Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Spring Stage Race II- Wind, Rain, and Air Force One.



The next morning was the time trial. Since the course was on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, on roads I ride multiple times a week, there were no mysteries. I rode it fairly well, knocking 30 seconds off my personal best despite the wind. Still fourth in GC. Same three ahead of me. Strong riders I expected to charge past me didn't. One super-diesel was knocked out by a mechanical. I figured fourth was more than I deserved, because I knew there were local riders not present that would have pushed me down the pile. No, fourth is good.
 
That afternoon we had the criterium. Somebody didn't tell the President, because he felt it was necessary to land Air Force One right next to part of our course. After many assurances that there would be no road closures, minutes before the first race people with automatic weapons closed the road. We quickly adjusted and shortened the loop, which changed the dynamics of the course considerably. Two of the turns were significantly sharper, which highlighted which racers had raced crits before. The ones that cornered well, staying off the brakes and carrying speed through the turns, hammered the ones that braked through and sprinted out of every turn. I made the mistake of tail gunning, and was forced to sprint along with them, burning matches I didn't have. One of the non-crit racers was my teammate, who eventually opened a gap I couldn't close as the pack surged, leaving me alone out in the wind for a couple laps until they backed off. A couple laps from the end Markus Doerry exploded a tire with authority, eliminating a strong sprinter from the equation. I was cooked and only wanting to finish in the pack, but as the finish approached I worked my way forward into a good position for the final sprint. I hadn’t contested the intermediate prime, preferring to watch how it played out on the new course. The narrow finishing chute made it difficult for more than three people to contest, and the sharp entry meant if you weren’t in that first three your chances were less minimal. I was sitting third wheel into the turn and figured I had a real shot if my tired legs didn't explode. Then Tom Peichel clipped a pedal, and I watched in horror as his rear tire came off the ground. At that moment, Chris Knott opened the sprint and immediately got a gap. Tom, pumped full of adrenaline from nearly having his skin ground off, charged after him. My adrenaline initially went into my brakes, then I ground my way to a tepid third place.
 
Again, given the time I spent out in the wind, it was better than I should have gotten. I hadn't done enough work this season to have anything of merit at the end, so third is good.
 
Still under the chemical influence resulting from the pedal strike and the sprint finish, I laid into my teammate for his cornering skills. In reality, it was my fault for being in position to be affected by that sort of thing, and my lack of fitness is nobody's fault but my own. I should probably isolate myself from all human contact for a few minutes after very race that doesn't go my way and wait for the endorphins to kick in. My relationship with reality and the ability to put things in context are on shaky ground in that window of time.
 
I felt like an ass, because this teammate was sitting in third place. After the race I was extremely close knocking him off the podium, just like last year. Just like last year, he didn't show up for the last stage, which put me on the podium by default (with a mid-pack finish on the final stage). Last year he dropped out to rest up for a mountain bike race, and I finished second and first on the last two stages, which would have likely put me on the podium anyway. This year my string of fourths was not awe-inspiring. He didn't give a specific reason for not showing, he just said he had "stuff to do". By "stuff", I think he meant "get as far as I can away from you, asshole", but we sorted it out via email. I still owe him a lot of beer. Friends don't act that way, pedal strike or not.
 
One stage to go, strong riders sitting behind me in the points standings, and a rapidly failing body stood between me and the glories of the third step.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Spring Stage Race I- Wind and Suck.

In retrospect, I don't know how to feel.
 
The Spring Stage Race was this past weekend. Three days and four stages of racing, omnium scoring, and a indication of early-season form ahead of the Tour of Fairbanks.
 
It kicked off Friday with a shortened hill climb. Instead of the planned Super Potter climb, we stopped at the traditional Potter Valley finish. High winds would have made the most exposed and steep sections near the top somewhat dangerous. As it was, the gusts made things interesting on the lower slopes, sometimes swirling in a manner that battered you from all directions at once. I was happy about the lower finish, because the pain would stop that much sooner, and the GC situation wouldn't change because everything was based on finishing order rather than time. If 2nd place finished a half hour after 1st, the scoring would be the same as if it had been a photo finish. Once the pack strings out, as long as you hold your position there's no reason to kill yourself. Doesn't mean you don't. I pre-rode the course (slowly) to see where the wind was bad, stretching the legs and ensuring my kit choices for the night were appropriate.
 
On the first ramp I went to the front, riding tempo to discourage a nervous pack from blowing everything up by the first switchback. Everyone seemed fine with this, and left me up there. After the first turn, I slowed to drift back to hide from the wind. Nobody came around. The wind made my fat rolls slap together. I bled energy. Eventually the group came by and I latched on. Then a few of the stronger riders upped the pace. It wasn't an attack, they were just tired of riding at Gran Fondo pace. A gap opened, and I didn't respond. The gap grew, and I kept chugging along at the slow pace. Some riders fell behind. I eventually drifted back to Chris Wyatt's wheel to use for pacing. There was no hiding from the wind or the hill for either of us. I tried a couple surges to see how my companion would respond, then settled in. Chris Knott teased me up ahead, trying to burn me out. I surged at the last switchback, opened the gap, then eased up once the GC position was secured. Fifth on the stage, fourth on GC- one step off the Masters Men 45+ podium, behind riders far stronger than I am.
 
It wasn't a personal best for that climb. The wind, field, omnium scoring, and my own fitness ensured that.
 
All things considered, it wasn't a bad start either.
 
On to the next stage.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Again?

The plan for Thursday's crit was to ride in the pack and not go too deep. Get the legs warmed up before the Spring Stage Race and call it good. If you're there at the finish, maybe take a shot, but don't be a hero.
 
Didn't work out that way.
 
Seven minutes in, my rear tire went flat and squished violently from one side to the other in apex of the sharpest turn on the course, making awful sounds as it did so. I stayed up, rolled down the hill, verified that it was indeed flat, and started walking.
 
That tubular was brand new. It replaced the tubular that went flat on the Kincaid Circuit Race, a course less than two miles away. That's another tubular to add to the pile that will be sent for repair.
 
I walked back to my car, grabbed another wheel, and rode back to the course. Fifteen minutes after the flat I was back in the race with a real shot at victory. In my absence, Jens Beck had gone off the front, lapped the field, and had gone off the front again. The rest of the pack was shattered into small groups after the first prime. I bounced from cluster to cluster, until I ended up with the three riders that formed the futile chase group. They were just looking to not get lapped again. Sith Lord Bill Fleming and Stormtrooper Jim Winegarner were ganging up on the other member of the group. One would open a gap and the other would sit on the other guy's wheel as he was force to close. Not wanting to miss out on the fun of a group beat down, I jumped in and opened a few gaps as well. When the primes came, I took a dig or two to draw him out, then sat up and let everyone else scramble for points. With my superior engine in reserve, I was waiting until the last lap to erase my fifteen minute deficit. That's called strategic thinking.
 
Around and around we rode, lapping stragglers and avoiding being lapped ourselves. The final lap came, and in a magnanimous gesture that even surprised me, I didn't fire up the turbo and go for the big W. Instead, I rode off the front (fresh legs from a fifteen minute nap), pulled to the side, and watched the three-man photo finish. I'm still not 100% sure who took a distant second behind Jens. It really doesn't matter to me, since I got what I came for.
 
I just wish it didn't cost a tubular to get it.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Reassessment.

Desperation is a poor tactical decision-making strategy to change the way things are currently, especially when the time to act passed months ago. And yet, here I am.
 
Flailing.
 
The scale groans slightly less these days when I climb on, but that's all relative. I'm still fat, and that isn't going to change anytime soon. I'm trying to chip away at the fat rolls little by little. I fall off the wagon periodically, then get back on and keep trudging towards... what?
 
That's just it. I don't have a goal, a target to work towards. I've had some decent success at the lower and middle levels of the small Alaska road racing pond. I know where I fit in the local food chain. A concerted effort (the kind that ends marriages) could bump me up to another level of pack fodder, but I don't have the raw material to be at the top. I could certainly be better, but I've hit the age where you don't make significant gains without extremely significant actions. Some of those actions are difficult to do because of lifestyle constraints. Some are technically illegal. Some, to be 100% honest, I'm just too lazy to attempt.
 
Thousands of dollars of new bike gear haven't worked their usual magic and motivated me this time around. It used to be that the sight of new carbon fiber would be enough to drive me into a training frenzy, but now I find myself able to logically consider the pros and cons of each new purchase, and little (if any) performance bump results. This isn't a good sign. Like all arms wars, eventually you reach the point of diminishing returns. I can't buy my way out of this funk.
 
I'm not one for Power Point presentations and spreadsheets and all that sort of quantitative assessment. Like famous race promoter Donald Trump, I tend to make significant life choices based on my gut instincts. Unlike the Donald, they rarely result in a major political party nomination. They usually end up digging me into a deeper hole.
 
And yet, here I am.
 
The real question is: what do I want out of this cycling thing? Sounds like a simple question, but getting to the core of it, stripping away the ancillary fluff, can be quite the process. Once that's answered, then I have to figure out what actually contributes to that goal and what detracts from it? What can be changed and what can't? How is success measured? What motivates me to want to keep going?
 
Starting from the top, here's what I got. I'm a competitive, Type-A asshole. I like measuring myself against a standard to see where I fit in, then trying to improve my ranking. Sometimes that standard is myself (power output, clock, terrain...) and sometimes it's other riders (races, random riders...). I prefer the thin, precise line a road bike carves over the more free-form, improvisational nature of off-road bikes. I like to win occasionally. That, in a nutshell, is me.
 
Because I'm lazy, I'm going to start with the low-hanging fruit. Since most of my battles are won or lost between my ears, I'm my own worst enemy. Can't lose weight? Between the ears. Blowing off workouts? Between the ears. Sitting up before the finish? Between the ears. Problem is, these are not low hanging fruit. External influences drive these reactions far more than I'd like to admit. I'd like to think I'm this solitary rock, unaffected by the wind and rain that constantly batter me. That's bullshit. I'm a marshmallow Peep, easy to squash or mutilate with the application of a little heat. I'm too old to deny it anymore.
 
So, what can I do without?
 
Right off the top of my head, toxic associations jump out at me. Not that those involved are toxic, but rather my connection with them is toxic much in the way bleach and ammonia make poisonous gas. When separated, they perform useful functions. When combined, they kill people. In my case, I'm a giant asshole, and I may not mix with other varieties of giant assholes. The gas we create may kill the very purpose of the association. I'm not a trained psychiatrist, but when you find yourself irrationally screaming "fucktard!" at the screen every time you receive an email, perhaps it's time to step away. If the association is not productive or compulsory, why continue it?
 
Training. Don't get me wrong, I really, really love working towards a goal. When I have a goal. I don't have a goal. Fuck. In my left-brained mind, training is easier when you have a purpose. X+Y=Z, and you can validate your efforts based on your success achieving that goal. "Riding more betterer" is not much of a quantifiable goal. On the other hand, basing an entire season of effort on a single race almost guarantees failure. I need to find a middle ground there, and moderation is not one of my stronger characteristics. I need a goal, then I can train. For me, goals require a modicum of belief that it's possible. So, I guess my initial goal should be believing. How am I supposed to train for that?
 
What gets in the way of maximizing my undeniable potential but can't be changed? Life. It interferes every day. Family. The job. School. To one degree or another, they all mean more to me than riding a bike fast. Without the family, I'd be a lonely asshole instead of an asshole with a family he's kinda fond of. Without the job, I couldn't afford bike parts or occasionally feeding/housing said family. Without the school, my future earning potential will be diminished so, again, no bike parts. After dealing with the push-pull of all of these things, the bike riding takes a hit. The five-hour rides become four. Then three. Then two. Then one, but only if I can squeeze it in at the butt-crack of dawn or some other unaccounted-for time slot. Try racing a three hour race after a steady diet of sub-optimal one hour training rides. Not pretty.
 
At the root of it, I need to kill the negativity, but that means suicide. I need to start looking for the positive. I wish I was a super-positive person, like Stormtrooper Christina Grande, but that sort of thing just isn't in me. I've tried, and it came out forced and insincere. The best I can muster is, "this sucks, but at least it isn't..." as sort of a glass-half-empty-but-I'm thankful-nobody-peed-in-it type of attitude. It's a start.
 
I'm reassessing a lot of things right now, and I have no idea where it will lead or if anything will change. What I do know is that I need to start trying, because the grind ain't working.
 
I also know that bikes are fun. It's a start.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Misaligned.

The popping from the cassette as the derailleur struggled to settle on a gear was annoying. With one wheelset it was perfect, with the next it required major adjustments to avoid having my 10-speed cassette be reduced to a 7-speed. The more I adjusted, the more I got frustrated. The derailleur alignment gauge came out, just in case it was bent. I checked to make sure the appropriate spacers were present. I couldn't figure it out. I was just annoyed.

I was firing a bunch of messages back and forth with Dave Henke (because we're both teenage girls at heart) when I asked about my inability to switch wheels without cranking the piss out of my high and low limit screws. What the hell was I doing wrong?

Mixing SRAM and Shimano.

I had always used SRAM cassettes, mainly because they were cheaper than the Shimano ones of the same level. However, I picked up a few Shimano cassettes for cheap, figuring they were interchangeable. They are, to a degree. However, it requires a bunch of adjustments that I don't want to deal with every time I feel like running a different wheelset. I have a bunch of different wheels littering the garage, and I'd rather not spend a few minutes every ride making sure my rear derailleur is aligned. It just sets the wrong tone.

Back to the interwebs to find more SRAM cassettes.

Then I started playing around with my micrometer, measuring the various hubs on my wheelsets, and noticed that they varied quite a bit- even among the same model hubs. There could be washers or other spacers added here or there, machining differences, or any number of issues that could explain this.

So, I experimented with different cassettes on different wheels. SRAM on this one, Shimano on that one, until I got a reasonable match. Not perfect, but reasonable. Enough to get me through the Spring Stage Race and maybe Fairbanks if I'm lazy. Then I'll tear everything apart and start trying to make them match more closely.

Part of the joys of having many, many sets of wheels, I guess.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Spring Stage Race.

Last year I had good luck in the Arctic Bike Club's Spring Stage Race.
 
"Luck" is the only way to describe it.
 
True, this time of year I'm coming off a winter of focused workouts on the trainer while everyone else is just getting started, although that advantage has been mitigated over the years by the popularity of fat biking. A lot of them don't have a significant snap yet, but their diesels are refined to the point that they grind me under their wheels.
 
The weak winter and early spring means that most of the riders I line up against have just as many or more miles than I have on the road. A spring business trip with a bike to the Lower 48 usually gets me some long rides when everyone else is dodging ice, but my week in San Antonio didn't result in the volume bump I usually get. Knocking out a couple four hour training rides a week to go with the usual one or two hour weekday rides hasn't happened either, so I'm on the back foot there as well. Endurance matters, especially when you're trying to hang with the big diesels.
 
The weight is slowly coming off, although not fast enough to make any sort of difference for the Spring Stage Race or Fairbanks. A crash diet would take off the pounds, but would also leave me too weak to ride. I'm already in more of a caloric deficit than I would like. I just need to keep my meager momentum going and hope for the best.
 
So, that leaves me with luck.
 
Twelve months ago I squeaked onto the podium with a couple good results in the crit and circuit race which, thanks to the omnium format, hid the sub-par finishes in the hill climb and time trial stages. Jim Winegarner took a creative side trip on the hill climb that cost him valuable points and teammate Craig Walker skipped the last stage to rest up for a mountain bike race, allowing me to take his spot on the final podium. It wasn't a decisive podium spot, as I was a long way behind first and second place, but a second place and a win on individual stages were certainly a bump for my confidence levels. The previous year had been so disappointing that I really needed the result.
 
I'm not expecting anything out of this edition. The competition in Masters 45+ is too strong and I'm in no shape to respond. I need the intensity, though. Just hanging on will be a victory. If somehow I find myself in the mix at the end of a flat stage, I'll take a stab at it. Maybe I'll come away with a kick in the pants.
 
I debated soft-pedaling the stages I don't have a prayer in, leaving myself fresh for the flat stages, but that doesn't really seem right. I'm there to race, and I will be eliminating luck as a possibility. You never know until you cross the line how much a couple points might matter. I'd rather go down swinging. Give it a solid effort and see how well I do.
 
Maybe I'll get lucky.




 .

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Water Weight.

I pressed my helmet to my forehead, watching the rivulets of perspiration fall from the sweatband to the pavement. Seeing the shocking amount of moisture the thin strip of foam contained, I was reminded that I probably should be drinking something to replace what was flowing down the hill I was climbing.
 
The weather has taken a dramatic turn, with cloudy days with highs in the upper 40s transformed overnight into blue skies and temperatures in the 70s. Knee warmers, wool socks, cycling caps, and base layers have been shed. I've started evaluating my collection of kit, ranking them by ventilation features.
 
Low 70s may not sound hot, but that shift of almost 30 degrees in a short time hasn't allowed me to acclimate properly- especially when climbing. When I'm cruising along on the flats, the wind keeps everything more or less pleasant. When the road turns up and the breeze stops, my fat acts like a crock pot. Unless you're a member of the Donner Party who isn't counting calories, it's not a pretty sight.
 
A switch from the Storck to one of my Madones resulted in an unexpected bump in climbing ability. I'm still slow and painful to watch, but something about the geometry allows me to grind my way up the hill slightly faster. I have no good idea why there's such a difference, and I'm smart enough not too look too close lest the magic wear off. Accept it and use it.
 
I still haven't done any climbing at race pace, as I'm still getting used to the sustained suck. Rather, I'm focusing on breathing and staying loose, with the hope that building good habits will help me build in the long run. I've been described as an asthmatic locomotive by people with the misfortune to be in my vicinity during a hill-climb, so I've put this on the "areas for personal growth" list.
 
The Spring Stage Race kicks off this Friday, and I'm going to get stomped on. New faces and old faces are going to conspire to humiliate me in order to reduce the amount of trash-talk that will come out of my mouth. These efforts will be for naught, as I've never let a lack of personal results stand in the way of an insult.
 
Four stages of fun and bitter disappointment (five if I do the crit the night before). I expect to lose a lot of water weight, which I'll replace with Goldfish crackers. Goldfish swim in the water. I lost water. Eating Goldfish is an efficient way to replenish what I've spilled all over the tarmac.
 
Makes perfect sense.