Tuesday, March 31, 2009

It Must Be Spring: Johnny Cake Series #1 Race Report

In March of 2005 I went to my first bike race, the first race of the Johnny Cake lane series, then in its 2nd year, and I have toed the line at every one since. It's hard to believe that my life as a bike racer began that recently, and life before then seems sort of a world away at this point. Maybe it's because of this sort of nostalgia, maybe it's just nice to be pinning on a number and racing for the first time since Cyclocross season, but every March I look forward to these races as much as I look forward to any other races on the calendar.

For those of you unfamiliar with the regional scene here in the NE, the Johnny Cake Lane Spring Series is a three race road race series promoted by CBRC (Capital Bike Racing Club). There are earlier races in and around New England and New York, but the JC series has a little something special going on, owing mostly to the fact that it is a nice flat/slightly rolling circuit on quiet farm roads (as opposed to a parking lot criterium) just outside of Coxsackie, NY. Yes, where the prison is. I always imagine the inmates serving long sentences looking forward to our arrival every year for a change of scenery. The prize money is paltry, and the distances--54 miles for the A race, 42 miles for the B race, and new this year 18 miles for the C race--are short by road race standards, though each year for the last race of the series a hill is added that slightly changes the course and adds 1 mile per lap, pushing the A race up to an honest 100k.

Nevertheless, without fail people come out to race at this race, and Saturday was no exception. With the legendary and ageless Roger Aspholm in attendance, as well as the always-fit Aidan Charles & Co., a full contingent of the CCC/Keltic master's squad, somebody was sure to want to put on a show.

We of Spooky/NCC/Kenda fielded a full squad of 12 riders including the legendary Mr. Spooky himself (aka Mickey), Mukunda Feldman, Matt thrice (Brewster, Mainer & Purdy), Al Donahue, Adam Sullivan, J Baer, Eric Tremble, Ward Solar and Colin Murphy. Under some circumstances we would have felt obligated to control things, make a point and generally behave like the dominant alpha-team we will be in May or June. But we live where it’s cold, we have jobs and grad school and kids, and, lucky for us, we remember to keep the “training” in training race. So for the most part we were just looking forward to a good showing, whatever that meant.

True to form, the first couple of laps were fast and actually a bit more challenging than usual if one failed to maintain position in the field owing to the (largest ever?) field of 80 riders. Eventually after a few ill fated breaks were absorbed, including one promising one containing Spooky/NCC/Kenda muscle man Ward Solar, a pretty convincing move containing Aspholm, Spooky's own Matt Purdy (aka Old Matt), a Keltic rider and some others rolled off and gained about 30 seconds--a small gap, but in March, on a fast and windy course, you would be surprised just how hard it is to go across even a small gap. Both Spooky an the Keltic gang gathered on the front and started a fast rotation to bring the break back within bridging distance in order to make it possible, ideally, for some of our guys to jump across to the break. At the crest of the short steep kicker hill on the homestretch of the course, an unknown rider (red & white old school Saturn jersey, dirty white bike, good form on the bike, fast legs) jumped clear of the field and I jumped on his wheel. He must have been pretty experienced because in addition to going really hard, he never once asked me to pull through, knowing that it was my right to sit on since he was bridging to a break containing one of my teammates and another, Al Donahue, was coming across to us.

But it's March, and we all do silly things in the first race of the year, so when Al finally got to us
and told me to start pulling, I rolled through the fast downhill corner before the finish just a little too hard and gapped them off without noticing it. That was dumb, as it left me in no man's land about 15-20 second behind the break and about the same distance in front of the field. I stayed out there, working hard and going nowhere for about 5k, or half a lap, and was absorbed halfway down the headwind blasted back stretch.

Various hijinx ensued at this point, the chase got more or less organized again, the break came back, another one went with Al and another of our guys in it (Mat Brewster, maybe?) and as that came back I snuck up the gutter on the wheel of Hot Tubes rider and 16-year-old phenom, Anders Newbury, and just as we started to counter attack--crunch--there was a crash behind us, we accelerated, some riders jumped across to us, and we were gone. A lap later Aspholm came up and the break of the day was solidified, if uneasily.

The problem with this break is that it was big, being 10 or 11 guys, and consisted of 7 solo riders, Roger and his teammate Todd Cassan, plus Aidan Charles and one of his teammates. Roger and Newbury seemed intent on getting rid of the rest of us and riding in solo, respectively, even with 40 miles still to race. So much fun to race with two physiological mutants in the break instead of just one...but I digress. So the break was disorganized since the rest of us were either outnumbered or outgunned and therefore, rightly, not willing to contribute to the break's overall success. This made the racing really hard as there were more or less constant surges, attacks, and both deliberate and accidental opening of gaps for 3 full laps until eventually, the embarrassing happened and Roger and teammate Todd along with Aidan and teammate unidentified snuck away, leaving Newbury and I bickering slightly about who was going to close the gap. The answer was nobody. Although we kept them under 20 seconds for 2 laps, it was not to be. With a lap and a half to go, Newbury attacked the rest of us and impressively soloed in for 4th place (the CCNS rider having been dropped up front and rolled back to our group) leaving me and the very strong Ethan Atkins to do the bulk of the work to bring us in.

In the end I blew the sprint, which is funny because I think I could win that sprint in my sleep. But perhaps not with a tailwind, and not with cramps. The almost-always prevailing NW winds of the area had turned Southerly for the day and the finish, which tends to be a merciless 300 meter grind was actually a spun-out drag race owing to the wind. Two guys snuck off the front of the group and gapped the rest of us, I cramped, and the guys who had been sitting on for the last 10 miles all sprinted hard and came around. I sat up, a little annoyed, a bit before the line and finished 10th on the day just behind strong master's rider Mark Stotz and my good friend and race promoter, Tom Butler of Keltic. Under normal circumstances I would be pretty annoyed with myself for finishing last out of the group like that, since I tend to be pretty good at small group sprints. But the first race of the year is not normal circumstances, and with no prize money and little glory on the line, I was happy to have gotten in a solid LT effort with many accelerations, lots of muscular endurance work, and a good bit of speed in the old legs. Earlier this week I did a solid AWC workout of 8, 30 second all-out efforts, but other than that I haven't yet ridden at any real intensity other than steady climbing efforts. So the racing form will come, and hopefully the later start to the year and extra base miles will lead to better top-end fitness for a longer period of time than in years past. Broad base to the pyramid, high peak, and all that.

Thanks for reading, and happy Spring. Time to do enough school work in the next two hours to justify taking Mr. Beautiful, my new Spooky, out or his first road ride.



Monday, March 30, 2009

More to Come...

I hate to let a week pass without a blog post, but it has been busy around here.

This past weekend was my first road race of the year as well as team Spooky / NCC / Kenda team camp. Stories to tell in the near future.

Also upcoming:

- Detailed review of my new, amazingly sexy Spooky Skeletor. Oh yes.
- A race report
- A post from guest blogger and my esteemed better half, Ms. Charmaine Cadeau. She will have something of a column here, of sorts, in the coming weeks and months. She will be shedding some light on the life of the partner of a (mostly) full time bike racer. Yes the early Saturday mornings, and endless hours in the car; the hot afternoons spent sweating on the side of a lonely country road, miles from nowhere in the mysterious and ethereal Brigadoon of a locale known as The Feed Zone; the maddening food habits of cyclists, and the dishwasher full of water bottles; the grease stains in the car, and the occasional glimpses of genuine human effort and potential, all of which are the very stuff of life for those brave and optimistic souls who partner themselves to bike racers. Look forward to it, she's a good writer. I took one of her classes as an undergrad.

For now:

See that glow of magic coming off the gear cluster, there?

And I'm not one to get all het up over handsomely machined objects, but you have to admit this SRAM Powerdome cassette, machined from a solid piece of aluminum, is pretty darn pretty.

Until soon,


Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Show

We (meaning my team, Spooky/NCC/Kenda Elite Cycling) finally got the official invite to the Pro Men's invitational race at the Tour Of The Battenkill, to be held on 4/19. This race has grown, thanks to the efforts of founder and promoter Dieter Drake, from a small but cool regional affair in 2005, to one of the larger and more talked about amateur bike races in the US. This year, in addition to the amateur, Juniors, and Masters category races to be held on Saturday 4/18, there will be an additional pro men's race on Sunday.

The race has grown (in)famous for its extended sections of dirt roads, steep climbs and beautiful scenery winding through the towns of Salem, Cambridge, Greenwich and Eagleville in Washington County, NY. For those of you not from these parts, that's basically the same thing as Southern Vermont, and it's beautiful country.

In addition to being 200+ kilometers this year, (an actual distance of just over 126 miles) the pro men's race will include most of the top domestic professional teams in the US. There will be riders who have ridden in the grand tours of Europe; riders fresh off the Tour Of California, and many, many guys who have won many, many pro-level races--in short, it is quite likely that it will be the hardest and most legitimate bike race I ever participate in. For those of you who follow cycling, some of the teams that will be there include OUCH pb Maxxis (rumor has it Floyd Landis himself will be there), Colavita, Rock Racing, Bissell, Kelly Benefits, BMC, and every other elite amateur team in the Northeast. 200 riders in all, and none of them are chumps.

If you live within driving distance of the race, I strongly recommend coming out to spectate. It is going to be the coolest thing to happen to bike racing in this part of the world since the Tour De Trump in the 1980's. And I remember those days, in fact a stage of that race, some time around 1988 was the first bike race I ever saw up close and personal. It definitely left an impression.

So it's a pretty cool full circle for me, considering that the first Battenkill Roubaix, as it was then called, in '05 was my third bike race ever. I was a category 5 racer then, brand spanking new to the sport, having just quit smoking cigarettes and lost 70 pounds over the course of the previous seven months. I took 2nd place in the race, winning the small group sprint from what was left of the shattered field and if I had had the nerve to follow the guy who soloed in for the win, I quite possibly would have won the race. Woulda coulda shoulda, that's beside the point. But it was that day, still surprised to discover that I could possibly be good at this sport that I started to believe in myself a little bit and think maybe I should keep at it and see what I could do. My attitude today is more or less the same, I just do longer races against faster guys.

Today was my first real rest day in awhile, following 25 hours on the bike this past week, Sunday-Saturday and ~440 miles. I'm not sure how ready I am to take my racing up a level, but I'm getting near to being as ready as I can be.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Try Hard, Often

I am neither angry, nor lonely, but I am both hungry and tired. My daughter's science project is done, I am finally getting in the week of training I have been close to but just shy of for the last month, my reading is getting back to being near caught up, and I feel the need for a rest week coming on. And how.

I have to remind myself when I worry that my 15, or 17 or 19&1/2 hours of training in a given week isn't enough to win bike races, that the guys I know who are putting in consistent 20, or even 30 hour weeks on the bike this time of year are generally both living in more temperate climes, and not trying to juggle graduate school and parenthood. Ok, I'm only getting a Master's, so it's like tee-ball grad school, and I share custody of my daughter, so that's only four days a week of daddy duty but, still. Riding over 300 miles a week is a hell of a stress on the body for someone who sleeps an average of 7&1/2 hours a night, maybe 9 on weekends.

Generally speaking I try to stay away from jargon heavy, number crunching blathering about my training volume or intensity, as I find it kind of distasteful and largely beside the point. But my blog has taken a decidedly less bike-focused turn in recent weeks, so I figure I can let myself off the leash and spray a little, just for fun.

Why I don't train with power anymore - My Powertap broke, I don't wanna buy another one. Plus, for me, I have been training on the same climbs, more or less, for interval training anyway, for several years now. So I know from previous Powertap usage that if I can maintain 13 mph in the 19 cog on a given 7-8% climb, say, that means I am having a good day and if I do it 5 times, that's a good vo2 workout, provided I am rested enough to see my HR responding well. Or, if I can ride steady LT effort on a 5k climb with my good friend and longtime training partner, Matt Purdy, then I will do better in road races this year, since I tend to get dropped in hilly races where he makes the selection. Maybe I'm cheating, having as I do a sense of what those magical numbers might be. But I don't think so.

I know, I know, everyone loves their numbers. They're so bloody concrete and hard to argue with, so damned masculine. But good decisions win bike races. And the reality for a guy like me is that I still have a hell of a lot of room for improvement left to gain by simply riding more and improving my endurance, eating less/better and sleeping more. When I look around at my life and see before me the ideal of structured athletic purity, well....I'll be bored silly. But I would also, at that point, begin to micro-manage training data in an effort to eke out that last few percent of potential. Realistically, though, I think the best training plan for a guy like me is to a) know my body really well--meaning know my HR zones, know my tendency toward fatigue, how I respond to weight loss, stress, etc; b) train the hell out of my weaknesses, particularly climbing. It isn't rocket science, either--I put out plenty of power to not get dropped in 95% of the races that I do, but I don't feel like a rockstar when I train on climbs, which creates a natural disincentive to train on climbs, because everyone knows training is supposed to provide an ego boost, right? Group rides are the opportunity for you to beat your friends at the thing you're already good at, right? Nope. Oh, and c) Try Hard Often. Really, trying hard is awesome. It will make you a better athlete/student/parent/barista/entrepreneur.

Maybe it's ten years of parenthood talking, but I love training alone, I love ice cream/recovery rides with my girlfriend, and I love rides with one equally matched training partner that are just structured enough to be productive. I seldom do group rides, and these days, if I do, I usually structure it into the middle of a longer ride. I don't often have the mental bandwidth to be competitive more often than on race days, so I try to bottle it, and race hard. This makes me a nice guy to train with--I won't half wheel you, unless we're doing an interval or race simulation, in which case I will try to eat your lunch, steal your teddy bear and kick you in the nuts. But I'll be all huggy afterward.

One of the neatest bits of training wisdom I have ever heard came not from a cycling coach, but from a chess coach, of all things. (Yes, who knew there were such people?) USCF National Master Eric Schiller said in one of his books, that rather than having a "style" most novice chess players have a set of weaknesses that they try to compensate for by avoiding games/positions within games that highlight those weaknesses. This reminds me of my own 170lb inclination to avoid hilly road races and training rides. So many of us have heard the advice, "race your strengths, train your weaknesses" but have failed to consider that as intermediate, or even budding elite bike racers, we really don't necessarily have any strengths yet, beyond an ability to push hard on the pedals...sometimes. Simply put, getting one's ass kicked is of tremendous value. But for me, as a Cat 4 cyclist a few years ago, hey, I was new to this, I had a decent sprint, I could go hard for 200 meters, so, "I'm not a climber" I said. "I'm just too big to go uphill quickly" I rationalized. Bullshit, and I do sprint pretty well, but mostly an internal monologue like that is just an excuse not to try hard. Like not being good at math, or not "getting it" in English class.

So I ramble, I digress. That's why I have a blog, no?

In all seriousness I absolutely respect and value the work and the expertise of cycling coaches and physiologists, and I understand fully that heartrate is a trailing metric, whereas wattage doesn't lie. I would not suggest to anyone that they stop training with power, and I don't have anything against it. But I am a humanist to the core, and I absolutely believe that the emotional and spiritual condition of the human being on the bicycle--assuming, of course, some baseline threshold of "fitness" within a given category or ability range--is the key determinant to performing well, or winning races.

The Humanist's Touchy-Feely Guide to Fast Bike Riding - For many of us who race bikes seriously and close to full time, while juggling the commitments of professional, family and academic life, training time can be a source of enormous stress. Time, weather, fatigue, relationship commitments, etc can all conspire to get us on our bikes and out the door is a pretty preoccupied, harried and minorly (or majorly) stressed condition. In such a condition, I may very well not produce the sort of effort I am capable of producing under not even optimal but at least better, more well rested, less harried circumstances, i.e. a sunny Saturday in June at The Big Bike Race. BUT AT LEAST I CAN GO TO BIKE PRACTICE! Really, this is key. Showing up is more than half the battle, and if I get dressed, I will train; if I am already riding, I might as well ride to the hill; if I get to the hill, I will climb it; having climbed it once, I will likely convince myself to climb it again; thrice is barely more than twice, and having done three repeats, 5 is within sight and I'll feel guilty if I don't, so, before I know it I've done my intervals. And, hey, I was good and went to bed at 10 last night, my weight is down, my HR is responding well to the hard efforts and rising quickly, I feel good about myself for going to bike practice, like, I feel confident! Any coach will tell you that confidence and trust in your training helps produce results. And I think it is also likely objectively the case that most of us never come anywhere close to getting everything out of our bodies that is there to be gotten--it just hurts too much, and we interpret the pain as failure, we're hard-wired that way.

Sure we are all different animals, and different things make us all tick. But there is so much literature out there on sports psychology, so much wisdom about positive visualization, and I know it may sound ridiculous, but I think sometimes having hard, irrefutable data that I am not going as fast as I would like to, or as fast as I did last July, can be really destructive to athlete performance. This athlete's performance, anyway. Plus, like I said, I'm to cheap to replace my Powertap.

Over a certain threshold of basic fitness, if I want to make it to the winning breakaway of a hard road race, I have to want to hurt, and I have to believe in that hurt. We're pretty simple animals, after all, different though we may be.

The numbers that I am proud of, though, are the ones that tell me I have ridden 30% more hours so far this year than at the same time last year. That's an increase of approximately 30 additional hours of training over a 9 week period. I must be trying hard, often. Works for me.

Plus I read a lot of books and I know how to make a model comet.



Wednesday, March 11, 2009


That there is a comet. In my kitchen. No photo enhancement, no special effects, just a comet, in my kitchen.

OK, so it's a model comet, and my daughter's hand has been photoshop'd out of the picture, but the tail is real, and it looks like something from Alien, right?

I am not a particularly organized human being, and I often feel like kind of a shitty parent when I have to help my kid get it together for school science fair projects and the like. Sometimes (ok, a lot) we're late to school in the mornings; I forget to go through her backpack and check homework and stuff and, yeah, I'm that guy. But this year at least she has a genuine far out cool-as-shit model comet to show off. In fact she's a bit of a champ at making them now. Neat.

Plus it's fun having dry ice kicking around the house to play with. Makes for dramatic dinner table conversation.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Spooky Time: A little something for the bike geeks among you

Some words and images foreshadowing the upcoming season of road racing with the
Spooky / NCC / Kenda Elite Cycling Team. These from my new teammate, Justin Spinelli.
And all of this just the other side of the Berkshires...


Friday, March 6, 2009

Very Full Days

Charmaine and I like to joke that we have uncommonly full days. We do.

Yesterday morning I rode a hilly 70 miles in 4 hours and 6 minutes. Later in the evening I participated in three hours of 5th grade homework with my darling, maddening, and seriously behind-in-her-schoolwork daughter. Care to guess which was more difficult?

This is a blog post of the less structured variety, more just checking in since I realize it has been almost two weeks since my last post. So what have I been up to in the meantime?

Well my post entitled "Space" earned itself a link on the widely read and highly respected blog of poet Ron Silliman, so that was nice. Other than that it has been the usual books, bikes and parenthood.

My form is building on the bike, and I am climbing much more strongly than I ever have in early Spring, so that's a plus. I am looking forward to the start of racing season--which for me will be on March 28th at the low key but high quality Johnny Cake Lane spring series--but I am more optimistic, less anxious; more confident, less stressed about the start of racing season then I ever have been before. Maybe it's the fact that this will be my 5th season of racing bikes and I'm just a little more accustomed to the rhythm of the seasons, good luck and bad, the ebb and flow of my form, etc. Or maybe it's the fact that I know I have been working hard on the bike and I'm quietly confident. Whatever the cause, I am feeling excited and relaxed about racing bikes this year, and I feel like my attitude can only lead to good results. So there's my positive outlook for this morning.

Today's immediate excitement is that Char is doing a poetry reading tonight here in Albany and I am thrilled to play the part of sound system handling, book selling, supportive boyfriend. Apart from the fact that she's my partner and I am supposed to say nice things abut her, I really admire Charmaine's craft as a writer. Before we were a couple I remember picking up her book in a bookstore once and reading some of the poems and thinking to myself how I wished I knew that girl better. And now I do, lucky me. Objectively, though, I find her work ethic as a scholar and poet pretty damned inspiring (it certainly gives me a nudge away from my natural tendency toward slackness) and I am looking forward to hearing her send her little poem babies out into the ether tonight.

And I seem not to be behind in my reading, as per meetings with my two respectively distinguished adviser's last week. So it looks like I'll be scheduling my comprehensive exam for early May or so, and then I'll have a Master's degree. Me. Cool.

Plus today I get a new battery in my Honda, Ellie. She'll be so zippy and happy I can hardy wait to drive her home.