Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Two-Part Post

PART II
Friday, March 26th
First race of the season is tomorrow. Weather forecast calls for 49 and sunny. A day of cold hands and burning legs, I reckon.
I won't even notice the weather, though. I'll be glued to the wheel in front of me hanging on for dear life.
Or who knows? Maybe I'll be off the front in every breakaway (except the winner).
I have no idea how I'll feel.
It's hard to gauge my fitness at this time of year because A. I train alone throughout the winter mixing XC skiing with the gym workouts, and B. I have never used a Power Meter.
I have always eschewed numbers. Heart rate, cadence, distance, speed, kilojoules, watts, roentgens, adiabatic lapse rate, whatever. I have always trained by feel. No diaries. No notes. I don't even wear a watch to know how long I've been on the bike. I just try to get home before it gets too dark.
That all may change here soon. VeloPress is planning to release a new book soon on the topic of Power Meters, and in a moment of foggy thought during a conversation with my publisher, Rene, I made a statement to the effect that "I think I might take the plunge and see what results I can muster by using a power meter.'
Hmm. Interesting . . . in a Morgan Spurlock kind of way.
I could start from scratch and document my findings over the course of a 90-day period. With the help of a few friends who are well-versed in the numbers game, it would be interesting to see how far it takes me, and how difficult/easy it is.
First things first, I need to get through tomorrow. Let me tell you, the nerves have started to warble in anticipation of the first few laps of the season.
Should be fun.
And then I wrote....
Part II
Saturday, March 27th
As it turns out, I certainly did notice the weather: Saturday was sunny and WINDY.
Wind has a way of ripping the race apart. Once a gap forms in front of you, the alarm bells should ring loudly. You have to close the gap, or watch the race ride away from you. Hesitate, and it's over.
At one point early in the race, a huge gap formed splitting the field in half. It grew quickly. (Guess which side of the gap I was on. Yes, the bad side. Of course. Why would you think otherwise?) The race was riding away from us. We were going fast, but the other group was going faster. And a general, momentary apathy came over us, as if we all had quickly resigned ourselves to the idea of being in "the laughing group" today. It happens. Go with it.
The split grew to almost 30 seconds in just a few laps. We were definitely the laughing group, although no one was laughing. And then we got our act together and started working together to try to bring it back. I mean, working HARD.
You can probably tell (by the fact that I'm even telling this story) that we eventually got ourselves back into contention by catching the leaders. All I want to say is that this was one of the hardest days of racing I've ever had. The wind combined with a bunch of younger fast dudes on bikes made it a hell on wheels.
Let me tell you what it's like:
The speed picks up, and you fight desperately to hide from the wind. Find someone bigger than you, and ride as close behind them as you can. But the wind always finds you and makes you work harder. And then the pace picks up again, and you don't look at the person in front of you because that would require you to raise your head up. No, you look at his rear wheel while your nose taps your handlebars. And your legs grind the gears until you feel fire in your quads.
Then you come to the little hill. Before the race, it was a pretty tame little hill. That's because you were going 8 mph. Now you're going 26 mph. This is where your legs complain the most. And in your head, you calculate how many more freakin' times you'll have to climb up this Mt. Shasta. If a gap opens up here, you should start to worry because when we go down the hill, we'll face the wind full-on. If that gap opens at the top, it'll be bigger at the bottom. Oh, the injustice of working up AND down the hill. That's just wrong.
If you survive it (and a lot of riders didn't. We started with about 60 riders, but only 25 riders finished in the lead group.), you will try to find any place on the course to rest. Find any moment that allows you to take a drink of water, sit up, stretch the back, and rest the legs. It's amazing that you can do all that in a 50 meter stretch of road. Unfortunately, you're only given 40 meters. The pace was unrelenting.
WHO is driving this train? What horse is on the front of this line making it go so fast? I want his name and address. I'm going to forward it to the Mob.
The next trip through the Start/Finish area, you hope to see low numbers on the placard indicating that the torture is almost over. Argh! 20 minutes remaining??? Are you kidding me? Seriously, is that a lame joke?
You recalculate the hill. Decide that you have 6 more trips up it. You continue to look for that magic 50-meter stretch of road that doesn't exist today.
By this time in the race, you should know who NOT to ride behind. Here's a hint: if they're smaller than you, or if they're able to tightrope the edge of the pavement, avoid them. (Tim Saari, I'm talking about YOU!)
When the wind is coming from the left side, you want to be to the right of the guy in front of you. That's where the draft is. Unfortunately, it's where the edge of the road is, too. Tim Saari is one of those guys who can take up the last inch of pavement leaving you NO draft at all. Never ride behind him in a crosswind.
I won't mention the names of the guys I hid behind because I don't want them to know that they should learn to stick their nose in the gutter. I'll need them next week.
Somewhere in this melee, your mind starts to look for way to coax the legs into giving more (or NOT giving up). You try to remember all the things you did over the winter to prepare for this day. All that skiing? All those trips to the gym? All those "no thank yous" when offered a sickeningly awesome dessert? All those hours on the rollers? (OK, you know that's a lie. I didn't touch mine all winter.) You try to convince yourself that you're not a year older than last year when you ALSO got your butt kicked - why should this year be any better? You might also plan to bury your face in a sickeningly awesome dessert when this is over. That actually helps.
Finally, the officials indicate that it's dinner time. They ring the bell indicating One Lap To Go.
Good god, what took them so long? There is no sweeter music in the world. Beethoven is jealous of this bell. Angels listen to it to get new ideas.
Hold on tight. If you thought it was fast before, it's going to be even faster. The race to the line is a frantic mess as riders scramble to get in a good position for the sprint. What remains of the field is all those strong guys who were making the race so hard.... and me.
And then it's over, and you find yourself back at the car unable to stand straight up because your body has assumed the 'hide me from the horrible wind' position. You drive home celebrating the fact that you made it to the end of the race, and you start worrying about next week when you get to do it all over again.
Man, this is a great sport.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Yeah, but have you been to Chillicothe, Missouri?

As someone who works in government (albeit at the muni level), I'm getting an up-close look at the budget-cutting process. Simply put, we're looking for money under every rock. Cuts and consolidations that we never dreamed of are becoming standard procedure. So when I heard the news that the State of Missouri's Department of Tourism is cutting their funding to the Tour of Missouri, I wasn't surprised, but I'm a little confused.
While any expense that isn't a direct and vital function of a government should be scrutinized, an expense that yields such fruit as the ToM should be, I feel, left alone. Scrutinize it, you'll understand what I mean.
The economic impact of the 2009 version of the Tour of Missouri was $38.1 million. It was $29.8 million in 2008 and $26.2 million in 2007. The sales tax on the money spent to generate that economic impact offsets the cost of the event itself. It pays for itself.
If any of the decision makers visited the event, I suspect they likely hung out at the Start or Finish venues and made their assessment from there. That's a bit shortsighted. The real story is out on the road in the small towns and dusty crossroads across "The Pass Through State". I had the distinct privilege of traveling the route each day, so I could see how this event brings out the best in each of the towns and villages. Bands plays, flags wave, people interact, community organizations sell hot dogs, volunteers decorate, and kids get to see a professional sport come to town. But mostly, some people come out and spend money. And other people come and discover that there's more to Missouri than I-70.
It also sends a postcard to the rest of the world inviting them to come and visit. (Organizers track the 'media impressions' as they're sent out. Because cycling is so popular worldwide, those images have gone to more than 170 countries. Try to get that penetration with your next marketing idea.)
In 2007, I pitched the idea of a Tour of Michigan to the Governor's Office. I had a private meeting with her staff members in her Detroit office. I spent two hours showing them all that an event like this can do. They were very excited. I would almost say "breathlessly excited". The only drawback is finding sponsorship money in this economy. Well, if Missouri falls off the calendar, then I'll have to renew my efforts. Missouri has done all of my field research for me, and if they let it go fallow, there'll be a hole to fill in the American cycling scene.
September is a great time to be in Michigan. It was a great time to be in Missouri.
Yeah, was.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cheaters

As an announcer, my primary thing is bike races, but there have been times when I've found myself holding the mic at non-cycling events. For example, I worked the Michigan Lifeguard Competition once. I announced a Bed Race in Greenville SC in '92. I hosted a fundraiser auction in '95. Never did a tractor pull competition. (Yeah, that's a swing at Brian Dreber!)
Last week, I was announcing at the American Water Workers Assoc. (AWWA) Michigan Tapping Competition. Take an 8" water main, four guys, a set of tools, some copper pipe, and a faucet. Their task: tap the pipe, connect it to the "curb stop" and then to the faucet in the fastest time.
The rules are pretty simple: you must use the same tools and supplies as everyone else. You get two tries. There are penalties for leaks and other mistakes. Even the rags are supplied by the AWWA, as are the three attentive judges/timers.
Basically, it's a time trial with tools. Pretty fun to watch ... if you're into watching people hook up a spigot to a water main. Surprisingly, it had as many spectators as my last industrial park criterium. OK, maybe not so surprisingly.
The winning time was 1:40, which is 27 seconds off the state record. The winning team gets a trip to the national competition in Chicago.

The competitors were intense as they milled about prior to their event. Picture the start of the Olympic 4-man bobsleigh. Same faces. Same pre-game psych ups. Same posturing. Same physiques. Each team would spend several minutes placing their tools in the exact location, measuring and calculating tube length, and counting the threads on the tapping apparatus.
There was a lot of talk about improved work skills, team pride, the brotherhood of DPS workers, and the hard working blah blah blah.
And then they'd cheat.
Oh yeah. Even in something like this, there was cheating. I won't say which team because it's still under investigation, but the judges discovered "foreign nuts" in the scrap pile at the end of the competition. (They're required to use nuts supplied by the AWWA.) They also discovered oily rags which are forbidden. As I mentioned above, the AWWA supplies the rags. If there's oil present, then someone must have brought it in with them obviously to oil the threads.
I'm flummoxed by the idea that people are so desperate to win something that they'll break the rules to do it. Lehman Brothers, Toyota, Riccardo Ricco, and now water tapping crews from small towns in Michigan.
Who next?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Two Quick Things

1. We've been waiting for months for it to finally get warm. Today's forecast says temps will be in the upper 40s in the afternoon.
So WHY do people insist on starting the group ride at 9am when it's 26 degrees??? I don't want to bundle up only to peel off layer after layer as it warms up. And I don't want to be totally cooked at 2pm when the day is just getting warm.
2. My luck runs in streaks. Yesterday, they were very short streaks, but I came out ahead in the final count.
Good luck: I have no plans for Saturday and the weather is WARM and SUNNY. Long ride. All mine. (Because I start later in the day.)
Bad luck: On the nicest day of the year, my right pedal breaks when I'm 20 miles from home. (see photo)
Good luck: I'm just 3 miles from one of the best bike shops in North America.
Bad luck: It's up hill almost all the way to the store in Clarkston, and it's into the teeth of a big headwind. I have to ride one-legged all the way there because my right foot won't attach to the pedal.
Good luck: The LBS* is open. OK, that's not really luck. I'm just trying to keep the flow going.
Bad luck: They don't have any of my brand of pedals in stock. Apparently they had a run on Crank Brothers during CX season. (I could buy a new pedal system, but that's not a good idea.)
Good luck: There's a teammate's bike hanging in the attic, and it has my brand of pedals on it. I commandeer his right pedal and ride home.

*LBS: Local Bike Shop