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Not the Best Week

Last week in the Wednesday Night World Championships (formerly known as the Tuesday Night World Championships), I actually had a teammate in the race to help out.  It was a points race, and he gave me a textbook perfect leadout for the first sprint, where I managed to take third.  I spent some precious energy chasing a couple of breaks, timed the next sprint wrong and ended up fifth (only the top three scored points).  A couple more dangerous-looking breaks formed, so I felt obliged to chase again.  The third sprint began with another perfect leadout, but I exploded, very badly and dramatically, about halfway up the hill.  The peloton passed me and I dropped off the back.  After chasing while trying not to hyperventilate for a lap and a half, I was shot.  I had my head down, trying hard to stay on pace to catch the group.  When I looked up, I saw myself heading straight for the curb.  I managed to hit my brakes and turn slightly so I hit the curb obliquely, but I nevertheless flew gracefully over the bars and did two or three neat somersaults on the grass.

After picking myself up and checking my bike for damage, I slowly pedaled back to the start/finish line.  My side was hurting, and I thought I may have bruised the rib I broke last August in another crash.  I sat down to watch the rest of the race, but I soon began to feel very bad.  My head hurt horribly, and I started to see the small auras I usually associate with a migraine.  Everyone was telling me I looked horrible (thanks, guys!), so Dorothy decided I needed to go to the ER.

The ER was very crowded for a Wednesday night (it wasn’t a full moon, either: not until Sunday), but I soon found myself strapped to a back brace and bound with a cervical collar.  After some waiting around, I was wheeled into another part of the hospital for a CT scan. Back to the room.  Then, they needed my room, so they wheeled me out into the hall.  Behind a curtain, a man screamed “Ow, ow, ow ow!” at the top of his lungs, over and over again, very monotonously.  The doctors and nurses in his room sounded out of patience with him and I thought they were inches away from smacking him silly.  Or sillier.  (I thought I might have overheard “PCP” as an explanation of his problem.)  Then the radio in the nurses’ station crackled into life as an EMT called in a patient.  In the background I could hear the ambulance siren.  I heard “GSW” and “forty caliber.”  Soon all of the doctors were tossing on gowns and gloves and running to the ambulance bay.

Eventually the excitement died down enough for my doctor to come back with the diagnosis: no brain bleeding, but a mild concussion.  I was advised not to do it again.  The nurse handed me a few percocet tablets, and we were off.

Despite the concussion, I decided to go ahead with my race on Sunday, especially because this race was on my home course.  Although our spring weather here in southern Connecticut has not been all that great, Sunday was one of those picture postcard days.  Highs in the low 80s, low humidity, a light breeze, a perfectly blue sky.  It’s the kind of day that shows up in the dictionary next to “Summer.”  I dragged out my folding chair and settled in to watch the races before mine.  Dorothy’s race was particularly fun to watch.  She did a great job, finishing right in the mix, taking 7th.  The masters (over 45, so I couldn’t do it) raced with the juniors, and this race proved to be unexpectedly exciting as two juniors took off from the whistle and lapped the field.  Finally, my race came up.

I was slightly nervous, but felt confident.  When the whistle blew, I stayed near the front, watching as the inevitable first lap solo attack went down its doomed road.  We caught him before the end of the second lap.  There were a couple more attacks, and I chased some of them before realizing that no one was going to be allowed to get away today.  Once I realized this, I settled back into the pack and took it easy, with my heart rate resting well at around 145.  As we got close to the end of the race, I started to move my way forward, slowly and carefully.  At two laps to go, I was about 15 back, which felt about right.

Halfway through the second to last lap, I felt a sharp sting in my hamstring, an electric zinging pain that radiated up and down my muscle.  I ignored it, though, and kept going.  At the bell, I started watching everything very carefully and set myself up for the sprint.  Although I started the sprint from a little farther back than is ideal, I still managed to pass many of the racers and finished in 6th place, which made me very happy.  I started this race with the goal of a top ten, and I got it.

The pain in my leg, though, was bothering me, and this, in combination with some other odd discomfort caused me to drop out of the next race (the pro-123 race) after a half dozen laps or so.  As we drove home, I started to itch everywhere, and in the shower I noticed that I had a horrible rash over half my body.  I downed a dose of Benadryl to quell the itch.  The next morning, Monday, the rash had spread to cover my entire body.  When I called my doctor and started to explain, I got all the way to “I got stung by something and now I have a rash–” before she cut me off and told me to come in.

Diagnosis: moderate allergic reaction to an insect sting but no anaphylaxis.  I do, however, have to carry an epipen with me now just in case.  Apparently the allergic reactions can grow more sever over time and repeated exposure to the allergen.  So, the next sting could be even worse.

As I said, not the best week.

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Fast Old Men

One minute, thirty-five seconds.

That’s how long it took the Masters to ride the final lap of today’s criterium.  Everyone around here knows that some of the fastest racers in the peloton are the old guys, the guys over 40, and today’s race seemed to prove that again.  To put that lap time in perspective, here is some other information: according to my Garmin, the laps are just a little under eight-tenths of a mile long, or about one and a quarter kilometers.  Our slowest lap was 2:01, or 26 seconds longer.  The average speed for the entire race was 25 mph, or just a touch over 40 kph.  Our average speed in that fast final lap was 29.5 mph (47.5 kph).

I felt a lot better this week than I did last week.  I still had some of the same odd, out-of-body experiences at times, but I’m beginning to like them.  They usually occur when the pace gets fast and things get busy, so it’s good that I am developing this ability to step outside myself and see the race as a larger picture.  It also helped matters that I had a real goal this week.  Instead of thinking that I needed to save something for the second race, I decided I would race the first one seriously and then let the second race unfold in whatever way it might.  I even attacked at one point (average speed for the lap: 26.5 mph), prompting a teammate to laugh and say, “There’s nothing like stirring up the pot a bit, is there?”  No, there isn’t.

The sprint finish is on a decent little hill.  This hill would hardly register as a hill in a road race, but when you pass it 25 times in a race (or 55 times if you do two races in a row), you can feel it.  The pack hit the bottom of the hill on the final lap at 35 mph, the fastest speed of the day.  My positioning was not great, but not too bad, either, and I launched to the right, as I usually like to do, because the pack squeezes hard to the left as that’s the shrotest way up the hill.  I sprinted hard in a monster gear (53×12) and passed a lot of people, including one of our star riders, before managing to take 16th place.  Even at the top of the hill, the speed was fantastic, and, according to my trusty Garmin (truly a fun gadget), I hit the finish line at 26.8 mph.

What makes this race even better is Dorothy’s participation.  The USA Cycling rules for women racing in men’s races allows women who are not quite as old as the rest of us to race in masters races, so she decided to race this one after completing the women’s race.  She hung with the pack through the entire race!

It was a good day to race, and I’m looking forward to next week already.

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First Race Fog

Sunday was the first race of the season, since the previous week’s race fell victim to the weather and got itself canceled.  I had signed up to do two races–the Masters 40+ race and the category 3/4 race…which just happen to be back-to-back.

I was a little worried about the first race of the season because my legs were not feeling quite right.  Both legs have been hurting a little lately, mostly in the big muscles of my thighs and calves, with my knees feeling slightly tender.  I spend a good bit of Saturday night running the massage roller up and down, icing, and heating.  To help warm up, I took a steaming hot shower the morning of the race, hoping the heat would loosen up my legs, and then I slathered on the Tiger Balm.  During the warmup with a friend on another team, we ran into a guy from Target Training who was also warming up, and we may have pushed it a little ahrder than I should have: my thighs had a little tingling burn in them that didn’t feel quite right.

Once the race started, I felt fine, good enough, in fact, that I attacked to bridge the gap to the Keltic guys who had jumped hard at the very start of the race.  Unfortunately, I caught them just as they blew up, and the pack was right behind me.  After that, I drifted to the middle of the pack, and floated there for most of the rest of the race.

As the pack was screaming around the course (there were laps approaching 30 mph average), I realized that I had no idea where we were in the race.  I couldn’t remember the last few laps at all, and I felt in this strange foggy zone.  Even stranger, I felt a complete, but dreamlike, awareness of everyone around me.  I could even feel the guys behind me on my wheel, and the riders in my periphery were oddly present the way peripheral things usually are not.  The paradox of being both hyperaware but oddly not present felt a lot like literary descriptions of being dead.  I was not really a part of the race, but I was completely in it at the same time.  I know that makes no sense at all, but that’s how it felt.

About 15 laps into the race I fully appreciated the training maxim about having clear goals for yourself.  I had no real goal for this race, and, since I was going to race again about fifteen minutes after finishing this one, I felt disinclined to push in any serious way.  At one point, I was off the front, with a few cyclists in unorganized patches here and there down the road, and I had no idea what to do.  I have not felt this lost without a strategy since I was a cat 5.  For next week, I will need to set some clear goals, and then try to implement them as forcefully as I can.

After finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack (I drifted up to the finish at an easy pace–no sense in sprinting for 25th place), I prepared for the second race.  This one was harder than the other.  Although the pace was faster, it was actually easier because it was a little more steady, but my legs were beginning to hurt.  A few times I pushed to the front, and I seriously thought about contesting one prime lap; each push, though, made my legs hurt more.  Finally, about 20 laps in, I realized I was sitting almost at the very back of the pack and thought I should move up.  Taking advantage of the hill, where everyone slams over to the left, I moved up fast on the right, only to feel both quads shriek out serious alarms and threaten to cramp.  They did cramp up slightly, and, as I was breathing and letting them unclench, the pack passed me and left me in the dust.  I decided to end my race then–discretion, valor, all that jazz.

Despite not finishing the second race, I feel okay about things.  I know I am strong enough to work hard in both races, largely because my heart rate stayed well within my range, and I never felt outgunned in any way.  No, the problem is not cardio-vascular fitness, but leg fitness, which will actually be easier to deal with.  On Friday, I will go in for a massage, and I am riding very smart this week to build up my muscular endurance.  Next week I will race the first race seriously, in an attempt to help out the two teammates in the top five, and to try to get myself a top ten finish if I can do both.  It is going to be a very different season from last year, where I was chasing upgrade points, but I will still need to focus on some sort of goal for each race, just to keep my mind in focus.

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Well, Hell

Feel free to skip this one; I’m just whining and sniveling.

It’s time to face a sad truth: my spring racing season is going to be terrible.  I am officially writing it off.  I will race, but I know I will be nothing but pack fodder if I’m lucky, and most likely I’ll be OTB and DFL.

The weather seems to have conspired against me, with snow or icy roads on every day I have been free to ride, and nice, bright, sunny days when I have to be doing anything but riding.  I have done a couple of rides on the trainer, something I hate more than poison, and that shows both determination and desperation in equal measures.

The worst blow fell today, though.  Somehow I have ended up sick, with an aching head, sore throat, and a fever over 100.  Clearly I’m not going to be doing any serious training for a while.  Maybe by the time I have recovered, the remnants of this bad snow/slush/ice storm will be gone and the roads clear enough for riding.

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I was very, very disappointed to learn that Campagnolo 11 speed cassettes will not fit on Flashpoint wheels, but of course I did not learn of this until long after I bought the wheels. The cassette does fit my Fulcrum wheels, though. So, if anyone wants a set of Flashpoint FP 60s, Campy freehub, completely unused–I never even put tires on–I’ll make you a deal. If you ride Shimano, you can replace the freehub for about a hundred bucks.

Now I’m back to only one set of wheels for my new bike, so I have to figure out what to do about that. This bike build has been one enormous pain in the ass, and I’m just about sick to death of it.

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Some Cannondale Coolness

As you know if you scroll down a little, I have a new bike. Alert readers will notice that it a Cannondale. Because the weather has been so awful lately, I’ve been taking out my other bike, which has now been relegated to bad weather bike status. It, too, is a Cannondale. Dorothy’s new bike is likewise a trusty ‘dale.

One of the reasons for having so many Cannondales in the house is that they sponsor our club. It is especially cool because their corporate HQ is about two miles away, and we frequently see Cannondale people on the roads or at races. Tonight, we had a special club presentation at Cannondale, where Chris Peck, the VP of engineering, talked to us about bike design, particularly how weight, stiffness, comfort, and aerodynamics are factors.

Chris told us that for road riders, aerodynamics is not as much of an issue as it is for triathletes and time trialists, since nearly 80% of aerodynamic drag comes from the rider and not the bike. Other factors, weight especially, are more important, and he provided some calculations that showed in the stage 12 time trial in the upcoming Giro, a 500 gram weight deduction would mean a 13 second time advantage for someone like Ivan Basso. That’s some pretty impressive number crunching.

He went on to explain the most important factors in aerodynamic efficiency. If you are a racer on a budget and cannot afford a separate bike dedicated to time trials, there are many other, more important things to do. These are the big aero factors in order of importance:

1. Position. This is the most important factor. Clip-on bars make a huge difference.
2. Helmet. An aero helmet is key.
3. Wheels. Deep section wheels and discs make a big difference.
4. The fork. Because the fork is the first thing to encounter the wind.
5. The frame. The last bit of gain comes from aero improvements here.

He then showed us several video clips of various Cannondale sponsored riders in wind tunnel tests, and he showed how the aerodynamic drag numbers improved when the rider’s position was altered. He was quick to point out that the numbers do not tell the entire story, however. Small details can throw off the accuracy of the results; for example, a rider holding his head at a slightly different angle might change the results dramatically. For some riders, the wind tunnel tests might stipulate a bike position that is too uncomfortable to ride in or will somehow compromise power output. There seems to be a bit of art mixed in with all of the science, which I liked.

It was fun to meet the engineer who had a hand in designing my bike and to see the testing procedures Cannondale uses to build their frames. I also came away with enough Cannondale decals to plaster them on every surface I find.

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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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