Friday, May 30, 2008

Mmmm, Dirt!

Ascutney-Okemo Loop
Since I planned not to race this weekend, timing was perfect for another epic hillfest ride. My company works a 9/80 schedule, which means we work 9hr days Monday through Thursday, 8hrs on working Fridays, then every-other Friday is an off-Friday. Today was an off-Friday, and weather was spectacular. Dave P suggested the ride today. Brett was supposed to join us but Nancy'd out in favor of racing Saturday instead.

Our annual 6-Gaps ride was last Saturday, and I spent much of the week licking my wounds from that hilly sufferfest. I managed to get some quality interval work in on Wednesday though - five 3-6 minute VOmax efforts. The past week's riding left my legs nicely tenderized for today's ride.

Peaks from left to right: Ascutney, Tyson Rd, Shrewsbury Rd, Rt 155, Terrible Mtn, and Okemo.

The route I planned was rather sadistic, if I dare admit. The 94 miler was book cased by two bitches of climbs, Ascutney (3.7mi, 12%) to start, then hours and hours later, Okemo (3.8mi, 11%). Many goodies lie in between, including a major dirt climb.

Warming up for the initial climb, I could tell it was going to be a long day. After a token warmup, I hit Ascutney. Dave got a head start. I eased into the climb, having no time target. I wasn't even going to time myself, but I happened to glance at the time on my cycle computer starting out. Ooops. I really didn't push myself at all the first half. I passed Dave who had streamers of sweat hanging from his chin already. Passing the 2 mile marker, I thought I should at least come in under 30 minutes, so I picked it up a bit. As I neared the top, I realized I was going to come in well under 30 minutes. I finished in 29:19, I believe my third best time and just seconds from my second best time. This after an interval workout about 36hrs earlier and no taper. I've had recent race finishes on Ascutney slower than this where I tapered all week. Too bad I'll be racing up Mt Evans in Colorado this year when the Ascutney race is on. Another PR is within grasp.

The gate was still closed at the bottom after our descent. It was so nice to go up and down with no cars. We grabbed water bottles and split for Tyson Rd. Tyson from the east gains about 1200ft gradually except for a couple steep blips near the top. Again, I eased into this climb, gradually ramping it up to the summit. I was likely above LT for last part of the climb. The descent is spectacular, flowy and curvy.

North on Rt 100 brought us to Shrewsbury Rd. No epic road ride can be complete without dirt. Shrewsbury Rd gains about 1100ft in less than 2 miles of gravel. I've ridden this many times now, and today the gravel was in mint condition, smoother than most of the paved roads in the ride. Pure joy. It is little more than one lane wide with three large switchbacks breaking the climb up and is heavily canopied with trees. I ended up drilling the last part of this one too, even though I knew I was digging a deep, deep hole early in the ride. The descent begins on gravel. In five miles of dirt, only one car went by. Mmmmm, dirt! You bomb through the village of Shrewsbury further down on pavement, then a left on Town Hill Rd finishes the descent on a wicked delicious note. More flowy, curvy stuff like Tyson Rd.

A short jaunt on busy Rt 103 picks up Rt 155. This begins next major climb. This one is never steep, and in fact it doesn't even feel like you are climbing most of the time until you get to the last few hundred feet of vertical. Yet another no brakes needed descent rockets you down to the junction with Rt 100. A left here takes you up the back side of the infamous Terrible Mountain. The sun was high noon now, and this climb is wide open, south facing. It was hot. It persistently gains about 750ft I believe. A big descent ensues from the top of the Terrible Mtn pass, about 1300ft worth, a portion signed at 12% grade.

Dave and I at this point were operating in survival mode. I told him the last time I attempted this loop, I aborted the ride at this point with nothing left for Okemo. He then rhetorically asked why I brought him on such a ride. That was easy. I could count on him following through with the full loop, and I couldn't let him do Okemo without me. In a sick kind of way, Dave was insurance that I would do Okemo this time. I was probably his insurance. Funny how that works.

Dave summiting Okemo

Okemo sucked. I fully expected to be bonking or cramping by this point. I couldn't be so lucky. No cop-outs. I hadn't used my Nancy 34x32 minimum gear on Ascutney. But on Okemo, I couldn't stop mashing that shifter for a 34x34 or 34x36 gear. I was dying. As we neared the top, they were repaving a section. The asphalt was still smoking. It had been rolled, but our 23mm tires still sunk about 1/4" into it. That is the nastiest, stickiest stuff to get on your tires. A thick covering remained until the end of the ride.

View from Okemo summit. Ascutney is distance mountain on right side of view.

A well deserved break was taken at the coffee shop at the bottom. The Key Lime Cheesecake and Red Bull did wonders for the psyche, but not much for the legs. Fortunately, about 15 of the remaining 23 miles in the ride were slightly downhill along the highly scenic Rt 131. Everyone feels like a pro tour superstar on this road. A final 400-500ft climb on the flanks of Mt Ascutney drove the last nail in the coffin. We got back to the car with 99.9 miles on my odometer. Of course, I had to go 0.05 miles past the car to make a legitimate century out of the ride.

The day turned out to be flawless. Nice and cool in the morning, low humidity, and not too windy. I've had this ride Topo'd for a couple years now and have never completed it as mapped. Topo 7.0 gives 13,000ft of climbing in 94 miles, although Topo can overestimate total vertical sometimes. The warmup and some laps up top Ascutney brought this up to 100 miles. I bet there aren't too many other loops locally that offer 13,000ft in 94 miles.

The epic rides series will continue with planned Catskills and Jay Peak area rides later this summer. I have some more racing to do in the mean time.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Scion xD Comparison

2008 Scion xD left, 2005 Toyota Matrix right

I've read reviews how the new Scion xD stacks up against the Honda Fit. The interior of the Fit is slightly larger than the xD. I took a bike with me checking out new cars. If a bike didn't easily fit, the car didn't make the selection. The xD was just big enough to accommodate a bike. I was curious how the xD compares with the other car we will own for several more years, a 2005 Toyota Matrix.

Plenty of room for full bike in Matrix

A road bike has room to spare in the Matrix, without removing the front wheel. Since I'm nearly 6ft tall, my saddle is too high to stand the bike up with front wheel removal. I can also fit a hardtail MTB in there without having to take a wheel off, but I usually pop the front off anyway so I don't put mud on back of driver's seat with the rear wheel. I can also easily fit two road bikes in the Matrix with front wheel removal by layering a shipping blanket between them.

With wheel removal, a road bike just fits in the xD

The xD is a good foot shorter than the Matrix. Most of this length comes out of the cargo area in back. A road bike just fits with wheel removal. Two road bikes would be more challenging, but still doable I think. Colin R can stand two bikes up in his Fit. Perhaps Fit seating is lower than either the Matrix or xD, which allows more vertical cargo space. The xD and Fit are both spec'd at 60 inches tall. I also use a Cycle Ops Bones bike rack. This allows me to take three bikes and two passengers in the Matrix. Because of the geometry of the xD, Cycle Ops recommends no more than two bikes on the rack for the xD. I wouldn't want to put a rider in the back seat anyway in a car that small. The Matrix will still be around when a little more room is required or three of us carpool to an event.

I chose to go with the xD over the Fit since I was so happy with my other Toyota product. Both of our cars basically have the same 1.8L engine. Honda thus far has imported a very limited number of Fits into the US, and that concerned me a bit regarding parts and maintenance. As for bikes, I do my own auto maintenance too. I prefer to own mainstream cars. Cost of long term ownership is lower.

Carbon shift knob in the xD. How cool. For some reason they stuck this $50 option on this car, the only option on it. When I balked about the $50, they just added it to the already negotiated trade-in value.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New Car

This past weekend, my wife and I bought a new car. A little online research went into it, but minimal dealership shopping was involved. In fact, I spend more time shopping for a new pair of shoes than I do for a new car. New car salesmen don't understand that when I walk in with my checkbook, I'm ready to write a check.

My 2003 Ford Ranger was nearing the back end of its bathtub curve, so it was time to replace it. I've owned Ford products continuously for over 20 years. There were a couple Mustang GT's, two other Rangers, a Fiesta (no, not Festiva), Escort, Maverick, and a Capri (a P.O.S.). The Mustangs and two of the rangers we bought new. These all treated us fairly well, but we did encounter problems typically not encountered in Japanese cars.

So now marks the first time in over 20 years we haven't owned a Ford product. The Ranger was replaced with a 2008 Scion xD. My dad, a retired UAW worker, will surely disown me now. Replacement contenders were a 2008 Honda Fit (hard to get), and a 2009 Toyota Matrix. I thought about waiting for the 2009 Fit to come out later this summer, but they would still be hard to get and I wanted something soon so I wouldn't have to put any money into the truck. The 2009 Matrix is nice, we drove one, but I really didn't want to own two of same model even though the body style changed. Our other car is a 2005 Toyota Matrix, which I love. I also considered the Scion xB, those really boxy looking things with tons of room inside, but didn't want the hit in fuel economy. The 2008 xB's do look cool though. So it was the xD, rated 33mpg highway under 2008 rating system. All the numbers went down in 2008, so this car would be around 38mpg under 2007 rating system.

We could afford just about any car or SUV. Why buy a compact? Some readers might expect to see some kind of "carbon footprint" answer. The xD will produce about 2 metric tons less CO2 per year than my truck. While I consider this important, it is not a primary criterion. Saving money on gas may be another answer. I expect gas to hit $6/gal in a couple years, but this by itself is not the main reason to go small despite driving to the nether regions of New England to bike and ski. At $4/gal, the xD will save me over $1500/yr in gas costs. Compacts are less expensive to purchase. I could invest the money not spent on a Lexus in the stock market or carbon racing bikes. I have often joked that I buy cheap cars so I can buy expensive bicycles. But that also does not sum up why my wife and I drive inexpensive cars. We buy new, pay cash, but modest vehicles.

Some may question the wisdom in buying a compact when the highways are plagued with SUV tanks. True, if you enter a crash-up derby with an SUV, you will lose. As a cyclist though, this argument has a unique perspective. I ride my bike on the same roads with the same SUVs, probably 3x as many hours as I drive a car. How many crumple zones, airbags and seatbelts does my bike come with? Throw in the fact that a cyclist is so small you don't show up on the radar of half the drivers out there. The other half don't even want you there and would just as soon take out out. Well then, I would have to give up cycling way before I'd give up driving a small car because its too dangerous. That's just not going to happen. Driving a small car increases my total life's risk only slightly.

My wife and I have always lived well below our means. Maybe it stems from my frugal Dutch heritage. Who knows. As the rest of the world recognizes, our country has a serious problem with conspicuous consumption. I have always bucked against this staple of American life since early childhood. We didn't even possess a credit card until after 10 years of marriage and to this date have never carried a balance on one. I'm sure the credit card companies hate us. Living below one's means comes with so many benefits. It is true you will leave a smaller carbon footprint. Your means aren't just the dollars you earn, but also how much of this planet is required to support your minimal existence. You will always be in a better financial position relative to living conspicuously. Our mortgage was paid off before I turned 40. You will probably be healthier too if you apply these principles to diet. You'll have to forfeit the snobby friends, however. I think we are an anomaly in American society. That sum's up why we buy a small, efficient car - living life within our means.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Best 6-Gaps Yet

132 Miles, 14,500 Feet Vertical
Brandon, Middlebury, Lincoln, Appalachian, Roxbury, Rochester Gaps

Seventeen hardy souls converged on Rochester, Vermont for our annual 6-Gaps hillfest. The weather was unseasonably cool with only a slight chance for precipitation. This year we met at the Rochester School to accommodate all of our cars.

The ride started disjointed. A few riders went off before the main group to get a head start up Brandon Gap. Then just as the main pack rolled off a little past 9am, Mark from Maine pulls in. A few of us waited for Mark to quickly get ready. Then it was chase time. It is never a good thing to begin a long ride by immediately ramping up to near threshold pace. But the others had several minutes on us.

Just as we were about to catch most of the group halfway up Brandon, there was a crash in the main group. Nothing serious. Word is there was a bit of slinky effect going on and Clara Kelly bumped the wheel in front of her. Dan and I stopped for her while the rest of the group pressed on. Once we got Clara's shifter straightened out, it was time to chase again.

Beginning Brandon descent, Chris and Jim I think

We just about caught the main bunch again at the Roxbury summit when Brett and others were in no mood to wait. Plan was to regroup there so we could paceline to Middlebury Gap. A few of us waited for the last rider to summit before beginning the descent. We hadn't even completed one gap yet, and I was chasing to catch the main group for the third time. At bottom of Brandon descent, Grant told us to go on ahead and he'll wait for Stuart. Our small group would spend the next 10-15 miles in chase mode. We finally caught the lead group on Rt 7 just before heading up Middlebury Gap.

Group of 15 on Rt 7, with Dave Penney and Glen Fraser at the front

Middlebury is much bigger than Brandon and starts with a steep punch. This split the group up good right at the bottom (that, and half the group decided a pee break was needed). On the upper portion of the climb past the college, Jon was setting tempo. After repeated chases over Brandon, Jon's pace about killed me. I barely held his wheel summiting Middlebury. We agreed not to regroup at this summit, since the country store was all downhill at the bottom. I hit 54mph on the descent without even trying. This is the safest descent with good pavement and open road.

Group of 14 heading north on Rt 100

Fifteen riders regrouped in Hancock at the store. Dan, who has a vacation house there, had only planned to ride two gaps and was stopping there. I think it was Robert who decided Lincoln and App were not in his best interest and opted to skip them and head right for Roxbury Gap. This would bring us down to 13 riders hitting Lincoln Gap. We maintained a nice paceline up Rt 100 into a stiff wind.

Many riders in the group had not done Lincoln Gap before. Some in fact, haven't done any of the climbs. Lincoln Gap is the crown jewel of the ride. The initial steep rise from Rt 100 baits your anticipation. After a couple miles of smooth as butter gravel, you regain pavement. 6-Gaps regulars, you know the sight of pavement means 15-20 minutes of pure agony is about to begin. The current issue of Bicycling magazine listed the Warren side of Lincoln Gap as the steepest paved mile in America. Jon again set tempo on this climb. The pace was blistering (for me - I couldn't even hear him breathing!). I started to think about the rest of the ride and the day wasn't even half over. I had to back down if I wanted to finish the ride. But then we get to those nasty pitches, you know, the kind where if you stay seated each pedal stroke results in a small wheelie. Jon wasn't geared as low as me and started serpentining across the road. I slowly gained on him, passing him just before the summit. This effort still about killed me however.

Clara summiting Lincoln Gap, 4th up I believe

I think Brett was third to summit, then to my astonishment, Clara came up next. She had "girl'd" most of the guys on the steepest climb! When Clara emailed me with interest in joining our group two days before the ride, I must confess I had some reservations. First, we were a bunch of "old-fart" masters, albeit some of us pretty fast old-fart masters. I've seen some pretty strong guys bail after four gaps, so my concern was Clara getting dropped and being out there solo. But she dropped most of the guys instead. Clara won the Cat 4 women's race at Sterling a couple weeks ago, so I knew she was at least strong. I think some of the local women's hill climb records are at risk...

Solobreak summiting Lincoln Gap (in big chain ring no less)

After Middlebury, we discussed using Lincoln Gap as a natural selector in busting the group into two groups. Our stops were taking quite a bit of time with over a dozen riders waiting in line for purchases. But the group came back together at the Lincoln summit before we began the descent. Naturally, we converged on the Lincoln General store at about the same time too. Dave Foley was at this point was thinking the cut through to App Gap from Lincoln center was a good idea. But this cuts out "Baby App." 6-Gaps is NOT about seeing how to take short cuts, it's all about maximizing vertical and suffering. So after our biggest consumption food stop, we bombed the rest of the way down to Rt 17.

App Gap summit view

The group quickly busted up on Baby App. Toby was setting a blistering pace that shelled most of the riders. When we got to the main climb, I was struggling to hold Jon and Toby's wheels. They pulled away, leading the charge up the last few km's of App Gap. Toby ended up dropping something and stopped, so it was just Jon up the road. He slowly grew the gap and I had nothing in reserve to catch him. Normally we re-group at the App summit, but from the top you could see riders 10 minutes down and others still that hadn't even come into view yet. So we decided that if there was a good point to split the group, this would be it. We bombed down to Waitsfield, and like always, I scare myself good coming into the guardrail switchback sections at 50mph. With lots of traffic, I just don't mess around on these corners and slow to a conservative speed going through them. I still gained on Brett and Dave Penney though.

Jon with a "hi mom" wave at summit of App Gap

Coming up App Gap, we noticed a cop at a banged up motorcycle scene. It looked like skid marks into guardrail. Those guys on crotch rockets must hit 100mph on this road. I presume the guy standing there was the driver. Don't know why he wasn't in a body bag.

We did not spend much time at all in Waitsfield fueling up before others started rolling in. Clara was the first behind Jon, Toby, Brett, Dave and myself I think. We still decided to split at this point since the faster half of the group was ready to roll and others hadn't even rolled in yet. A few of the riders were contemplating making it a 4-gap ride and head back down Rt 100 to the cars. But the persuasion of a "B-group" forming was enough to keep everybody left on track for 6-gaps. Jim graciously agreed to lead this group. We had lost another rider at this point and had no idea where or how. I think it was Mark. Later when we got back to cars, a note said he cut the ride short.

Descent to Roxbury from top of gap with smooooooth gravel

So the A-group heads down Rt 100 for Roxbury Gap. I was still feeling pretty good. Riders tell me my reports don't do this gap justice, as it is much harder than what I make it out to be. I guess why so many find it difficult is that the grade is very persistent. It never backs off, so you can't ever let up to recover until you get to the top. It is not super steep, but a lot of the climb is dirt. Again, Jon dominated this climb. We usually don't regroup on this one, instead regrouping at the store at the bottom. The descent was spectacular and is my favorite on 6-gaps. The gravel was perfectly packed, although a couple riders complained about it being bumpy. A lot of recent rain made all the gravel sections for this year's 6-Gaps the best I've ridden on. I held speeds near 40mph for much of the dirt descent.

Even though we agreed to split in Waitsfield, riders were coming in to Roxbury quite quickly. We agreed to not split after all, as there were no more planned stops after this. The ride to Rochester Gap was mostly downhill with tail wind, so there was good chance everybody would be able to stay on. Dave Foley headed south on Rt 12a several minutes ahead of the eleven others, as he didn't want his legs tightening up again. I think the real reason was he didn't want to get girl'd again on the last gap.

The vicious wind was now our friend with it to our backs. With eleven of us, we worked up a good paceline. We held 28-30mph for long stretches at a time. This was the fastest we've ever averaged on this stretch. Otto, in his 50's, was killing the rest of us. A couple riders got dropped along the way, but everybody knew the way back from here so we kept it going. Even though Dave Foley pushed off many minutes ahead of us, I thought for sure we'd gun him down in no time at this kind of pace. Nope. We hit Randolph, banged the right onto Rt 12 and got into the rollers. It's five miles from here to Camp Brook Rd, which goes over Rochester (aka Bethel) Gap. Still no Foley. It wasn't until Camp Brook Rd came into sight that we just caught a glimpse of Dave heading up.

So the nine of us caught Dave as the climbing got underway. This was the last climb, and most riders are empty shells of human beings by this point. I was starting to cramp on Rt 12 before we got to the climb. I had fears I would have a total meltdown like I did at Everest Challenge last year. I had to keep constant pressure on the pedals. Easing up caused spasms.

As in years past, Dave Penney hits the last climb as hard as he hits the first one. The rest of us are trashed, and he's still going like the Energizer Bunny. He effortlessly rolled away from the rest of us, out of sight by the time we reached the summit. Jon and I came up together, and Clara was right behind us. That final descent felt so good, pretty near all downhill to the cars. One by one, riders came straggling in to the school with ear to ear grins.

I finished with 7:20 riding time and 130.8 miles. This is a PR finish for me, but this is due largely to riding with such a strong group. We maintained much higher speeds on the flats than in years past with small groups. Total elapsed time for first finishers was around 9:15hrs.

I was really impressed with how well the group of 12 that finished all six gaps held together. Many of the riders finished with a sub-8hr riding time. There was a great deal of diversity in the group, nearly 2:1 in age, Cat 2 men to Cat 4 women racers, and super fit recreational riders. Riders from five states participated. We experienced a minor crash, but a far as I know, there were no flats or mechanicals. Four other riders completed four gaps, and one had planned to ride just two gaps. Rain never materialized despite occasional dark clouds and a drop or two at one point. Wind shells were needed for most of the chilly descents. Only four food stops were needed due to cool weather. Although organizing a larger riding group like this can be a bit stressful, this was my most enjoyable 6-Gaps yet.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

6-Gaps Prep

I had trouble selecting a bike from the quiver for this year's 6-gaps ride. I don't want to use my new Ridley, as it is set up strictly for road racing. It is also my only 10spd drivetrain bike, and I really don't have any options laying around that will get me down to 1:1 gear ratio. The current issue of Bicycling magazine lists Lincoln Gap as the steepest paved mile in the USA. It averages about 20% with parts so steep you can barely keep your front wheel on the ground. Most people need some crazy low gears for this, especially those not accustomed to mashing low RPM like myself.

My Dean Ti cross bike is suitably geared with compact crank up front and MTB cassette in back, but it is out of commission temporarily. A couple weeks ago I got a call from Ritchey (not Tom Ritchey himself, but the company he started) regarding a recall on cranks. Odd, I thought, as I didn't think I had any Ritchey cranks. I had to go downstairs to look. Turns out I had a Ritchey WCS crank on my cross bike. The left arm was designed too thin and snapping off at the BB. I shuddered thinking about that. How they tracked me down is beyond me, as I don't even remember where I ordered it through. Ritchey gave me an RA# to send left arm back for beefier replacement. I'm grateful they actively tracked folks down and didn't just post it on their website.

So I could consider my Specialized Allez, the oldest bike in my quiver. It has served me well over the years and has always been equipped with a triple. It is beastly heavy however. I use it for winter training and I put the cheapest, heaviest parts that will last a long time on it. I used it once for 6-gaps in a leaner form.

My Dean Ti road bike was most obvious choice, as I've used it for 6-gaps the last few years. But it no longer has a triple crank. I got sick of snickers at training rides and races (I have won masters races using a triple). I would need to swap out BB, crank, and probably front derailleur to get the gears needed for Lincoln Gap. That seemed like too much work, and I would have to pilfer the parts from the Specialized, leaving me with a second unrideable bike.

My Trek 5900 carbon bike was still hanging from a hook where I put it last fall after the Everest Challenge race. Both tires were flat (latex tubes). Bike was dusty from building an oak plasma display stand in the bike shop. But it had a compact crank and XTR mountain bike derailleur on it. Perfect. All I had to do was swap out the cassette for a 32t MTB cassette. I actually did this on my Rolf Vigor wheelset, a little more stout for the dirt sections of 6-gaps. This will get me down to 34:32, plenty low for Lincoln Gap.

Training value of 6-Gaps is dubious this time of year when most guys are beginning to peak. This is mainly true for those doing two hour or less road races and crits. It takes several days to fully recover from 6-Gaps, and intensity workouts don't work so well until you are recovered. Most of us will log several hours near LT during this ride. I don't train only to race though. A few times per year I go on cycling centric trips that involve massive amounts of climbing and consecutive long days in the saddle. This can be enjoyable only if one has the endurance to prevent successive rides from degenerating into miserable slogs. I would like to do the Shenandoah 100 mile MTB race this summer too. That could take 9 hours of hammering. And of course, the killer D2R2 seems to have found a permanent place on my annual calender. When I first reported on that ride a couple years ago, I said I wouldn't do it again. Just can't stay away from a good sufferfest though.

Weather is looking promising for Saturday, and I expect about 15-20 guys to make it. Hopefully rain over the next couple days keeps the gravel tamped down.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Lake Sunapee Road Race

Masters 45+ Report
For a third race weekend in a row, it looked like rain. Procedure is such - check radar, and if it looks like pouring rain during race, go back to bed. But like Jiminy and Sterling, the rain cleared out just in time and other than wind, I found Sunapee conditions ideal.

We had 60 guys pre-reg'd in the Masters 45+ field. Many of the usual suspects were there, minus the New Yawkers. Sunapee is not quite hilly enough to bust things up. As such, I didn't have high expectations in this race. Optimally, I hoped to get away with a few big riders like Bill Thompson (CCC/Keltic) or Keith Button (NorEast) that could fight the tough winds.

Right from the rotary at the start of the race, attacks started. I participated in many of these. The deal is, anybody that went off was a contender, and everybody wanted to have a piece of what they were starting. Nothing worked. We stayed together through the hills on the front side of the course. On back side (Rt 103A), Tom Butler (CCC/Keltic) and I got away on the first few rolling hills with a decent gap. A couple minutes later, we got caught just before the biggest, steepest hill on Rt 103A. I nearly got shelled right then and there.

I sat in for the rest of lap one. Before finishing the first lap, another two riders got off the front. Don't know who they were. They had 30-60 seconds on us at one point. Nobody seemed to be working. A couple attempts quickly became disorganized. I was recovered from initial burst with Tom and worked my way back to the front. IBC teammates Brett Rutledge and Brian Anderson, myself, and one other rider began a four-person tempo pace rotation at the front. This gradually brought the gap down. Around the time we reached Rt 11, the break was shut down. Hard to say how far that break could have gone if IBC hadn't stepped up to do something about it.

More attacks ensued on the hills of Rt 11. Tom Officer (Cycle Fitness) made a decisive move, taking two others with him. Not sure what happened, as the effort abruptly petered out with some strong words exchanged. Over the crest of the big hill, a split of about 10 riders pulled away. It appeared though that some of the strongest riders in the split stayed at the back. It wasn't working and never got very far away. We were all back together before turning onto Rt 103A.

On Rt 103A, with 15-20 minutes to go in race, Randy Kirk (Cycle Fitness) makes a strong surge off the front. For a while, he hung out only 20 seconds or so ahead of us. I was pretty much cooked by this point. It didn't really matter to me that we'd be sprinting for second place, as in these kind of finishes I'm so far out of contention anyway.

Climbing the stair step hill back to the rotary, I figured I'd go out on a suicide launch on the last rise. I did, nobody responded. The field probably knew I was gassed anyway. Cresting the high point, I had maybe 10 seconds lead with Randy 20-30 seconds up. But the descent down to the rotary was not kind to me. I got swarmed as I went into the rotary, and the posturing to the finish had already begun. I pretty much stayed out of the way. I was quite sure the entire field came by. I was so spent I could have walked my bike up as fast.

I was surprised to learn that Tom Butler won. I was sure Randy's lead was insurmountable, but he got swarmed in the last meters too. So I took 19th out of 59 finishers. With team support present, I should have done better.

In four road races so far this year, I have not placed better than 9th. I podium'd several races last year. I think multiple things are going on here. First, teammate Brett points out that I can't just anonymously ride away from the field anymore. When you race with the same guys enough times, they get to know who you are. Second, I missed or screwed up in two races this year. I was sick for Turtle Pond and I missed getting in the 45's at Jiminy, both podium finishes last year. I haven't been good at benchmarking my fitness this spring, but I should be pretty close to where I was last year at this time. I think there is one other thing going on.

Since the last couple races have not been very hilly, any chance for a decent finish must come from a clean break. I've spent a lot of time near the front waiting for opportune moments or hopping on promising moves of others. Rarely do early attempts succeed, but it just kills me to sit mid pack fretting over what if THE move happens and I'm stuck there. I could get caught in a split over a hill too. But it is costly to hang out near the front. Kilojoules tick away even though it may not seem much work is being expended. It comes down to being greedy, always being there at the right moment. I'm sure more experienced riders are better at reading the race and know when to move forward. Teammates have mildly admonished me the last couple races for my tactical recklessness, and the criticism is well taken.

Next planned road race is Housatonic. That course is hilly enough to bust things up good. Hope I have the goods to do it justice. In the mean time, 6-gaps (132 miles, 14,000ft vertical, dirt, 20% grades) is this Saturday. Looks like 20+ guys are on board for the sufferfest. Following weekend looks like another long mountains group ride.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Off-road Analgesic

Some of you may be expecting a Sunapee race report but instead find another boring trail ride report. Maybe the one or two trail riders that stop by occassionally will have moderate interest. I'm dissapointed in how the racing season has gone so far and need another day or two to sort out what to say about Sunapee. This is only my second season racing Masters 45+, and yet something seems to have changed. Other competitors have commented on the nature of 45+ races lately too. There's probably more to say about post Sunapee race happenings than the race itself, such as the 60k ride with Solobreak and Penney, or the state trooper hottie that pulled me over for speeding on Rt 103.

Whole ride, Massabesic Lake lower, Wahoo loop upper left

For now though, you get a trail ride report. Often my weekends throughout the summer have a race on Saturday and long trail ride on Sunday. Sunday's are my fun riding day. Probably junk miles, but psychological benefits outweigh fretting over what the training task master we all have in our heads dictates to do. There's nothing like a long, solo woods ride to sooth over disappointments.

The FOMBA trail system near Manchester, NH has been open a while now this spring. Conditions were dry. I parked at the Massabesic Lake park and started my ride like the annual FOMBA Turkey Burner fun ride. It's a big, fast loop around the lake on a mix of single and double track. I brought my new Garmin Edge 705 with me to gain more familiarity with it. I noticed that about 10 miles into the ride, the riding time and distance of both the 705 and my Cateye wired computer were within 0.1% of each other. In other words, they were in exact agreement.

FOMBA singletrack, clockwise from upper left, Ladyslipper, Deer Run, Red Pine, Sampler, Moose Track, Fisher Cat, Woodpecker

Then I got to the FOMBA singletrack network. This is the most noodly cluster of trails you can imagine. Tight, twisty, technical, and probably packed in something like a mile per acre. I noticed my Edge 705 started losing distance against the Cateye. In fact, in 8 miles of squiggly trail, I lost nearly a mile against the Cateye. That's >10% discrepancy, or 100x the error on straighter, faster terrain. The elapsed moving time stayed in perfect agreement. I know that a downloaded track file in DeLorme can truncate the distance in twisty terrain, but the GPS itself should never do this, as it integrates velocity to accumulate distance. Or so I would think. This is going to require more research, maybe a post or two on Garmin forums.

After riding seven FOMBA singletrack loops, I thought to myself that no ride at FOMBA is complete without doing a lap around the old Watershed Wahoo MTB race loop. This was my favorite race in the EFTA Championship series, partly due to its non-technical nature. It was essentially a 100 minute time trail speed fest with a couple thousand feet of climbing, four times around the hilly circuit. It was easy for me to win my expert class and placed 4th and 5th out of 300+ overall a couple years. No race-paced laps today though. At best, I was bumping up into tempo pace on the climbs. Sunapee race and post race ride really sapped me.

I did not do any MTB races last year, although I signed up for the Hampshire 100k and bailed on it. This year will not pass by without some competition on dirt. I'm planning to race the Shenandoah 100 later this summer. The longest MTB race I've done to date was the Vermont 50 Miler several years ago. The Shenandoah will take much longer (9+ hours?) and has much more climbing. Floyd Landis finished 3rd in 7:24hrs last year. Ought to be an epic.

It was an amazing morning to be out. Perfect temps, light breeze, pretty near had the place to myself, and bugs were barely noticeable (maybe if I stopped, I might have noticed more bugs). I rode 33 miles in 3hrs with about 3200ft of climbing, nearly all on dirt.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sterling Flogging

Sterling Classic Road Race, Master's 45+

I reluctantly signed up for the Sterling road race since most of my team was going to be there. The organizers also created a separate Masters 45+ field this year. Looking at Bikereg pre-reg before the race, it seemed most of the combined masters 35+ field in year's past were 45+ rides, as our field was much bigger than the younger field this year. Sterling is raced more like a crit, as the hill is not steep enough for long enough to break things up. Successful breakaways are tough to pull off on this course. The finish usually comes down to a bunch sprint, albeit not a high speed one going up the short rise to the finish line. This was my first time racing Sterling.

Lining up, our field of 75 riders was asked if we wanted to do 6 laps instead of 5. Apparently many 45+ riders felt cheated from year's past riding in a combined masters field for 6 laps. Nobody objected, so moments before the start of our race, another 8 miles was tacked on. I was cool with that.

The 35's were staged 20 minutes ahead of us. A lap takes about 20 minutes. The race has a 2.5 mile neutral roll-out to the actual course. We no more than went live than a two-man break from the 35+ field came flying past. Then we were told to neutralize for the rest of the field to come by. Paul Curley (Gearworks) had a better idea. He got the field and our officials to completely stop our field for about 2 minutes to give the 35+ field a little gap ahead of us before we started racing again. It was the right thing to do, although Curley speculated that with all the fire power in our field, we'd catch them soon again anyway. It never happened, but looking at the results, they finished with about the same 2 minutes on us we gave them when stopping. The Bikereg results show elapsed time for each field and do not reflect that we were not moving for at least two minutes in the 45+ field. Bikereg also shows we did only 40mi, which is incorrect. We did 48 miles.

Our race stayed quite fast. The first time up the hill finishing lap 1 was quite hard. But many flat parts that intersperse the climb to the high point of the course gave the "gravity challenged" opportunities to stay on. The hill simply wasn't enough to be a "selector" as they say. Our field stayed largely intact to the finish.

I think it was on lap 4, Eric Pearce (Bethel Cycle), Dave Kellog (Arc en Ciel), myself, I think Tom Butler (CCC/Keltic), and one other rider got away at the top of the hill. We actively worked this, growing a sizable gap for a couple minutes. But it didn't stick. Strangely, after the race another rider thought one of Kellog's teammates chased us down. I couldn't confirm this. If true, why? Too many guys? Wrong mix of guys?

A few minutes later on the descent, Pearce, Kellog, and Mark Sumner (Battenkill-United) saunter off the front again. For a minute, it didn't look serious, and I made conscious choice to stay in field. I was right there and could have gone if I wanted. I just figured they'd be ruthlessly reeled in again. Nope. They put the hammer down and were gone, game over. Sumner was dropped a short while later and commented after the race that he couldn't hang on. Apparently Pearce was motoring something fierce. For much of a lap, the break was only 30 seconds up the road. We could have shut it down quickly, but nobody wanted to work. Gearworks? Mystic? BOB? Nope. IBC (my team) gave chase for a while, expending two of the riders in the process. In hindsight, I was mad with myself for not pursuing this one. But it very well could have been the case that had I joined, the threat would have been too big and not let away. You never know.

I continued to hang out in the front 10 guys for the rest of the race. Sometimes I was hung out off the very front to flounder. I was quickly draining my matchbook by doing so. Teammate Brett Rutledge commented that I was spending way too much time up there. But I am as non-sprinter as they come. In a bunch finish, I'm lucky to get 20th place. On a fast course like Sterling, my only hope is to create or join a break. Usually the types that are successful in breaks are more like myself, in that they can time-trial but not sprint well. This levels the playing field when coming in to the finish and I have a shot for a win. Otherwise, forget about it. Staying out front and draining myself at worse was going to knock me down a few places in a bunch finish, and who's counting at 20th place anyway? There were numerous attacks and counter attacks in laps 4-6. I tried to participate in many of these but was pretty much fried by the last lap. Anything that went off the front was viciously snuffed out. Butler, Joe Rano (Bike Alley), and Tyler Munroe (CCB) were mixing it up at the front a lot too.

I was in another unsuccessful break attempt near end of lap 5. Butler, myself and two other riders got away on Rt 12 as we overtook groups of Cat 4 riders. But on the initial climb to the finish, we were caught. That was the last couple matches I had left in my book.

Coming into the home stretch on Rt 12, we had a nice tail wind going up slight grade. Pace initially was 34mph, which ironically wasn't that hard. It did string things out good though. We still had over 40 guys in main field with Pearce/Kellog a minute up the road. I tried rolling off the front a couple times. If I got more than 1-2 seconds off the front, the gap would get slammed shut. Several attacks ensued, with two riders getting a few seconds on us at turn to the finish. I believe they were caught, as there were no time splits other than for Pearce/Kellog. I was in front few guys rounding the corner to the finish but was completely gassed from my futile efforts to get a gap. I kind of just stayed out of the way as what seemed like the whole field came by in the last 200m to the line. At least this isn't a 40mph sprint finish. It's more like a 20mph finish for the fastest guys, and they give us the whole road once rounding the corner. I finished in 18th place, mid pack-ish, which is typical for me in a sprint finish. Had I raced conservatively, I might have made the cash cutoff for top 6. To do so on a course like this, however, is to give up any chance for a podium finish.

So it was a frustrating race for the team and for me. I killed myself pretty much during the whole race and have nothing to show for it. Such is bicycle racing. Ironically, the races I place best in are ones where I didn't feel like I worked very hard. These tend to be big climbing races or where I get away and TT to the finish. Sterling was either 500W for a minute or nothing. Give me 350W for 30 minutes or more, maybe I can do something.

I debuted the new Ridley at this race. It performed flawlessly. One final tweak I still plan to make is change bar from 44cm to 42cm. I feel like I'm steering a school bus. The frame/wheels are ultra stiff. Energy transfer is immediate. The bike also rides harshly compared to my Dean Ti bikes. But the Ridley is race bred. It is supposed to be responsive, not a touring comfort bike. The steering is very quick. I feel a little less secure in tight pack than I do on my Dean. I'm sure I will adapt to this quickness as I ride and race it more.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Value of Stan's

I've been bringing my Dean hardtail back up to peak riding form. The recent Arizona trip was hard on it. Vertical mile descents, desert dust, and cacti thorns up the wazoo. I destroyed the rear tire accidentally on my first trail day when I wasn't even on the bike. I brushed a cholla cactus and put many nail-sized thorns through the sidewall. There wasn't enough sealant in there to deal with that catastrophe. I was still able to finish the ride though. The next day I had to put worn spare UST (tubeless) tire on the rear wheel. It was almost bald, and after a week of hard riding, it was completely bald. It was a most worthless tire for trail riding.

Tonight I put two new WTB tubeless tires on. The ones I took off were full of thorns. The Stan's sealant I use really does the trick. I'm saving the old WTB tire off the front (it still had some tread left on it) for my spare. I pulled the thorns out. If I have to use it on my next trip, the Stan's will promptly fill the thorn punctures.

The original Hayes disk brakes have seen better days on that bike too. The front lever was going down to the bar with little braking action going on. Bleeding the system did not revive it. The master cylinder is toast I think. It would cost almost as much to rebuild it as to buy a whole new brake, which is what I did. For the rear too. With recent XTR overhaul, now brakes and tires, the bike will ride like brand new again. I built this one up in 2000 or 2001 I believe.

My new Ridley road racing machine is ready. I've been dialing things in over the last couple weeks. I swapped out the Bontrager tires and tubes for Michelin Pro2 Race tires and Specialized heavy weight tubes. Puncture flats irritate me, and brand new tires/tubes should not flat as easily as the Bontrager setup did. I've got seat height set now. This requires cutting frame (seat mast) with hacksaw. Scary. I take off exactly minimum amount to fit me with one spacer. If I ever sell the bike, somebody up to 2" taller than me should be able buy it. I had some nuisance chain drop issues I could not adjust out with certainty. The frame does not have a round seat tube, so I could not simply bolt on a Deda "Fang." I had to cut the clamp off and glue just the tip of the fang to the seat tube. I can now shift from big to little ring in any cog with 100% confidence.

IBC is a pleasure to work with in getting fit dialed. They let me swap the stem out for a 1cm shorter one to achieve a fit more like my Dean I've been riding for 7 years. I may want to put narrower bar on there too, but shop was out of the 3T bar in 42cm size. Many thanks to IBC in working this out with me after I've had the bike a few weeks. The local shop here in Nashua would never accommodate a rider this way.

I took the Ridley out for its first serious training ride today at lunch. Dave and I did 45mi with 3500ft of climbing. The climbs got progressively bigger, starting with Pine Hill 1&2, Tyng Hill, Federal Hill, Abbot Hill, and finally Pead Hill in Wilton. The ride cooked me about as thoroughly as the Jiminy Peak race did. The first five climbs were VOmax efforts. Hope to debut the Ridley at Sterling this weekend.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Jiminy Spanked

Raced in the Masters 35+ today at Jiminy Peak. Weather was dank - drizzly, windy, with temp in the low to mid 40's. We lucked out though. At least the rain stopped before we rolled off. The roads remained wet for most of the race.

I know very few riders in the Master's 35+ field. I recognized names of many pre-registered riders that place well, but I can't put faces to those names. A lot of riders have switched teams or have completely redesigned team kits too, further complicating who's who. 113 were pre-registered, and I'd guess 100 lined up. My plan was to not drift too far back from the front and not get caught behind a split. This plan did not serve me well.

As soon as we popped out on Rt 43, three riders took off and the field did nothing. I was not going to hop on every wisp that went off the front. We went so pathetically slow, 12mph at one point on Rt 43, that the 45+ field caught up to us as we turned onto Rt 7. The officials tried to neutralize us, but they weren't very successful. Eventually we started racing, setting a blistering pace over the finishing climb. This brought us all back together. I hit 55mph on the descent.

Back on Rt 43, attack after attack ensued. I did not participate in any of these, but I stayed very close to the front and had no choice but to all-out accelerate to stay with lead guys. It seemed guys like Ruiz (CCC/Keltic - who won 35's last year) and Aspholm (Westwood Velo - at least I think that was him) weren't concerned about many of these attempts either. This type of racing doesn't play into my strengths well at all. Each acceleration removed a match from my book. It seemed at any one time, there were always two or three guys off the front, but not very far, and not for long. We'd go gang-busters, catch somebody, then sit up. Our average speed was pretty slow, but when we went, we really went.

The second time over the finishing hill, I started to think I wasn't going to survive it one more time. Jiminy always does this to me. More riders got away on Rt 43 again, and this time it stuck. I don't know who they were. It seemed odd that some of strongest guys I knew in the field weren't part of this and teammates didn't seem to be proactive in chasing them down. There were several CCC/Keltic guys in the field and I don't think they made it in this initial break. On one of the risers on Rt 43, we got a nice split of about 15 riders away from the main pack. I pulled through working this a couple times, but was barely able to pull through. The field still had some fire power and caught us after a few miles. I'm guessing teams of the three-man break didn't want us spoiling their party. A little later, a couple more guys rolled off the front, then again on Rt 7 we lost a couple more.

I've learned my lesson in the past hopping on everything that takes off only to get reeled back in and being toast well before the finish. Well, in this race, pretty much anybody that took off on the third lap was let go. Go figure. We still had Aspholm, Ruiz, Gump (Incline Training) in the field of at least 30, maybe 50 guys going into finishing climb. Climb or no climb, I hate these kind of finishes. We would be competing for about 10th place. I was perfectly content just finishing with the field at this point. I was near the front rounding the corner onto Brodie Mtn Rd. It was still wet and a little muddy on the inside, the line I took each time. Half way up, about 10 more guys come past me, but then as we approached the finish, a lot of guys ran out of gas and I passed many. This was still good for at best 20th place, but more likely 25th or lower. We were mixing in with other dropped riders, so it was hard to tell. Not really that disappointed. It was a safe race and I got an excellent workout.

Talking with guys from the field I really wanted to be in, the 45+ field, I heard there were a couple minor crashes. Teammate Brett flatted on the first lap and was not able to get back on. The finishing climb was also quite mellow too.

So if the race was the main course for today, a tasty little climb I did after the race was dessert. A local rider pointed this out to me a couple years ago. It is Mt Tom near Springfield, MA. There used to be a cog railroad that went to the summit. Now a very narrow paved path sits in its place. The grade is heinous, 16% for 0.9 miles. That's average. I'm betting sustained sections exceed 20% with one bit at 25-30% right at the top. I nearly wheelied over backwards on that. On the descent, I had trouble keeping my rear wheel from skidding on the damp surface. Kids, don't try this right after a punishing road race without a triple crank. I think I was at 40rpm standing the whole way up. Anyway, the Google Earth and photo images tell the rest of the story.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Hosed at Jiminy

I forgot how quickly some of our local "spring classics" can fill. When I got around to signing up for the Masters 45+ field at Jiminy Peak, it was full. The 35+ race was nearly full too, so I jumped into that field. I'll be only IBC/Global guy racing 35+. So why am I hosed? Roger Aspholm (Westwood Velo) will be there, for one. He rides away from the field in nearly every masters race he competes in. The race can be brutal until the field relents and lets Roger go. That means the rest of us will be competing for second place.

Since this is my second year racing in 45+, I haven't kept track of riders moving into the 35+ field. I know a few other strong riders in there, but there may be others I don't know. In some ways, if you exclude the Roger factor, the 35+ race might be easier than the 45+ race. The 45+ field is one of the most stacked fields I've seen. There are at least 20 guys in there that can win.

I entertain the idea of winning most races I enter. Not Jiminy this year. That will take a lot of pressure off. Maybe I'll even race smarter and not burn so many matches at the front early in the race. Hope the weather holds up, as I really don't care to race in a cold down pour.

I signed up for Sterling. Teammates say this is the first year that a 45+ field has been created. I haven't done this race but am familiar with parts of the course from training rides I do down that way. I would say it's not a pure climbers or pure sprinters course. Hard to say what can be done there. I'll have at least five teammates. There should be no excuse for IBC/Global to not take a podium spot. The pressure is on.

A while back, Solobreak extended an invite to a few local hammers to test their mettle in a "Big Blue jamboree." The Sterling race weekend is out for me. Legs would be in less than ideal shape, and Mothers Day is a no-go. The following weekend is Sunapee race. Then we have our annual 6-gaps sufferfest on May 24, which is Memorial weekend. Solo, interested in this? 132 miles, 14,000ft of climbing, two dirt gaps, and 24% grade on Lincoln Gap. It feels so good when it is over. So an assault on Big Blue may have to wait until May 31 or June 7.