Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

I couldn't make the race this week, but two brief amusing events from last week's:

* We've finished the stage 1 road race, and everyone's heading back to the staging area. Though it was seriously windy, everyone rode a pretty safe race; I only saw a couple of minor, run-off-the-road type falls. On the way back to the cars, three teammates were chatting right in front of me. One guy looks right but goes left, and takes knocks himself and his teammate down. This was the "worst" crash I saw all race! Thankfully, they were both fine, but the can't-look-where-he's-going guy did bang his knee pretty hard.

* Stage 2's circuit race is pretty twisty, and some people try to be helpful by calling out as they're passing. On the second lap, I notice a guy coming up behind me, and he says "on your right!"

"Uh, thanks, but that's left, dude."

"Oh, crap, sorry."

No harm, no foul, but it was sure funny.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Stuff I do like:

I've got a lot of pet peeves of the day, as it were, and plenty of them for today,.

However, as it was a perfectly pleasant sunny friday, I'd like to briefly describe some of the things that I do like. No, it ain't going in a bulleted list.

Kashi Go Lean Crunch!: Despite my usual objection to punctuation marks in titles, this is the best stuff ever. With soy milk, it could just be my ambrosia. The more hardcore among us, like Ryan, Eben, and Holly, go in for the standard golean cereal, which has no punctuation mark and less sweetness. But it's still pretty crunchy.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Full review to follow, but this is a sweet book. Also, Ryan, in searching for some information on this book, I found a link to a class that the UC Santa Barbara taught on hypertextual fiction, with House of Leaves

Scones. Scones are great. No, those things that they serve at Starfuckers aren't scones, but they'll do in a pinch.

Cascadian Late Spring Weather: cloudy in the morning so I don't wake up to glaring, stuffy death, clearing to an upper-sixties day. In cycling terms, this means shorts-and-jersey, pack the arm and knee warmers just in case type weather.

Manual Transmissions: Cascadia, to speak nothing of the current form of the United States, is big enough that you'll need to ride in a car at least much of the time. That's fine, but it's got to be a stick. Automatics are for losers. I can rant about them later, but for the moment, I simply must point out that they're good.

I'm not going to get all weak-kneed about other Things I Like, such as Good Poetry, Midnight Wandering, and ... no, no, stop that! And no singing!

Be seeing you.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Last weekend, I competed in the Willamette Valley stage race. I raced the lowly Cat 4 event, but the competition was fierce nonetheless, as the race drew strong riders from a wide area.

The first two stages -- a flat, windy road stage and a short circuit race -- passed without incident. I finished in the pack in both races, saving my energy, however, I made a mistake that I feared would cost me any reasonable G.C. chances on the first stage. My biggest weakness in races is my inexperience, and I quickly lose confidence banging elbows and shoulders for position. I found myself shuffled towards the back of the pack for the finishing sprint, and I accelerated to what I believed to be a decent pack finish. Unfortunately, a few wheels in front of me, there was a small gap, and the referees decided it was enough to be worth a time gap. Accordingly, my group was posted fifteen seconds behind the leaders.

It's the morning of the third and final road stage of the race -- the more experienced categories also got a time-trial, but for whatever reason that competition wasn't on offer for the Cat 4's. This is by far the most important stage of the race: while only 80 km, (115 for the upper categories) the stage featured two major sequential climbs in the middle portion of the race, and a short, steep uphill finish. For the first time, I'm not ridiculously nervous on the start line. I know what I have to do, and I know I'm a decent climber.

A long neutral rollout builds the excitement for the peloton, and as soon as the official's car zooms away from the group, there's a strong acceleration from the front of the field. Things settle down into a rhythm fairly shortly, and I refuse to allow myself to drop lower than tenth wheel: I don't want any attacks getting off the front and escaping me.

A few rollers and a short descending section take us to the base of the first climb, and I start warming it up. I take the front, accelerating up the slight hills, forcing the pace to something I hope will begin to unstick a few people. Perhaps it's showing my hand a little early, though, as until we get to the top of the hill, no one's interested in coming through, and I don't want the pace to slow. No matter.

I let two other local riders lead the descent through the woods. It's beautiful out here! In no time we're at the base of the biggest climb of the stage race, and it's time to go. Since there's over thirty km to the finish following the climb, I decide it's not worth attacking and trying to solo to the finish. Instead, I click into the 21-tooth cog and smoothly accelerate into a hard tempo.

When I get into a rhythm climbing, my head tips towards my right shoulder, my eyes close partway, and I settle into the pain zone. We're out of the trees, onto the switchbacks of the mountain, and as the road steepens I need to briefly break my rhythm to shift down a cog. Besides that, I'm not paying attention to anything else: not the views nor the field behind me. This is the kind of sustained suffering that I can handle.

I see the lead car accelerate away around the final hairpin of the climb, and at last I take a glance over my shoulder. A few lengths back, there's one rider. Perhaps fifteen seconds down the hill, a second is gasping for air. There's no one else in sight. A slight false flat, a leg-burning final rise, and we're on the descent.

Descending is NOT my specialty, I'll admit it. The shady, wooded mountain roads are thankfully free of gravel and potholes, and we're FLYING down it. Maybe I should be glad I don't have a computer on my bike to see see how fast we're going, but if it were a training ride, I'd be hitting the brakes.

No brakes.

We get to the bottom of the descent, and over the series of small rollers that follow I trade pulls with the rider who's followed me. Once we're back out onto the open road, I know there's about thirty kilometers of flat until the finishing section: a gradual climb, another flat, and a short, steep hill. Unfortunately for a two-man break, there's a headwind.

The follow car pulls alongside us and gives us an update: one rider ten seconds back, a group of about a dozen at a minute and a half. We work together, going reasonably fast but not all out. My companion doesn't want to pull at full strength, wanting to save something for the finish once we are caught by the chase behind us. While I'd like to try to stay away, I'm not about to burn myself out and let him sit on.

Two becomes three as the rider behind us joins, but he's pretty spent. About halfway through the flat section, the chase catches us, and we become one break of fifteen. A few attacks immediately follow, but after a couple of K it all settles down into a rotating paceline -- we're going FAST.

Is this really a Cat 4 field?

Sure, we're not going fifty k an hour, but well over forty. The follow car comes up alongside us again to tell us the main field -- what's left of it -- is far out of contention.

The last ten kilometers of flat roads feels like an eternity in spite of our speed; I'm tired from all of my efforts, but I'm sure most of the break is, too. At last we can see the finishing climb in the distance, and the car rushes ahead and pulls off. This is it.

As the we approach the final sharp turn, the paceline disintegrates as everyone fights for position. Again, I'm hurt by my lack of aggressiveness; I'm probably tenth wheel going into that corner, and the leaders accelerate rapidly off the front.

The last climb is only about 750 metres, but at ten per cent I know it's too long for one sprint. I shift into my small ring, find a comfortable gear, upshift twice, and go as hard as I can. Sure enough, the group in front of me rapidly decelerates with 300 to go, and though I'm wheezing and seeing stars, I haven't slowed yet. Riders are cracking and legs are giving out. Time to go anaerobic. I pass half a dozen riders, and ahead of me is my original breakaway companion, a gap, and two more riders.

I know it's too late. I grab my big ring, stand, pass the rider in front of me, just a few meters before the line.

Third on the stage isn't bad, and ninth on GC for my first stage race isn't so bad, either, but I can't help but walk away from it saying "if only" again.

They have "anger management" courses.

Do they have "aggressiveness training?"

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Look, I've got a lot on my mind.

Too much to spend a lot of time blogging.

Let me just start with my pet peeve of the day: Fractional cents.

Some people don't seem to understand that $0.50 means fifty cents.

How many local businesses do you see sporting signs like "such and such a product: .50 cents?"

I'm tempted to try to snag two of them for a penny.

Listen, folks, half pennies went out a long time ago. I'm frankly suprised to find that Great Britain minted them as late as 1965.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Race Report 8 April 2006

First, a moment of silence for the teammate of a good friend of mine, who suffered a heart attack and passed away in a criterium elsewhere this weekend.


A bit over 80km of racing featured a rolling circuit with a total of about 1100m of elevation gain; no long, sustained climbs were featured, but two serious “bergs” on each lap would be sure to split the field. It had been cool and grey all day, but on the start line, it began to drizzle. By the first lap, it would be a light but ceaseless rain that lasted the length of the race.

As we’d be doing six full laps, plus a portion of a seventh to finish atop a small rise, I expected the group would take things pretty easy for the first portion of the race. As we went up the first climb, my legs were still feeling the hard effort from the unofficial race I’d done two days ago, so I sat in the middle of the pack to save my energy and waited. It almost cost me any chance of a decent finish.

On the start of the second lap, the pack begins to string out from hard effort at the front, but the road is still too crowded to easily advance. As we get over the first climb, a strong attack off the front sends about five riders up the road. Two more join them, and they quickly gain an advantage. Still mired in the middle on the peloton, I watch everyone hesitate, looking at each other. The two strongest teams present have someone up the road, and everyone else is disjointed. The break eases away as I struggle to get to the front, expending too much energy just fighting through traffic.

By the next climb, they have at least a minute’s advantage, and I briefly think it’s over. Then I kick myself – while only a figurative kick, it’s pretty hard. “NO.”

I put my head down and launch one of the strongest attacks I’ve seen from myself. I hammer up the hill, tuck low and hammer down the back, turn myself inside out on the into-the-headwind false flat of the backstretch. I looked up and saw the break no more than 15 seconds up the road. A glance below my arm revealed no one. Wow. One more, I tell myself, and you’re on.

This is the start of the third lap, and I power up the next climb with everything I have. I pass two riders who either failed to bridge or are coming back from the break as I continue to push myself into the red. By the bottom of the descent, I find myself tagged onto the back of the break, and that alone feels like a victory. I rest in the back for a couple of turns, then begin taking turns in the rotation. There are eight riders in the break, and I notice one team has three riders, and another has two.

For the next two laps, there are a couple of small attacks, but the team with three riders controls the break pretty well. The follow car comes up beside us to tell us we’ve got two minutes, then three. I cannot even see the peloton behind us. At this point, I’m sure we’re going to stay away. I remind myself to refuel, fight my lacking handling skills as the break continues to rotate on the long, shallow descents. With two laps to go I take a slight dig on the second climb; not a full-on attack, but an acceleration to size up the break.

Two riders come after me in short order; the rest are left gasping. One of them cracks and drops out completely. At the start of the last lap, I’m at the back of the rotation when the rider in second wheel attacks hard; his teammate on the front does nothing. Out of the saddle, I’m going up the climb in my big ring as I take it anaerobic one more time to hook on this guy’s wheel. The legs burn, and I feel drained. Sprinting isn’t going to be easy. Another rider has taken my wheel, and it’s a group of four rocketing through the final flat. As we crest the final climb, it’s clear that it’s between the four of us. The final few kilometers of the race go quickly, and we’re at the 1k to go sign. The follow car pulls off, we turn down the finishing road – a small climb we’ve yet to see – and as we hit the 200m to go sign, the sprint begins.

I hold back a moment, thinking I’ve only got perhaps 100m of uphill sprint in my tired legs, but then I see the line is much closer than I expected. I dig in, passing one of the riders, but the first two – teammates who hosted the race – are too far ahead.

All in all, third place is better than most, but still not a win. I re-ride the last “200 meters” and find, according to my cyclocomputer, that it’s 110. Oh, well. I later find out that over a third of the field simply dropped out, and that the break finished with about five minute’s advantage on what remained of the peloton. The winners and I exchange congratulations, and I’m satisfied with myself if a little frustrated.

Now’s where I wish I had a soigneur at the finish with some dry clothes; I’m shivering like mad as I ride the 4km, mostly downhill, back to the staging area.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Championship Games,

Or, I Can’t Drop Them All.

Today is Thursday, and that means the hill day local lunchtime hammerfest ride. “Ah-ha!” though I, “I’ll give ‘em what for!” I cruised out the 25 km to meet up with the club, and the nicer weather saw about 20 riders show up. I’m not on their team, but these guys are all really nice folks who don’t seem to mind.

This is a serious “unofficial race.” The first few ks are a warm-up (for those who haven’t already), but after the turnaround from the MUT, it’s on. No regrouping, a set route, first person in wins nothing at all.

The first hill of the day is Highway 16, a moderate grade that gets a bit steeper towards the end, followed by a right turn and a shorter, very steep section. Then it’s a few rollers, one more short leg-burner, and another right turn for a twisty descent back to the path. As the grade of 16 begins, I launch off the front in my typical high-cadence, in-the-saddle style. Just rev the motor and go – it’s not vicious enough to blow people off my wheel right there, but it gets me into a good rhythm for the climb, and typically I see people go red trying to keep up, and then fall off the pace.

This happens to most of the riders; only two have joined me: one of the fast guys on the team and another hanger-on that I haven’t seen before. I motion the team guy behind me to take a pull; he does, but it’s not at the pace I’d like. I come back around, put my head down, and accelerate. I glance under my arm to see that he’s been dropped, but one more rider is stubbornly there, in a blue-and-red jersey. Hrm. I accelerate again, but it’s to no avail. He’s stuck there.

I flick my elbow and indicate he’d better take a turn. At that point, it begins to sink in that his jersey is not just blue and red. It’s blue, with red and white stripes and some stars on it. So are his shorts. And his socks.


This means one of two things, folks: VERY presumptuous, or national champion. Guess which one this guy is?

He leads the right turn over the steeper section, skillfully navigating a sidewalk and large potholes that leave me gapped for a moment. I hang back on the wheel, go into the red for a moment, and accelerate out of the saddle. Mouth open, The Champ comes right behind me, and we trade pulls to the top.

He shows me the skills 20 years of road racing gives you on the steep descent, and I lose a few seconds as we’re spat out at 75 km/hr into a roundabout, and from there, I’m chasing to close the gap. He’s full steam, too, and that few seconds’ space stubbornly remains. I almost close it over the next gradual rise, then the transition onto the sidewalk and a hairpin back onto the MUT forces it out again. I don’t close it down before the “finish line,” but the rest of the guys are out of sight.

That was hard. The employer-based team’s long lunch is over, and the Champ and I roll on down the road, chatting about the source of his jersey (Masters’ Road Race, 2005) and how long I’ve been cycling (About 18 months). We hit a few more serious hills that are “on the way” home, pushing the pace hard, then split off at the top of the canyon. He’s impressed, he says, and would love to train together again sometime soon.

Very cool.
The difference a year makes, and, thank you, spring:

On yesterday’s ride, I was doing my “grand tour climbing” repeats – by that, I mean climbing fast, but not over the limit, the type of climbing you could do all day if you had to handle the Col d’Aubisque or the Tourmalet or something. I’m fortunate to live in a fairly hilly area, but it’s a longer drive than it’s worth to get to serious mountains, so going up and down the canyon roads sufficies. It’s about 500 feet of elevation gain per trek. This particular way up the hill is not so steep – right about 2k long, so the average grade is about 5-6%. I’m on my way down after 3 repeats, ecstatic about spring finally having arrived.

It’s sixty-two degrees out, and it means I can get by on shorts, a jersey, and arm warmers, which get rolled down up the climbs. I contemplated the number of articles of clothing I had to wear in February, when it was 40 degrees out and raining. Toes-up, we’ve got socks (2), shoes (2), booties (2), leg warmers (2), shorts, undershirt, jersey, vest, arm warmers (2), glove liners (2), full-fingered gloves (2), hat, helmet, and maybe a rain jacket over that. That’s 21 pieces.

In conditions like that, I think I spend more time getting READY for a ride than many do exercising in a day. Yuck.

As I’m descending the bumpy, concrete-and-chip-seal road, about two thirds of the way down I pass a rider on the way up. Another rider! Amazing things, the weather will do. He’s a middle-aged gentleman on a red Merckx, and waves to me as he clicks out a decent rhythm up the hill.

I need to get the rest of the way to the bottom and get turned around, which means he’s got about 2 minutes head start on me up the hill. I take some pride in being able to think “no problem.” I lean into the climb a bit more, unzip my jersey, roll down my arm warmers, and notch the speedometer up to 28km / hr. Yes, that’s hard.

I pass him with about 400 meters to go in the hill, and he does this priceless double take. Yeah, all right, so that’s part of why I do stuff like that. It’s some sort of sick satisfaction to see them looking at me and thinking “wait, weren’t you just … going down?”

Now if I can just hammer that home in some races, I’ll be just fine.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

And he's ... right behind you!
At a recent even supporting Der Governator, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was approached with the question: "Do people tell you look like John McCain?"

McCain: "Yes, they do."

Questioner : "Doesn't that make you madder than hell?"


Sunday, April 02, 2006

Applicability of Gas Mileage?

This guy in my apartment complex drives what I call the “penis truck.” It’s a massive F-437500000, with a long bed and four doors. According to ford, this makes it 21 feet, 10 inches long. He uses this “beast of burden” to drive round suburbia, terrorize the neighbors, and generally annoy everyone by blatantly taking up two parking spaces, plus most of the area for other people to drive through to get to THEIR spaces. I have some eggs that are probably a little old in the ‘fridge. Maybe in a week or two, they’ll find a new home.

In any event, I wondered with sick curiosity what sort of gas mileage the thing might get. So I hopped on over to Ford’s website to have a look. You can find all sorts of information on these trucks, from their “Ramp breakover angle,” to the number of main bearings in the huge engines they pack. And fuel economy? Well, they put a line for it in there. It reads “not applicable.”

Whaddya mean, not applicable? They use fuel, don’t they? They have an economy, or lack thereof, don’t they? With a 38-gallon tank, a fillup at today’s local prices would run Mister Penis Truck a few pennies under a Benjamin. But, I suppose that isn’t applicable either.

Central time

I’ve got cable television for the first time in years, mostly to watch OLN’s ”Cyclysm Sundays.” Why, it’s a cataclysm of cycling! But what’s with Central time? I noticed that, any time they list a show’s air time, it’s something in the format of “8 pm / 9 pm central.” A closer look reveals they often standardize prime-time, non-live shows across the nation, so the same show is on at 8:00 nationwide. Except in central.

The continental US contains 4 time zones. Earliest to latest, it’s Pacific, Mountain, Central, and Eastern. Why is it that the second-to-latest one always shows things just a little later than everyone else?

I don’t understand. Perhaps there’s some sort of reason.

Giro d’where?

Watching the aforementioned cycling, OLN reminded us to check out their coverage of the Giro d’Italia, coming up next month.

For those who don’t know, there are three “grand tours” each year in cycling, all 3 weeks long, with two rest days. There’s the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) in May, the Tour de France in July, and the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain). They called the Giro d’Italia “Italy’s Tour de France.”
What do you mean, Italy’s tour of France? I think it’s Italy’s tour of Italy, myself. Okay, okay, so La Gazzetta Dello Sport probably drew some inspiration from Henri Desgrange and company when they got this little party started, but, that was in 1909. I think the Giro can stand on its own feet (wheels?) by now, don’t you?

Aside – I don’t know the code to print the N + ~ character in Spanish, and don’t have the energy to bother finding out just now. Lo siento, hispanohablantes.