Archive for January, 2009

The first race of the season springs on unsuspecting cyclists in a little more than six weeks. After my relative success last season, I want to do well this season, but that desire is complicated by the fact that I upgraded categories, so the races, theoretically at least, should be harder.

So here is my problem. I missed riding most of September because I got hit by a car. I rode a little in October and November, but I kept thinking, “Hey, it’s the off-season. I don’t need to worry about training all that much.” Then, in November, I found out I had Lyme. That knocked out any illusions that I would be training very hard right away. Then, some bad weather made riding uncomfortable, and it got easy to put off the rides. A more truthful way of putting it would be that I got lazy.

During all of that down time, time away from serious training, I continued to eat as if I were still riding.

You know where this is going.

I am 6’4″ tall, so I normally carry a bit more weight than my shorter competitors. But that extra mass, if it is mostly muscle, should allow for a decent power-to-weight ratio. The problem now is the “weight” side of that ratio. My ideal racing weight–the weight I will probably never attain–is between 170 and 175 pounds. Let’s say 173. I can race really well at 177-180, though, and that is probably the best I can hope for in the real world. The other day I was 192.

Yup. Almost 20 pounds over that ideal.

Today was the real test, however. It was cold this morning when I set out on my ride–only 18 degrees (F) when I started, and there was still quite a lot of ice and salty slush on the roads. I knew I needed to ride, though, so I went out to do at least three hours. I was doing fine, generally managing to avoid the icier patches (though I went completely sideways after skidding on a slick patch, saved by my decent bike-handling skills), and feeling more or less like a real athlete.

Then I met up with two guys from the club who have been putting in some serious hours on the road lately, one of them because he knows his riding will end abruptly next month when his twins are born, so he’s been desperately racking up the miles now, while he still can.

They killed me. We hit a long climb out of Pawling, and I got dropped less than a quarter of the way up. Later, they were motoring on some flats, and I just couldn’t handle the pace. Lucky for me, they took pity and scaled it back. I ended up doing 60 miles and feeling like I do during the summer when I ride over 100. I was filleted, marinated, and cooked.

I tried to tell myself that part of the problem was that I did weights last night, and really worked the legs, with presses, extensions, and curls. The truth hurts more: I am fat and out of shape.


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Two things about Tana French’s masterful debut novel, In the Woods, bother me, and the main reason for the bother is because I can’t decide if these things are weaknesses or strengths. I’m leaning heavily toward strengths, though, which says a lot about why this novel works so well. The first bother is something I can’t really talk about because it might spoil a small part of the ending. Let me just say this: There are really two mysteries in this complex novel, and the way in which the two mysteries do or do not intertwine left me alternately hoping for a more overt connection and very happy that the fog of ambiguity remained dense and dark. I’ll get to my other bother later.

French begins with a terrifying story of three children who mysteriously vanished in the woods near a housing development outside of Dublin in the 1980s. One of the children was found, desperately clinging to a tree, his t-shirt shredded and his shoes filled with blood not his own. He has no memory of what happened, and he grows up to be a police detective. Armchair psychology would indicate that he became a detective to deal with the unsolved mystery of his friends’ disappearance and his equally mysterious deliverance, but French is too deft an author to let us indulge in such characterization. Ryan’s motives are much more complex, and as dark and muddled as any mystery he has faced in the line of duty.

Now, 20 years later, Rob Ryan, who carries himself with the mildly alcoholic swagger of thousands of tough, jaded detectives from Philip Marlowe to John Rebus, is assigned a murder case. The young girl, a promising ballerina ecstatic about her upcoming move to the national ballet school, is found in the same woods, her skull bashed in with a rock. Ryan soon starts to relive the days leading up to his friends’ disappearance and begins to think there may be a connection between the two cases. His partner, Cassie Maddox, thinks he might be right, and she acts–or tries to act–as a stable point for him to follow his unconscious fears as the clues lead in a number of terrifying directions.

The mystery is complicated, with leads taking us to the corrupt world of Dublin politics and the conflict between memories of the old, poverty-stricken Ireland and the new realities of the “Celtic Tiger.” At the same time, Ryan and Maddox must face the stomach-churning implications of pedophilia, possible serial killers, and the disturbing sense that even the police themselves might not understand their motives in attempting to solve the crime. Does Ryan want to find Katharine Devlin’s murderer because it’s his job, or is he really searching for his own deeply hidden tormentors? Does the case really lead to the highest levels of local politics, land deals, and community groups, or is the truth closer to home? Is there really a connection between the two cases, or is Ryan slowly losing his grip on reality?

French describes the summer Ryan and his friends had their adventure as unnaturally hot, with seemingly endless days of bright sunshine a mocking contrast to the terror the children faced. Despite this, however, the novel has a dark, damp, foggy feel to it. The few scenes in the woods (and this is my other very minor complaint–I sort of wanted a little more of the story set in the actual woods) are claustrophobic, with half-heard noises and briefly glimpsed shadows convincing the reader that something is waiting right over there, in the darkness behind that tree–is it really a tree?–is something unspeakable ready to pounce. In other words, she sets up something that at times read like the most terrifying horror story, some sort of frightening child’s story grown larger, with longer, nastier, pointier teeth.

Eventually, as in all good mystery novels, the truth more or less comes out. This is, however, a modern mystery, which means there is no comfortable unmasking of the mystery in the parlor, no pipe-smoking savant arrogantly explaining that any idiot should have seen the truth all along. Instead, the mystery is revealed in such a devastating way that nearly everyone connected to it–including the police–fall into a deep, stinking pit of anguish. French neatly deconstructs the main purpose of detective fiction. Instead of seeing the social order primly restored at the end, with Good triumphing and Evil perishing, we see the lines blurred, and Good does not necessarily win it all, while Evil (and is the evil in the book ever deserving of proper noun status) manages to survive.

Go out an read it. Leave the light on, though.

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The New Bike

Finally, after waiting to get all of the components, and taking the time to build everything, my new racing machine for 2009 is complete (with one minor exception). After I got the insurance money from the crash, I wanted to build up a bike that would be perfect for racing, a real no-compromise, serious, single-minded machine. I also knew that crashes happen, having survived two very serious ones (both resulting in broken bikes) in a two week span, so I wanted a bike that would not break the proverbial bank if I hit the pavement and need to replace the frame.

With those two primary criteria in mind, and with a club sponsorship from Cannondale, the choice was pretty obvious: the 2009 CAAD 9. It is an all aluminum frame with a carbon fork, and the geometry is fairly aggressive, ready for racing. If you look at some of the races around here, you will see a lot of CAAD 9 frames, especially among the serious, broke, strong racers–the guys who need to win primes so they have enough gas money to get home. The frame is solid and dependable, and you can get one, especially if you are lucky enough to have a sponsorship, for less than a decent set of race wheels. A lot less.

When I saw that Campagnolo had a new 11 speed system out, I decided I should build up the new machine with those components, but, in keeping with my affordability mandate, I had to shop around carefully and buy a mix of components instead of a full Super Record gruppo. Here is the full build:

Frame/Fork: 2009 Cannondale CAAD 9 with ultra fork (alloy steerer)
Stem: FSA OS99
Bar: FSA Wing Pro Compact (alloy)
Seatpost: FSA K-Force
Saddle: Fizik Arione CX
Shifters: Campagnolo Chorus 11 Speed
Front Derailleur: Campagnolo Chorus 11
Rear Derailleur: Campagnolo Record 11
Crankset: Campagnolo Super Record 11 53/39 (hollow carbon with CULT ceramic bearings)
Brake Calipers: Campagnolo Record 10 (with the Ti bolts)
Cassette: Campagnolo Chorus 11 speed 11-25
Computer: Garmin Edge 705 Team
Wheels (training): Fulcrum Racing 1
Wheels (racing): Flashpoint FP60 (these require a a hub adjustment before I can fit the cassette on)

And here are some pictures:





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