Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rusty Bread & Butter

Having been of the bike for almost a week, I headed out the door under a cloud for a "Bread and Butter Beals" ride. I had some concerns the night before about trying that on my 12-23 cassette, but forgot all about it on the day. I knew I could do it in my granny gear, but had wanted to change back into the 12-27. As it turned out, I didn't even think about it until the next day. The legs are getting stronger.

The weather has been very windy, or raining, or both, so it's been a challenge to get out at all with allergies. I kept running my check list, forgetting little things as I was getting dressed, putting lights back on the bike, airing up my tires, and making sure I had keys, helmet and glasses.

I expected to feel sluggish, but was standing and stomping hills within a mile or so. Not the strong hammering stomp, but low-cadence leg-stretching kind that keeps the pace up. It felt good. Familiar. Encouraging. Blissful. A nice break from the angst of looking for work, getting my ride smogged, wringing my hands about not getting enough exercise, and making ends meet. Oh, and being amped out of my head on too much coffee! :-O

It was a gift to have the wind at my back as I turned upstream on the ARPT for Beals. A nice way to work the legs back into their familiar rhythm, and a welcome sense that things were moving in my favor, literally. It was a bit late in the day, so I made a mental note to cut my rest short when at Beals, but mostly I just kept the pace up and enjoyed the speed as familiar scenery greeted me at every turn - although the tall green grass and abundance of flowers is just amazing this year.

It wasn't until 30 minutes into the ride that my low back loosened up enough to start using the aerobars - too much time off the bike I think. The bottom part of Beals I did with my hands on the tops of the bars - a position I never use, but am liking now for climbing with the seat more forward. With more wind and a steeper grade at the top, I climbed in the drops - a position I use even less. Always amazed how time off the bike induces these kinds of changes.

I had a nice conversation with a woman who's son was participating in the TBF (total body fitness) tri event going on. They were swimming in the water of a brimming Lake Folsom, with water temps in the low 40's I'm sure. Even as we wrapped up our chat, a dark, threatening storm front moved in and spattered us with raindrops. I topped up my now diluted Gatorade bottle, bit off a chunk of Powerbar and shoved off.

For whatever reason, the headwind I should have encountered waned, even as the storm closed in around me. I had decided against a windbreaker, and hoped that wouldn't prove a big mistake. One thing I have experimented with this year is riding colder - without much core protection especially - so I was concerned, but not panicked.

The flipped stem and lower waterbottle mount made for a noticeable reduction in wind drag, but even so I was very surprised when I got home and uploaded the Garmin data. My time was right at my PB time. I was cold and sneezing, so just jumped into a hot shower while the microwave worked on a big baked potato.

The next morning I could really feel the rust. My neck especially was sore, and I was generally fatigued, but up and  raring to go. I'll have to put the Profile Designs bottle rack back on my seatpost as the weather is warming again - FINALLY.

It's a beautiful day today. I'm enjoying a delicious cup of coffee and marveling at how many different kinds of birds are feasting on the cherry tree outside my window. Time for another ride to test out my new Novarra gel shorts. $22 bucks with my REI dividend check and a 20% discount. The best shorts going, and at less than half price. :D

Sunday, May 23, 2010

DZ's Day?

I just checked the weather for Thousand Oaks, reported to have winds WNW at 20-30 mph with a high of 60 degrees. If DZ in fact has the most aero body of any rider in pro cycling, and given he is a big rider, this should favor him. It could also be a great day for George Hincapie, Jens Voigt (who moved up about 10 places in the CG yesterday with an incredible TT), Tony Martin, and anybody with some beef on a compact frame. Too bad Tom Boonen and Thor Husvold are not in the race, as that profile fits them to a T.

I am saying this half in jest, but after Tony Martin pulled the peleton for mile after mile in the brutal Queen Stage 6, and then blew away the field the next day with a jaw-dropping 41:41 TT to annihilate the field, somebody should be making sure that was done the old-fashioned way. Entirely possible, given his age, but for everyone in the sport it would be great to know the guy beating your brains out is competing on an equal basis.

Watching Leipheimer's TT yesterday, I couldn't help but notice he was getting bounced all over the place. He also came out of his aerobars on most of the corners, and stood to accelerate after some. I really hated the extreme vertical rise on his aerobars too. It was very windy yesterday, and the surface was rough and the corners tight, so I understand the concern for not crashing out. If I could offer some constructive criticism though, it might be beneficial to work up an alternate bike and configuration for such days.

Options worth considering on such a configuration would be the Syntace C3 bars, more compliant wheels with less sensitivity to crosswinds, a more compliant fork and seat, and shallower head-tube angle. The idea would be to trade off some weight for the ability to stay in the aero position 100% of the time.

Watching DZ and Martin ride through the same corners as Levi down in their aero positions while he went down on the bull horns on every turn was painful. Levi could also try leaving one arm in the aerobars and one on the bull-horns while turning. I do this habitually and find it adds a lot of stability. Finally, do something to keep the back tip of the helmet down on the back, not sticking up into the slipstream.

Best of luck to all the competitors today. Can't wait for the Verses coverage to start!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The little Things

After watching the thrilling Big Bear stage of the Amgen Tour, I was inspired to test my aching back by heading out into a vicious wind just before dark yesterday. I knew that stage would be brutal, very close to the feared Mt Ventoux in France, as I used to ride up to Mt Wilson from the Cal Tech area when living in the Pasadena area in the 80's. Hincapie, who's performance was stellar and gritty, stated flat out it was the hardest stage ever in the history of the Amgen Tour.

That said, with a 20mph on-shore breeze (tail wind) that was 20-25 degrees below normal for this time of year, that stage could have been much more difficult. Typical conditions this time of year would be mid to high 80's and smog limiting visibilities to less than 3 miles. Once above 5,000 ft though, they would have been in clean air, being above the thermal inversion that sits like a lid on the LA basin's air. I was shocked to learn Cavendish didn't even make the time cut yesterday :-O ... and over 30 riders quit or were DQ-ed.

I find myself agreeing with Leipheimer that after all of that climbing the race should have been a true mountain-top finish, not a high-altitude flat sprint of circuits. There is a back way into Big Bear that is steeper and would offer a true mountain top finish. Let's hope it will be included in next  year's course. Multiple attacks by RadioShack failed because the grade was just not steep enough. Perhaps they could start in Pasadena instead of Palmdale, descent though the Cajon Pass, and finish coming up the back way to BB. Little things.

As part of my efforts to get my bike as optimized as possible for TT use, I tried a little experiment. I moved my downtube waterbottle rack down one hole and zip-tied the bottom hole onto the frame using a rubber pad and some vinyl tubing over the tie for its stickiness, and to protect the frame from scratching. It turns out the area down near the bottom bracket is an area of very turbulent airflow, so moving the bottle down there seemed worth a try.

It worked! The airflow from handlebar level down to the top of the cage is nice and clean - perfect for dumping the air that gets compressed and funneled down the torso. Riding into stiff headwinds I can really feel the difference. It's almost as much help as lowering the handlebars 10mm. The bike is also less susceptible to cross-winds, which I was very thankful for last night, as I was almost blown into an oncoming rider by an especially strong gust coming straight up the river into the bend I was on.

I'm sure the DT Revolution spokes were helping too, as was my pump slung beneath my seat bag instead of sticking out from the side of my frame, aerobars and a very slick Garmin mount. I have also become religious about bringing my top knee to the bar the instant I stop pedaling. As is true in most sports, the difference between the good and the great are many, many little things, not one big thing. Of course, as Peter Sagan has prooved, being 20 doesn't hurt either!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Amgen Tour of California: Stage 4

Watching the ATOC on the tracker today the terrain started to look very familiar, and then the announcer said those magic words, "Del Puerto Canyon Road", and I knew instantly that the tour was heading down the same patch of road I'd ridden on returning from Mt Hamilton on the Canyon Classic Century last year. A little checking revealed that the entire center section of today's stage was the first 60% of the Canyon Classic Century.

It was thrilling watching the entire Peleton strung out like a long piece of mozzarella cheese as the riders flew down those same rough, broken, narrow, patched roads I had struggled up going to Mt Hamilton, and flown back down returning to Patterson. The road cuts through the old crumbly rock like a gash. Walls of rock rising straight up from the road, inviting rock sizes from pebbles to boulders to fall onto a road littered with debris. Little wonder there were 3 wheel changes and 10 mechanicals on that 20 mile stretch of road.

Lets not forget the rim-shattering, bottle ejecting cattle grates, and steep, sometimes 16% grades that suck you right into hairpin turns on road so rough you have to stand in the pedals and use your calves for suspension to keep both brakes hooked up well enough to keep from flying off the end of the road - all 10ft of it - and down into canyons unprotected by guardrails. Road so narrow it has no center lane markings, but dishes out endless potholes and makes that flat, hollow sound when you roll over it. The sound of a thin crust that is loose but not yet dislodged from the layer just under it.

Then down, down, down in thrilling 3-6% grade to Frank Raines Regional Park where the road flattens into an endless false flat when climbing up from Patterson, but provides thrilling speed with just the slightest bit of power on the way down. Finally the road bends around the large stream that flows through the valley floor, where freshly planted fruit trees dot the hillside, marking the climb back out of the valley, across I-5, and into Patterson.

I remember well the "suicide squirrels" on this section of road returning near sunset - so many having lost their race across the road to oncoming trucks and cars, their crushed bodies still thrashing as I flew past. The calm, detached numbness with which I watched - induced by a long, hard day of riding - as one hit my chainring, spinning it, rolling like a log, its long body curling up into a ball instinctively as its tail flipping into my rear wheel, threatening to topple me into a heap just 10-12 miles from the finish. Then spitting him out of my wheel, looking back in vain, curious to know if any serious damage had been done, but finding he'd disappeared into the waist high tumble weeds overgrowing the edges of the road as fast as he'd appeared.

As for the race from Patterson to the finish, it offered so many plot twists I gave up trying to figure out what might happen next, or who might blow themselves up trying to do the impossible sprint to the finish, or stay out on a 1-man break. I have to say though, I think the long descent must have tempted many to greatness today, as there were endless attacks right to the end. Attacks that answered some questions for me about how any team could beat Cavendish.

Like a puncher with a substantial reach disadvantage who works over his opponent's  body until the head dies, Garmin Transitions attacked 3 times, as did Cervelo, and with nothing to gain Radio Shack left it to HTC to pull Cavendish for 3 long circuits around Modesto, disrupting their timing, and tiring the train that puts Cav in position to win 100 yards from the finish line on such flat, fast stages.

Like the defense collapsing on Kobe, everyone worked to thwart Cav today - and he almost beat them in spite of it all. In the end though, he settled for 3rd, and settled a bet I'd made with a friend. You can't beat Cav, but you can beat the body that supports that head, and he will go down with them.

This, the half-way stage of the Tour, was just fantastic. A play so full of surprises it was new in a way I've not experienced in many years. This move to May has paid such huge dividends. This is a field close to its TDF peak. A field of competitors.

It will be absolutely thrilling to see if Johan, Lance and Levi can pull off the biggest win short of the TDF. Big Bear is going to be a monster, and my guess is only 20-30 riders will be there for the final climb. The rest will have been shattered in the San Gabriel Mountains. The ATOC has arrived!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Picking My Spots

The weather has been so weird this year. It's either cold and raining, or it's blowing like a banshee and in the 80s. I love the weather this time of year, except with my allergies I really suffer when the wind blows the great outdoors into a giant pollen soup.

Long story short, I am stuck indoors again today as I will be awash in meds tomorrow riding down to see the end of the first stage of the Amgen Tour of California. Today I am pouring over a C# book and staring out the window, giving my system a break from the meds.

I did manage a nice 35 mile ride down to Discovery Park earlier in the week, and could feel the rust the next day getting out of bed. I rarely go downstream, but wanted a change, so took the detour around WBP and had a nice ride downtown.

Unfortunately, they have turned off the water to all the drinking fountains at Discovery Pk, I assume to discourage homeless people from living in the area, but as expected, they knew where to find water. Only the cyclists and those on picnics were doing without. I was a little embarrassed about what the Pro riders practicing on the ARPT might think of California - too broke to keep the drinking fountains open. Sigh......

I ended up having to cross the Guy West Bridge to get water at CSUS campus, as the detour at WBP would have had me home before the next water. Not really a big deal, except it was 80+ degrees, and I had brought only one water bottle.

So is summer finally here? Well, almost. Another cold shower on Monday. Let's hope the riders will appreciate the cooler weather and the rain will not be the "soaked to the bone" variety from last year's Amgen tour. I think the later start date this year is going to make the race even better, and perhaps, even top the Giro in popularity. The teams are certainly impressive this year!  Anyone have a pair of wool shorts for mayor Johnson?