Saturday, July 26, 2008

Charlotte's post on Loving Bikes reminds me of the small internal fuss I made a few weeks ago at T-Town, when I had to change chainrings.

I hate changing chainrings. Those pesky little bolts in the back are such a pain. And, like at T-Town, sometimes you go from a big thick chainring to a thinner-bodied one, and the chainring bolts that formerly I was able to use a dime to stabilize while tightening now required use of those obnoxious little tools that never work well.

Meanwhile you're greasying your hands and trying to see the inside of your crank spider and bumping your head against the downtube.

On the flip side, I love repacking hubs. No need to clutter up the small kitchen with a disassembled bike - it can stay on the rack in the corner. I bring the wheel to the kitchen table, line up a few cone wrenches, a small cup of degreaser, a tube of grease, and a pencil. And a beer, sometimes.

I love the slight frustration of, after repacking them, trying to find that delicate balance between play and smoothness. Tightening the cones, feeling the axle, backing off the cones, tightening again, checking, tightening the locknuts, feeling again, backing off the cones, feeling, and - yes. There it is. Smooth. All that's left is to ride it to break in that thick grease.

SDC has two interesting posts, one after the other in humorous juxtaposition. One on learning the racing ropes on club teams, and the next on getting a few more mphs on top of your top speed by using deep-dish aero rims. Reading these so soon after racing my first crit with Gui (I probably wouldn't have gone to race without his company) made me think very different things in rapid succession. Yeah, I really wish I had more opportunities to learn about racing in casual-but-committed and friendly environments! That's where it's at! followed by, Hmmm, maybe I should invest in... I mean, buy my way to the top of... Then I could win... HEY WAIT A MINUTE. That's not how I like my brain to work!

I've always valued learning from those who have done before me and have rarely considered purchasing to be a stand-in for membership, education, experience - those foundational things. But those two blog posts were toying with my mind in an amusing way (no criticism to Aki, who writes thoughtful, intelligent posts, and was in no way trying to suggest to unwitting readers like myself that they ought to race on Zipp rims because without them there's no way that they'll get higher than 6th in a small-field 4/5 crit).

Oh bikes.

I love 'em.

Today's a day off, a quiet day here in the Bronx, as I listen to music, enjoy the cicadas outside of my window (cicadas in my neighborhood? Really? Oh the joys of the sounds of my childhood!), and think about packing for my impending move.

Friday, July 25, 2008

There was no track racing this week, so instead I took G up on his offer to team up for the Rockleigh Criterium, an evening race over the GWB and up in New Jersey a little ways. We were running a bit late, but made it over the river and through the woods with about five minutes to spare. They say you're supposed to get to the line sweating, and we were.

The official warned us about some bumps on the back stretch. "Just relax and ride through it," he said, and I stopped my inner bravado from talking about the crappy roads I ride on regularly... even when on the Velodrome...

It was a smallish field of maybe thirty riders, riding around a small complex that felt like a public school - some lawns, some buildings, some fields, ringed by parking lots and access roads.

We took off at the whistle for two neutral laps, G and I at the front getting to check out the terrain. Some bumps and a grate on turn 1; a bit of sand and a close curb on turn 2. The back stretch had some awful pavement, like the official said - a few potholes and patches with some deep gouges in it, leading in to a turn that offered maybe about 18 inches of good line and a narrow path through the worst of it; once out of that and out of the shadow of the buildings, there was another short straight stretch, turn 5, and a fast, wide stretch to turn 6 and the long straightaway back to the line.

On the 3rd lap, I attacked just before the rough stuff, opening up some distance that I held for a lap until they rang the bell announcing a prime. The field caught up to me and some sprinters went for it, largely uncontested.

We settled into a rhythm; I got used to working my way around the line and getting in to good cornering position, navigating the corners, coming out of them. A few moves off the front and I realized that, much like a Flying 200, fast lines are everything. If you want to be fast you have to be efficient.

Halfway in my calves cramped, hard and painfully. I had lots of water, but suppose I was low on nutrients. I kept drinking and took opportunities to stretch.

In the second half of the race I tried to stay near the front, on the wheels of some of the big guys; I followed a few good moves but spent a bit too much time in the wind, I suppose. It's really nice to attack a bit, look behind, and see the field just rounding the corner...

My cyclocomputer was handy - I could see my speed, which helped me think about pacing myself; but more importantly I could see how much time to go before they called out 2 to go. I made sure I was near the front - the field was together but I felt like there were places where it could snap in the last couple of laps. The pace picked up but with no real attempt to catch the 3 people who were off the front. We rounded that last turn at about 31mph; I didn't ramp up my speed and other riders started to slowly swarm around me; I caught a wheel and moved up the inside, ducking branches leaning over the road, and then one person jumped in front of me - I caught a wheel and fought to keep it. I was maybe fifth wheel. Somebody else jumped and Gui, in front of me, responded. Time to go - I gritted my teeth and dropped my chain to a smaller cog and kicked, riding around my wheel and into some open road to catch 3rd in the sprint!

Needless to say I was pleased with the ending, as was G, who took 1st in the sprint and 4th overall. But I'm still learning a lot about how to race the rest of the race - when to chill, when to work, and how best to conserve energy and put myself where I want to be. And, of course, what to expect at the end of the race. I was somewhat surprised how I finished - that I stayed near the front when the sprint started, and then was able to launch from it.

I'll try to get out to one or two more of these, if I can. We'll see.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

This morning, my legs are pretty damn tired; last night, I didn't feel like they have that snap. Thunderthighs suggested that if I'm still tired from Saturday, I might not be getting balanced protein; it was a nice suggestion because he didn't suggest I start eating meat, he just suggested I eat a variety of proteins. Later, Gui suggested that I rest a bit more.

I didn't feel like I had a whole lot of pizazz in my pocket last night - well positioned but outsprinted in a "1 mile final" (why isn't this just called a 4-lap scratch race?); I raced smartly in a win and out, until I made the bone-stupid mistake of thinking the second bell was calling the end of the race, and sat up the next lap - I could have bridged up to place, but idioted myself right out of the running with that. And right now, I can't even remember what the third race was. Go figure.

But the Feature, a miss and out - that was a good race. Niki, holder of the track's Hour Record, and I decided we'd break from the start. Our reasoning was, maybe they won't chase us since the race happens from the rear. Mike said he'd block for us. We placed ourself together at the rail and stayed together during the creep, and at the whistle we took off, but our friend Gabe held on and wound up keeping the pack on our ass.

No matter; we'll make it a race. And we did, staying in front, setting a fast tempo. David, one of the Big Thigh Sprinters, stayed on our ass like glue, and we worked hard to shake him and to exhaust him, attacking and counter attacking. Any hope at winning would rely on taking him out before the final sprint, but after the field was eliminated, it was Niki, me, and David lined up with 600meters to go.

I swung high on the banking trying to shake him, and he followed me up; I put the brakes on but didn't want to lose Niki completely. David stayed at my hip and brought me to the rail. Niki had enough games and started going from the pole. I stayed high with David and then jumped - not from the best spot, but I had the banking in turn 4 to help me out. I blasted by Niki in turn 1 and hoped I had a gap on David, but I didn't - he came around me at about a million miles per hour in turn 3, and there was the race. David, huge gap, me, gap, Niki.

It was satisfying to come in second, and a satisfying race to race - we played it really well, it was tough, and we got beaten.

Next time.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I asked a local master for advice about racing at the velodrome in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania. He agreed with me that I should gear up one tooth, told me about some bumps in the 'drome's surface, and left me with one piece of advice. Bring sunscreen. Thanks, Baz Luhrman.

Of course, what I found out was the following:

*riding at T-Town is just like riding on a velodrome, which I've done.
*I would either get used to the larger, faster pack on a smaller velodrome, or I wouldn't and I'd get dropped.
*The borrowed sunscreen I used was really, really helpful, so I should have brought some. T-Town is like chilling in a giant satellite dish in the hot weather!

I drove down with two other riders, registered, changed into my bibs in the locker rooms, and stolled to the infield like the new kid at school, wondering where to sit in the cafeteria where I wouldn't make a faux pas that was invisible to me but blatantly obvious to everybody else. Fortunately, we were early enough to stake a claim to some space under the tent, and set about reintroducing ourselves to other riders while we waited for the peewee program to wrap up. Riders were gathering and I noticed many folks who I'd met at the rare weekend events at Kissena.

I geared up to 50x15 and went out for some quick laps, doing a few sprint efforts and feeling the way that, at speed, you feel the G forces pulling you down. It was nice to see that it was very easy to hold a line in the pole - but later, during the Miss and Out, I learned it's much harder to hold a line coming our of turn 2 midtrack.

First up was a 5k scratch race - a bit longer than scratch races at Kissena. The cat 4 field rolled almost 30 riders deep - much bigger than the 15-person fields I'm used to at Kissena, which on top of being longer, is wider and slower. I stuck to my "unfamiliar territory" plan - stay near the front, ride aggressively, and figure out which wheels to grab. It worked out pretty well - pace stayed high and I stayed in front, positioning myself well to lauch a good sprint in the last lap which netted me 6th. I could have gotten 4th, but was momentarily sketched out by another rider's behavior with about 100m to go, and had to back off and resume sprinting - it left enough time for 4 and 5 to get away, and they had a wheel's length on me at the line.

Next up was a 6k points race with 3 sprints. Unlike at Kissena, the final sprint wasn't worth extra points - too bad, cause I rock final sprints after the Studs have tired themselves out. The pack was strong enough to exhaust itself reeling in the people who hurt themselves in the first two sprints, and getting in position for the 3rd found me 3rd wheel in a 3-person breakaway - thanks to a strong effort bridging up to it. With about 130m to go, first wheel had the sprinter's lane, 2nd wheel started coming around, and I had to kick hard to come around both of them. They were sprinting each other and not me, and I was able to nip First wheel, who was also nipped by Second wheel - who took first. So, second in points for that third sprint.

Last up was a miss and out. I like miss and outs, and I'm good at them, but at T-Town, it was a different story. Very different pack dynamics. In the backstretch, riders go wide and surge up, and then come back down cutting off people who are accelerating. Everybody swings up on the home stretch, squeezing people against the rail, and then dive back down toward the pole to try to grab a wheel - a whole lot of touching going on, and whole lot of not-looking. I didn't think it was safe, though I stayed alive until there were 12 to go. I got bumped, and while I was cooling off on the apron, another rider gestured to the field still alive and said, "well, there's the who's-who of the cat 4s, for sure," and I responded with scowly bravado, "then how come i'm not out there?" The miss-and-out was definitely the most challenging race due to the track and the field - I would have loved to stay in it until 6 to go and contest for a weary sprint with a smaller field.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my performance in the points race had netted me 5th in the omnium, which qualified me for the B Feature, a 12 lap snowball. Steve, one of the collegiate kids, broke to grab that first point for the first lap, and I what-the-hell'ed after him; sucked his wheel for a few seconds and went right around him to take 2. The pack was just noodling along, so I put my head down and went around again for 3. They were picking up the pace, but I thought, hey, why not? Put in a good effort and got 4. One more! I thought to myself, but I couldn't get 5 - I was caught on turn 4. I spent the rest of the race desperately trying to grab a wheel, and then was spit out the back. Alas. Well, it was nice to hear my name over the loud speaker while I was out there pushin' it.

And I heard my name over the loudspeaker again - announcing the top three, with me as the third, and going on to inform us that we qualified for the A Feature, a devil's scratch.

I like devil's scratches.

There was no time to rest. I went right back to the rail. 20+ riders were whittled down to 10, and I stayed in. Maybe it was because it was the last race of the day, or maybe it was because there were a lot fewer cat 4s in there, but nobody was taking stupid chances. After staying in until we got to the 7 lap scratch, I sucked wheel as we went around and around at a very quick clip indeed, and came across the line with nary a sprint remaining in me, in 9th place.

Not bad.

Actually I'm pretty pleased with the results, but I wish my traveling buddies did well, too - N. had more than his fair share of mechanicals on his lovely bicycle. He only got one race in. He did, however, get lots of shutter time, so I look forward to providing multiple glorious shots of the races at T-Town.

Next up - Wednesdays at Kissena. I missed them this past week, thinking it was going to thunderstorm and get cancelled. It did rain - after the races concluded. Alas.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I've been getting myself into the Tour de France. Here's what I'm thinking. Stage 3's breakaway that stayed away for 200k was wonderful to watch - a great change from Stage 2's long breakaway that was caught with about 2k to go. I loved seeing Chavanel desperately try to stay away, but alas. I'd like to see him involved in more breakaways. Ditto for Feillu, the tiny guy who almost took yesterday's stage with great acceleration, but was caught and passed by the Dumoulain.

I don't really have favorites, but I would like to see more of Kim Kirchen, who did well in stages 1 and 2 under tough circumstances. I'd also like to see a couple of awesome bunch sprints to see Hushovd and McEwan hit some absurd speeds. And of course the mountain stages should be exciting, because it's a chance to see some really interesting riding - suffering up hills, screaming descents, and course layouts that will tear the pack to pieces. 200k flat stages are a bit boring to me - hence my always rooting for the breakaway.

Also, doping. Here's the thing. I just don't care. Officials being assholes is more damaging to the sport than dangerous tradition. Hopefully this tour won't see teams getting booted all the way through the race, hopefully it will be sensible and stable.

My favorite bar, Lakeside Lounge, shoes Versus coverage between 5 and 7. I'm hoping to be able to make it there a couple of days a week to watch the coverage. I've found some streaming online content, which is good if I miss the end of a stage (cause come on, the end's the most exciting. As track sprinter world champ from the 1980s said of road racing, "I don't know why you guys take so long to get to the last 200 meters.") but kind of a pain - no Phil Leggett, and crappy quality making it difficult to geek out over bikes. So Lakeside is preferred.


Thursday, July 03, 2008

In track racing, there are races that play right into my strengths, and races where I struggle just to hang on. It was a disappointing night - a 6 lap tempo and a 7 lap point-a-lap. Fast, short races that favor the Big Thigh Guys and left me struggling to hold on. Longer races - eight, nine, ten laps - and I'd be able to sit back, recover, bridge up to the leaders and launch an attack. But not ones so short, and I rode around the velodrome, not placing.

There was also a scratch race of unknown distance, which was fast and fun but an uncomfortable jumble of they-should-have-known-better bike handling in the last 200m that disrupted my sprint.

So it wasn't the best night of racing, but there was a Devil's Scratch for the Feature. Half miss and out, half scratch.

What did you say? That race has my name all written over it?

I agree.

I wound up some sprints to keep myself alive through the eight or so laps of devil-take-the-hindmost and settled in for the scratch section. The six of us were in a fast, tight paceline. There were a few attacks to keep things alive - we were all breathing ragged and rolling really fast. With just under two to go, gui put on a burst of acceleration and I struggled to hold his wheel, but had room to accelerate up the inside once people had responded to hsi attack. The field was going fast as we came around to the bell, and I was in front, looking at Crihs and David (a strong cat 5 and a cat 4 sprinter), on my wheel, wondering who was going to go first - I wanted a wheel.

No dice.

So I jumped hard off the front, an I'll-try-this move that had the cards stacked against me - no banking, no drafting, just me and the guys behind me. I gritted my teeth and put my weight into the pedal stroke and on turn two I hazarded a glance behind me and I had a gap. I tucked my head down and put on my game face, kept the pace high, and rode around to the finish line uncontested.

Some races are just yous to win.

Others you have to keep figuring out how in the hell you're going to beat the competition.

If I were racing more of the latter, I'd get really, really lazy about track racing.

Oh, and I almost forgot: