Saturday, September 20, 2008


Still injured. That's unchanged from the last post - I don't have any update except that the splint is still on the wrist, and I've not been on the bike for 2 weeks.

That being said, I've had to consider alternatives. I've mainly tried to just take some time off, which is always hard to do. But I'm hoping to use the opportunity to build a good off-season program so that when I am able to be on the bike again, I can have a plan. This will involve both time on the bike (long, base miles) and weights. I have not done weights for many years, since my college crew days in fact. But given my goals of improving my sprinting next year, this is critical.

There are a variety of ways to approach this, but many people I know of are using the Russian Kettlebells approach (kettlebell pictured above). More on this later, but I have to actually pick up the kettelbells for the program, and until the wrist heals I can't do that. But until then, I am hoping to start w/ a standard weight program next week.

The real upside w/ all of this is that I have real time to spend with the family. The commitments of racing and training can be demanding, and I do feel like this time off brings the equation back into balance a little bit. I have time to go on hikes, and I'm actually thinking of getting a bike trailer to take Jack around in - I think he's old enough now.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Injury Time Out

With the continuing wrist injury keeping me off the bike, I've been thinking about the disabled list. All sports have a disabled list - football, basketball, baseball - they all have athletes who miss a game, a week, a month, etc. Tom Brady is out for the Pat's whole season, Albert Pujols is being encouraged to just end his season for some surgery for his injuries, and the list goes on. Soccer players everywhere seem to be injured every minute or two, but they get up when it's clear no penalty will be called.

Cycling seems to have its share of injuries like any sport, but they tend toward being much more dramatic. Everyone knows Lance's story - it's about as dramatic as they come. Now that I'm stuck on the trainer in the garage (2 or 3 months earlier than planned), I'm watching old Greg LeMond races on DVD. LeMond almost died in a hunting accident in 1986 after his 1st Tour win, and it took him 3 years to come back fully.

Floyd Landis had the decay-by-the-day hip a couple of years ago. Tom Danielson, once thought to be the next coming of Lance and former Lance teammate/protege, saw a whole season derailed by intestinal parasites he picked up from rain-soaked roads in an early season Indonesian race.

Stuart O'Grady, the 2006 winner of Paris-Roubaix, survived one of the most spectacular crashes in Tour history with broken ribs, vertebrae and a punctured lung. His season was over - he didn't race again until the next year.

George Hincapie, another of Lance Armstrong's long-time teammates, missed yet another chance at winning Paris-Roubaix in 2006 when his steering tube snapped mid-race (bike seen above), leaving him holding handlebars that were attached to nothing. Separated shoulder, a couple of months out.

Tyler Hamilton, even if he was a doper extraordinaire at the time, did manage one of the most stunning feats of playing injured in history - he broke a collarbone in the 1st week of the Tour (2003 I think) and completed the race, winning a mountain stage. Enduring the pain led him to grind his teeth so much he needed caps on all of them by the end. Doping can make you faster, but it doesn't take away pain. What he did is just unbelievable...even LA called him a "tough dude".

The list goes on - every year in many races I see bike racers flying into curbs, crashing in a turn, running into the back of a car (Jan Ullrich did that a few years ago). And every year I think to myself - in the [insert professional sports league name here], I doubt they'd play injured like these guys do.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Lance v 2.0

Unless you've been in a hole w/ bin Laden for the past day or so, the fact that Lance is planning a return to professional cycling should not be news.

This brings about a series of thoughts for me:

1) I'm kind of over the Lance thing
2) I was convinced he had doped, probably a lot, back in the day. But I'm OK w/ that, as it was the price of entry at the time and it sure was fun to watch
3) Now #2 is called into question, as Lance has committed to be completely and thoroughly tested, and will publicly post all blood values throughout his season

Regarding #1, Lance undoubtedly spawned many would-be cyclists' interest in the sport. But I have found a greater appreciation for the sport since he left. With his complete focus on the Tour de France, most of the US came to see professional cycling as a one-race sport. But there's so much more to it than that, and so many more personalities are competing now. They're all very intriguing to me. And the Tour has been interesting w/out Lance and his dominating teams. People actually look tired now (no doping, it seems), and no day's results are guaranteed. Learning more about the Spring Classics, smaller stage races, etc. has been fun. Lance used to compete in (and win) these races before his re-orientation to focus on the Tour. But his super-stardom came much later, and most people don't know about that part of his career. Amstel Gold? UCI World Champion at the age of 21? Not many know about those wins.

I suppose it's a little like a recent Internal Pigdog post on serious vs. casual runners - if all you know is Lance, then you're probably not a real fan. Cycling is a sport with a long tradition, many races and a lot of interesting quirks. But who can turn away someone who can bring the spotlight back to it? The sport needs Lance and the sponsors he can bring, especially in a year when multiple, long-standing teams have folded b/c of sponsorship pull-outs. It will be good theatre.

A Cycling Identity

It's been a while since I posted, but I've been thinking about a range of things now that the season is -officially- over. The criterium practices are now off my schedule (although they do continue for those who seek torture) and I'm just riding for fun at the moment. Aside from the fact that I managed to totally screw up my wrist in a mountain bike crash last weekend, my cycling scene is kind of low-key right now.

The thing to consider now is, believe it or not, my objectives for next season. I made some good progress this year and probably am stronger now than at any point in my years of riding. But to move to the next level, I have to think about more focused training. This brings up the question - what am I training for? What kind of races would I do well in?

The answer to this question is not always self-evident. Because cycling is very much about efficiency and endurance, body type and natural abilities/genetics play into success. Because I'm a relatively tall and thin person, I can climb pretty well. I don't have a huge aerobic engine, but I can time trial OK. I used to have very strong sprinting legs, years ago when I was rowing, but I'm not sure they are great for that purpose these days. All of this should make me a "rouleur" - someone who has a chance in many kinds of races in different conditions. Over the past couple of years I have kept my eye on professional "rouleurs" like George Hincapie and Jens Voigt. They're tough, they excel in different conditions.

The truth is that I'm not small enough to be a good climber - I learned that lesson when I was dropped by miniature people on the 2 mile climb at Devil's Punchbowl. I'm not a top-flite time trialist - I always end up in the top half or top third at the Piru TT, but that's about it. And while I can stay up front, I'm not strong enough to get away from a group on a rolling road course. So that leaves one place for success - criteriums. And that means sprinting. So I'm planning on gearing my training for success in that area next year. Sprints scare the $%@^^ out of me sometimes, but they can be fun. I suppose I need to start paying more attention to Mark Cavendish.

More on the training program as it evolves...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A season in review

Well, it's only the end of July, but in my mind the racing season in nearly over. My goal back in January was to complete 10 Cat 5 races this year, and earn an upgrade to Cat 4. With Jack being born on January 7th, I can't believe I was able to get a race in the first week of February. But these Cat 5 races are very early in the morning, something that I won't miss - the 5am wakeup calls are never that fun.

Moving to Cat 4 opens a multitude of possibilities for racing this year and next - I will now be able to do a number of races that require a Cat 4 license. Masters 35+, Cat 4, Cat 4 40+ (my racing age will be 40 next year - yikes!), Cat 4 Elite, etc. I will likely avoid the 35+ races, as they typically include categories 1-4, so you see ex-pros, ex-Olympians, current national champions, the list goes on. The big challenge about racing in Southern California is the wide range of talent. I'm just getting started w/ this racing gig, but keeping up w/ those guys is a challenge I'm going to have to work up to. I train w/ many of those guys, and it's a different level of fitness and strength.

As for the season, it was one of mixed success. I heard often that the main idea in the Cat 5 season is just to learn the basics - ride in a big, competitive group; learn to judge sprints; meter your efforts efficiently; work with teammates where possible (hard to do in 5's!). My "resume" is posted below, but I think I suffered in several races from being impatient. I learned that I'm a pretty strong rider compared to the guys I was racing, but given the advantage of the draft one has to be 40% stronger than them to ride away solo. I tried this several times, only to be swallowed up by the peloton at the line! But at least it's a lesson learned, albeit the hard way, and I can't ever complain about being aggressive.

The last 3 races this season offer up the lesson of patience. The Paramount Criterium, run the July 4th weekend, was a race run on a very long 1 mile+ square course w/ 4 turns. Nobody wanted to work, to ride with any pace. So I did it myself, w/ the help of some other impatient guys. I figured that if I was 1st into turn 3 on the last lap, I'd be able to hold off everyone. I was 1st into turn 3, but I was passed by other guys going into and past turn 4, leaving me w/ a 14th place finish. I was easily strong enough for a top 3 or 5, but this bad strategy killed those chances.

The next weekend, I tried the patient approach at Long Beach. I literally sat in the group the whole time, about 5-10 riders back. On the last lap, I made sure I was in the outside position coming into the last 2 turns, and just followed the lead guy into the final straight for a 3rd place finish (a very fast sprinter overtook me!). It was the easiest race of the year. Lesson learned, right?

Well, the last Cat 5 race for me this year was a road race. A very beautiful location north of the Santa Ynez Valley (maybe you saw it in the movie Sideways) and a rolling course had me convinced that I could really do well in this race. The final straight was a long 1km+ slight uphill run, and I made a move w/ about 500m to go to catch the 2nd place guy dangling 20m in front of the group (1st place was too far up - bad decision by all of us to let him go). I had a clear look at the finish line and was convinced I would finish 2nd or 3rd - I even had enough time to really think through this result! But I got swarmed in the last 10m and finished 11th or 12th! Again, the impatience strikes.

So a season of many lessons, the biggest of which is that bike racing is a complicated sport w/ many dimensions. I'm looking forward to getting more of it right in the future. I wish I had known of this sport when I was younger - I would have spent those years learning all these things! I still am not sure what kind of rider/racer I am or can be, but more on that in a future post...

Here are the final Cat 5 results for 2008:

Race - date (placing)

1. Mothballs Criterium - 2/3/08 (crash in front of me on last lap = broken chainring and seatpost)

2. Long Beach Criterium - 2/17/08 (14)

3. Garrett Lemire Mem. - 4/13/08 (46 - 9th Cat 5, as this was a Cat 4-5 combined race)

4. Torrance Criterium - 4/20/08 (8)

5. Devil's Punchbowl RR - 4/26/08 (27)

6. Barry Wolfe Mem. - 5/26/08 (DNF - broken pedal)

7. San Fernando Grand Prix - 6/14/08 (12)

8. Paramount Criterium - 7/5/08 (14)

9. Long Beach Criterium - 7/13/08 (3)

10. Sisquoc RR - 7/19/08 (12)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Two-Race Weekend

Two races in one weekend - I haven't attempted that before, but I thought I'd give it a go. Originally I signed up for these races separately, not realizing they were on the same weekend. But I was off to San Fernando for their GP and then to Glendale for a criterium. Both are pretty close by usual standards (less than 40 miles).

Saturday, Race #1 - I got there early, expecting the usual 4-square course, etc. But this course ran through downtown San Fernando, starting in front of an old bank, and making its way around downtown in a P-shaped circuit. Something new for me. Anyway, I've noticed that the Cat 5 field of late is slightly less "amped" than earlier in the year - I think a lot of guys have moved up already, and the remaining competitors are not quite as intense.

The race was not too tough really - I worked to stay at the front for the whole race, and stayed generally up in the top 5 for 90% of the time. But I didn't feel that great Saturday. I had a really slow week on the bike, opting to ride to work a couple of times, and didn't have any real interval workouts. I have really been trying to get home earlier this week, as Jack is now eating actual food (a big step!). I would rather be at home than out on the bike when we feed him. All this translated into some stale legs for much of the race. Still, I was able to stick up front for the whole race.

The last lap, I was about 4th or 5th wheel and saw that one of my teammates was sitting second wheel on the final stretch before the finish straight. I knew he was having a good day, so I put myself in domestique mode and went to the front and nailed it down the whole straight. I think I got the field pretty lined out, and I came into the final hairpin in 1st place. My teammate was second, and did a lot less work than I did getting there. I burned a lot of matches getting to that hairpin, and I didn't have much left for the sprint. I managed 12th, while my teammate landed 3rd. I'm sure he would have done well w/out my help, but I believe he was set up nicely by the work I did. I would have definitely been in the top 10 (maybe top 5 or 7) w/out that little stunt, but it felt good to try something different. I'm still annoyed that I don't have good top-end speed, but given that I've cut short (or outright missed) just about every workout since February I can't be too upset about that. Next year I am going to have a much more specific plan.

Sunday, Race #2 - 9:30am, convenient start time and a straight 40 minute shot to Glendale were looking good. I left the house at 7:45 as planned, drove about 2 blocks thinking about the fact that it's my first Father's Day and Jack was at home w/ his little smile...without me. So I turned around and went home. I just couldn't manage to get comfortable w/ making racing a priority on this day. There's only one first Father's Day, and I'm glad I made the decisions I did today.

I could have done well today, as my legs felt great, and the course was the usual easy square. But there will be more opportunities.

3 more races to go until Cat 4 upgrade.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sunday is No-Race Day

Sunday is usually race day, but not this week. I was scheduled to race in Dana Point, at what would have been a great course for me. At least I think it would have been good - I am not completely sure what a good course is for me or what my "identity" is as a racer. That's a subject for a future post.

Because Dana Point is 100 miles away, Jack is not sleeping well and we had a bunch of workers at the house on Saturday, it was a scratch for the racing this weekend. I figured this was a low probability race, so it's not too disappointing. I had a chance to head to Piru for the Sunday time trials, but I opted to sleep in and hang out w/ the family for the morning. That seemed like a better alternative.

I have a big weekend coming up in 2 weeks - back to back races on Saturday and Sunday. I've never done that, so it will be interesting to see how things go. I'm anxious to get back to it and have a decent placing after the pedal fiasco last week.

Because of the workers' early arrival, I did a 40 mile/4500ft loop solo. I always imagine these solo rides are better training than a group - no drafting, no waiting for slower people, just 2 1/2 hours of riding w/ no stops. It felt good, although I rode the last big climb w/out the new insoles in my shoes. They are built to counteract my pronation, which is great and will be more efficient eventually, but I only have a couple of days riding in them. I could feel that my knee was a bit tweaky after the first climb, so I took the insoles out to avoid inflaming anything important. I suppose this week I'll do hard rides w/out them, and recovery or short rides w/ them. Given that I have probably 10,000 miles in my current setup, I should introduce change slowly. Incidentally, they were fit by a great "physio" (as they're called in in the pro ranks) who works with many ProTour riders and Rock Racing. So I imagine they should be of good quality.