High-Road's intentions, as it was George who was getting the coaching orders from the THR team car.

I got the definite sense watching the break-away group working together, that many of the riders felt that Lance's removal as the Astana team's leader was insulting and shabby for a man who has dominated the TDF and been a brilliant ambassador for the sport. In cycling, as in many sports, there are many, many unspoken rules and traditions. Coaches and team owners have little influence over these elaborate rituals, and I think Team Astana's owners got a very frank and brutal reputiation today from the moral leadership in the sport of cycling.

I have to say, it was a very satisfying to watch this act of defiance play out, and I salute the senior statesmen of the sport for honoring Lance Armstrong for all he has done for the sport, and the many, many contributions he has made to teams and individual riders alike. I was also very impressed that the very young Cavendish seems to get the unspoken rules of cycling. I commented on his gracious behavior here when commenting on the Amgen Tour of California, and he seems to be maturing into a gracious winner, team player, and keeper of the sport's standards. For this he gets my picture vote for this post, celebrating with Lance after the finish.

If you missed today's stage, I hope you will get a chance to watch it soon. It was a real thing of beauty - and justice. Cycling is truly blessed to have such a magnificent spokesman. God's Speed Lance. On behalf of millions and millions, I wish the very best for you, and will cheer you on to victory with the utmost admiration.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Breaking Bread with 'Family'

Sleeveless weather, even for guys

"Friends are the family you choose for yourself" is a wonderful thought, and one I've always felt (No Z, not that kind of Felt :D) was particularly on point. With that in mind, I had a great time on Saturday riding up to Karen's Bakery in Old Folsom with about 20 riders from my Hammerin Wheels bike club to share a great brunch with friends not seen in far too long.

Like most large clubs, we tend to break into smaller groups with shared goals or styles or personality meshes, and too rarely do those groups join together. So, like a family reunion, it was especially soulful when two major sub-groups, a lot of newbies, and some Lone Rangers like me all got together to break bread and catch up.

With so many riders and bikes we pretty much took over the whole outdoor patio, with bikes lined up 5-10 deep in places, leaning against walls and racks before heading inside to mob the brunch line. With lots of fresh bakery goods as well as great salads and fresh-squeezed juices, there was no shortage of temptation. I settled for a delicious blueberry muffin, a tall glass of fresh OJ, and headed outside to find a seat.

The girl's table, sans me, out of frame to the right. Justin has the good scenery gene too.

My friends Lourdes and Mary were sitting right by the door, and there was a seat at the table for the taking, so I sat at the "girls" table. The guys called me out on that one a few minutes later. I was tempted to roll my eyes in mock disgust and implore of them "Are we in kindergarten, or what?" but insisted instead that my momma didn't raise no fools, and the scenery was better at my table than theirs! :D Besides, I was able to sprint or coast on the hour-long ride there, and chat with most of my friends for a few minutes, so just wanted to relax and enjoy the hot sunshine on bare skin.

Even I wore a sleeveless jersey on Saturday, as temps were forecast to rise into the triple digits - which they did. Saturday hit 102 in the shade and Sunday 106, or 111 and 118 on my outdoor thermometer at home. By the time I got home at 10:30 it was 96 and climbing fast, so a good idea to have started at 7:30.

Sunday I closed everything up tighter than everything else, rested, read and listened to tunes. All, in all, it was a great ride, and so nice to catch up with friends, some of whom I have not seen in person for over 6 months. Kudos to my friend Lourdes for organizing the ride, and everyone else for sucking it up so early on Saturday and joining in the festivities. We have to do it again - soon!

The "mob", with me trapped in the back behind 20 of my closest friends!