Friday, April 9, 2010

Rocking Like a Hurricane

One of the strongest "bricks" in my bike club started hosting a "Hammer Time" ride from Guy West Bridge at CSUS up the ARPT, past WBP and Sunrise, up to Hazel Ave where the American River fish hatchery is located. They built the hatchery when they built Folsom Dam so salmon that would otherwise lay their eggs in the gravel shoals upstream could be replaced by other hatchlings taken from downstream and raised in captivity to improve their survival rates.

Tom's a brick, because like me, he is too heavy to go up hills like a "kite", but makes lots of power for great speed on the flats. I have ridden with him a few times before, and while I dropped him when I pushed hard, I always felt he had it in him to hang right with me. Given this, I was really looking forward to a blistering fast speed run as I rode the 9 miles to the start.

I started down the long ramp from the bridge, down onto the bike trail, and let my speed build slowly. By the time we hit the trail I was doing ~ 22 mph, backed off a bit at first, but once I knew they were able to stay on my wheel I started building speed. The surface is a bit rough in spots where tree roots buckle the thin asphalt, and there are some modestly tight turns and some moguls, but this is a good place to put down some serious speed. I tested Tom a few times sprinting out of turns and over moguls, and he bent, but didn't break. Awesome! I was very happy for him.

Approaching WBP there is some very shallow downslope, but it was enough to bring my speed up into the 23-26mph range. I went a bit too hard and long, and ended up giving Tom the lead right at the base of a hill approach to the bridge. Word, don't pull a strong rider right to the base of a hill if you are going all out. There's nothing anybody can do to help you get over the hill while you recover, so you're SOL.

Unfortunately, I hit the Lap button on the Garmin to end the transition to the start of the ride, and forgot to hit it again before we started the real ride 10 minutes later, so I had to subtract off half a mile and 2:24 minutes to get a correct lap speed - which turned out to be a 21.1 mph average. 

I got over the bridge and tried to put in some power while sucking hard on my waterbottle coming down the back side. Looking at the Garmin trace later, I was managing 19-20 mph, but it sure felt slow as I watched Tom and Glen opening a good 5-600 yard gap. The Claritin I had taken was really bothering me. It affected my inner-ear, but more importantly, I couldn't judge my cardo well at all. I was amped up on the drug, and would be red-lining before I felt any kind of fatigue. I don't know if it helped or hurt overall, but it was unwelcome, and seemed to burn blood sugar at a fantastic rate.

I caught a rider on a custom Steve Rex (local frame builder of high regard who was seriously injured in a crash last year), passed him and noticed he was sucking on my wheel. After a half mile into the wind I was really gassed, so started talking to him, asking him if he could help me catch up to my group. I was incredulous that he agreed to help, but also secretly thrilled. WOW, what a break! It took us a mile or so to catch up with Glenn, who stayed out in front for 2-3 miles while we drafted.

Reviewing the trace last night after the ride I see my HR had dropped well back into Zone 4, but subjectively, I felt fatigued until a few miles had passed. A couple of miles from Sunrise 'Rex' and I were getting anxious at the back of the pack, and I was hoping he would take the lead and give Glenn a rest, but I don't think he was confident he could stay out front  (Did I mention Glenn had a gorgeous steel frame bike, complete with very un-aero fenders!), so Glenn pulled us until we reeled in Tom a couple of miles before Sunrise.

By Sunrise I could tell Tom was weakening, having slowed noticeably the last 2 miles or so. As we passed Sunrise I started to get my legs and lungs back, and was considering taking the lead as we started up some short, shallow climbs. About 2 miles after Sunrise there is a decent hill with a bit flatter section in the middle. The approach is a shallow climb, so I was taking stock of the riders, and decided 'Rex' was going to go on the hill unless Tom found some serious reserves.

As expected 'Rex' went on the hill, and I right after him, blowing by Tom and Glenn pretty easily. We rode about a half mile with 'Rex' out front until we got jammed up in a big, slower block of traffic. We had a bike up near the end of our sprint past the traffic, and 'Rex' needed a hole to slip into, and right quick. I had anticipated and made a nice hole for him, so we were momentarily riding side-by-side. I shouted something about 'always happy to make a hole for you dude!' and not sure what he heard, but he soft-pedaled and waved me forward while grinning. We finished the last mile or two with him on my wheel, and I was happy to return his favor.

Tom and Glenn were not far behind, and they pulled the plug and rolled to a stop just past the drinking fountain. All smiles, I excused myself and rolled downhill to the drinking fountain where I started coughing uncontrollably from all the pollen sucked deep into my lungs. Eventually I got hydrated and chewed through a PowerBar, before waving Tom down to tell him I might have to bail on the ride early, and return via Bannister Pk, because of my respiratory distress. I didn't want to just disappear on a ride leader. As it was, I was fine, but still the right thing to do.

We headed back with Glenn in the lead, as he was pretty wrecked and wanted a slower pace. He did a good job, especially as there was pretty heavy traffic and the uphill on the way turned into a nice downhill kicker. About the same place Glenn and I had caught up with Tom on the way out, Glenn started to slow, and I asked if he wanted me to pull. He had a look of resignation as he pulled off to the left and fell back. I remarked that I'd see if I had anything left, and took up the lead, again, building speed slowly to give him time to regroup a bit at the back.

This was roughly the "racetrack alley" section of trail that I love to hammer, so I started to push the pace while monitoring my back wheel to make sure they were still with me. I really had a blast on this section, and we were passing everything in sight. You can see from the HR trace where I took over from Glenn, and then where I started to hammer. This section of trail has some very tight hairpin, and S-turns, and that makes it hard to carry speed well, but again we were averaging 21-22 mph. Smoking!

When we got to the approach to the WBP bridge, first down and then up and up, I thought Tom was going to try to pass me, so I dug deep and fended him off. I pulled the plug going over the top, sitting up for max breathing efficiency and reminded them I was peeling off for home at the upcoming turn. They shouted a hasty parting farewell, and sped off for CSUS.

My full ride was 38mi. This is the portion done with the group

I posted these same traces on the ride page last night, and was really psyched that Tom turned up on Facebook and reported a PB of 30 miles at an average pace of 20.2 mph. I was scratching my head though until I zoomed in on the start of the group part of the ride and noticed the Lap button error.

Tom and Glenn must have had enough left to manage 20-21 mph on the 5 miles back to CSUS from WBP, so they dug pretty deep to get that PB. As the 3 laps done as a group on RideWithGPS shows, I averaged 275 watts for the 1 hr and 12 minutes. (the break at Hazel and drafting throws this off a bit, but the time up front pulling, headwinds, rough surface, tight turns and elevation gains are offsets)

I was a bit surprised I had enough left to stand and hammer the steep little hill up onto Boyer, and the fatigue has also been surprisingly low. In the end, 43 of 73 minutes were done in Zone 5, so over 50% of the ride. I feel pretty good today, and am hoping I will be fully recovered for a full 65 mile tour of the ARPT scheduled for Sunday. Rain is threatening that, but we shall see.

I gotta say, speed is so much more fun than grinding up hills. I think I'm going to swap my 12-27 for my 12-23 and give the super-steeps a rest for awhile. Looking forward to doing a TT soon, and hope Tom joins me.

 Probable power output for 1st 5 mi lap & total ride. Grade calculated from elevation statistics shown on above traces. Wind was NNW at 8 mph, a quartering wind on lap 1, so about 4 mph of headwind.


Anonymous said...

True, I prefer speed over hills as well. For bikers I imagine even more so.

Have a super ride next sunday.

Gotta Run..Gotta Ride said...

For some crazy reason I embraced all of the hills for the first time on both Saturday and Sunday. I am determined to make them my friend!

I have a 12-27 and am pretty happy with it. I was on a 11-25. That was a bit harder.

Grey Beard said...

Thanks Stephanie. Will 'get some' for you on Sunday! I am mounting my new, new wheel from Colorado Cyclist as we 'speak', and swapping out my 12-27 for a 12-23 as I had forgotten, but my 12-25 is junk. Also going to flip my stem to get into a more aero position, as my aerobars are too high to help with speed right now, and don't meet minimum guidelines for mounting.

Very happy to hear that. Hills are an important part of a good cyclist's skill set, and build leg strength. I did them to death last year, and really loved the sense of accomplishment, but I am a born sprinter - my role on my bike team when racing in my late teens, and a role I would like to reprise. (we used to sprint to stay ahead of the dinosaurs :)

Good choice on the 12-27. The 11 or 12 tooth is very easy to change out, so you can easily make that 11-25 (uuugh) a 12-25. When you look at what an 11-tooth does to your gear chart it makes your skin crawl. If you really get into super-steeps, Harris Cyclery has some custom cassettes like 13-30 or 14-30, and the new SRAM XXX mtb cassettes are 10-speed and go up to 36-teeth.

Beyond 32 teeth requires a mtb derailleur to handle the range, but I've done the conversion for a friend and he has been riding double centuries with it for 2 seasons and loves it.

On balance, I think a 12-27 is optimal. If you get to the point where you want bigger gears in back, and have some questions, shoot me an email. Just a reminder, 48/34 in front makes much nicer half-step gearing.