Thursday, July 29, 2010

For the Iron Chicas (Longest. Post. Ever.)

chica: A name for a girl, preferably an extremely hot girl, that you find pride in just knowing her.
Saturday was the official Iron Chica Cycling Clinic, held at Chez Ramy. I did some basic fitting and mechanicals with the bikes, and provided a lot of notes on basic cycling technique, logistics, and mental focus. We then went on a ride in terrain very similar to that of the Iron Girl bike route.

Rather than a full account, I need to post my notes for the lay-deees.

On Your Body
  • Bliss!
    As the man says: "protect your junk!"
  • Ice
    If it's a brutally hot day, consider placing a long, ice-filled sock (or stocking) down the back of your jersey. Leave it in a cooler in the transition area along with some iced drinks.
  • Driver's license, health insurance card, credit card, $20
    If you get into real trouble, you'll need these things. If not originals, make a copy of them and place the paper into a Ziploc. Carry in your jersey/top.

In Your Bag
You are responsible for your own ride support. Translation; if you flat, you have problems—like a flat—you need to handle it! So, make sure you have the following in your bag:
  • Tire Levers (Do NOT use anything metal, you will destroy things!)
  • Tube(s)
  • Patch Kit
  • Pump (or C02 cartridges...if CO2, have the inflation trigger!)
  • Multi tool (something like this...don't buy anything more complex until you know how to use the tools on it!)
  • Money (to bribe race officials...)

In Your Belly

Eat 2-3 hours beforehand. Eat a mix of protein, simple carbohydrates (sugars), and complex carbohydrates (steel cut oatmeal, whole grain rice, quinoa), and some caffeine. Protein is long-lasting, helps fill you, and provides mental clarity. Simple carbohydrates give you the immediate fuel that your rampant, raging pre-race anxiety needs, so you don't get the shakes. Complex carbohydrates give you the long-burn energy you need to get you through the start of the race. Caffeine makes you poop.

My perfect pre-event meal:
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup steel-cut oatmeal (the long-cooking kind)
  • 2 squares dark chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chimayo or chipotle chile
Mix entire contents in a a bowl and heat in microwave. Add 1 splash of milk or 1 tablespoon plain yogurt to texture and taste. Enjoy with a cup of green tea or coffee.

This is what I call a "yucky-yummie" meal. It looks like crap, but it tastes divine!

During the race make sure that you top-off your fuel. 45 minutes of activity eliminates your blood glycogen levels. Considering the activity happening immediately pre-swim (unless you are well-focused your heart rate will be in Zone 2 just from nerves), you will probably exhaust this blood-fuel reserve when you complete the swim.

We all tolerate foods differently. Experiment with gels, energy drinks, and real foods. I have different strategies for different days, depending on how I feel and what my goals are.

For example, pre-collarbone I was training for the Columbia Tri. I tolerate almond butter or peanut butter (1/2 sandwiches) really well. I planned to have one ready at T1, shoving it in my mouth as I got to my transition for the bike, chewing and swallowing as I dressed and moved through T1. I also planned to have a few gels in my jersey, to let me stay fueled as I approached the run.

Manage your hydration. If you can (prior to the race), weigh yourself before a hard workout in the heat. The idea is to see how quickly your body cools (via perspiration) in the heat. When you workout, remember how much you drank. Then weigh yourself immediately after the workout (before re-hydrating, and after urinating, if you have the inclination).

The weight change, minus the weight of water you drank (one bottle = ~1 pound) will be your lost water weight. If you lose 1-2 pounds it is not a big deal. If you are losing more, you need to drink more.

For example, the Sunday after our clinic I had a hard, four-hour ride that featured hill repeats. I weighed 181 when I left the house. I drank four bottles. I weighed 172 when I got home.

181 (pre) - 172 (post) = 9 (total change)
9 (total change) - 4 = 5

I was hurting. I was 5 bottles down. I needed to drink 3-4 more bottles that day.

If you notice, had I drunk one bottle every half-hour (for a total of eight bottles), I would have managed myself very well.

What kind of sweater are you? →

Now, there are a lot of factors that affect the results. If I had filled one of Amy's sexie fishnet stockings with ice and thrust it down my, er...shirt, it would have helped me cool (and thus not sweat so much). If I had soaked my hair beforehand, it would have helped, but not as much as it would help you chicas, since you have more hair that I do. Again, I recommend a cooler at T1 and T2 with cold bottles available for dumping over yourself. It will help cool you (and it will help overheat all the males spectators...nothing quite like soaking wet hotties to get the blood flowing!)

Kim had a great point when she said that she didn't want to have the feeling of water sloshing around in her belly during the run. There are a few solutions to this. One is to sip water every few minutes. Don't gulp down mouthfuls. Again, everyone has different tolerances for this sort of thing. Another solution is to try to front-load your drinking. Make sure any volume is consumed early. There is risk here, especially if you are a heavy sweater. You will still need to sip.

Regardless of how you manage it, if it is a hot day you will need to drink during the run. I don't know of an elegant way to grab a cup at a water station and drink it on the run. When I watch the pros, they grab the cups and throw the liquid in the general direction of their faces. Inelegant, but at least some of it gets down their throats!

I'm sure some of the husbands would be happy to practice this technique...

In Your Head

This is Amy's race, Kay's race, Kim's race, and Val's race. It's not Amy, Kay, Kim, and Val's race. Do you spot the difference?

You need to stay within yourself. You each have strengths and weaknesses. You each have likes and dislikes. Decide before the race what you are planning to do, and do it. Don't make decisions on the fly (unless it is at the very end, during the run), because your brain will be overloaded. During the race you need to focus on you and your plan. There will be a ton of distractions.

Don't place yourself in this position:

Or this one:

Make a race plan. For example (again, and will he please stop relating everything to himself?), my plan for Columbia was this: survive the swim, rock the ride, relax the run.


Survive the swim meant that I would get from point A to point B, eventually. I would place absolutely no stress on myself whatsoever. I am coming off shoulder surgery, so its not like I was going to get all Mark Spitz on everyone. Rock the bike meant that I planned to go balls out on the bike leg. I was seriously looking for a top 10 placement in my age group for that leg. Relax the run meant that I would flow with the run and let whatever happened happen. I am not generally a strong runner, but if I find a rhythm, I can motor. I would let myself relax and see what happened.

Make a plan and stick to it. Don't get creative yet (you need more experience for that). The caveat is that if you are on the run and feeling good, go for it. You're at the end, so let 'er rip!

Place yourself in this position (~1:30 in):

On Your Bike

We talked about a lot during our ride last Saturday. As a reminder, you were on terrain very similar to what you will experience during the race. The profile (over there, on the right) should give you some context regarding the hills.

You did this! →

Saturday you all rode more than 15 miles. Val had the privilege of riding a little more. You all are capable of completing the ride comfortably--not just complete it, but ride it with some authority.

Pedal Stroke: Most athletic endeavors involve head games. Cycling is no different. A good pedal stroke is a round pedal stroke. Don't just pound the pedals downward. You all have clipless (click-in) pedals for a reason: they enable you to pull up.

And a good pedal stroke uses more than your legs. Your glutes, lower back. And lower abs need to work as well. For a really solid, powerful stroke, make sure that you engage your abs by drawing your bellybutton to your spine. That tension provides a lever, supporting your lower body.

I couldn't resist (audio only):

Here are a few mental tricks to get a decent stroke:

  • Scrape the dog poop off your soles. This will get you focusing on pulling across the bottom and up, using your hamstrings.
  • Knees to your boobs. Focus on your knee movement, bringing your kneecaps up to your chest. This will engage your hip flexors, removing focus from quadriceps and hamstrings (while maintaining a round stroke)
  • Powerful pistons. Imagine that your legs are chugging and down like a machine. The fulcrum is your arse. This gets your buttocks working. You are the Captain of the Enterprise, command your butt to "engage".

Cadence: I won't be there in person, but I will be there in spirit. If you drop to a slow cadence, below 90rpm, you are taxing your muscles too much. Ypu are pushing along rather than spinning along. If you do this I will sneak up through your competition-addled mind and scream "cadence!"

It is far more efficient to spin than to power.

Positions: Move around on the saddle, a little forward here and a little forward there. Get out of the saddle on occasion—even when you don't need that power. .

Shifting positions let's you engage different muscles and relieved numbtush (that's a technical term for when your Bliss-kissed zones get numb from the seat).

Breathing: Deep, belly breathing will help you regulate your energy and power. This is especially true during hard efforts. Use your diaphragm like a bellows to suck the air into your engine and then purge it completely.

You can't breathe that way the whole ride, but you can use it to manage yourself.

Gearing: In the front, the big chainring is harder than the little chainring.

In the rear, the big cog is easier than the little cog.

Practice shifting blindly, frequently. You want to get to the point where you don't even think about the direction of your shifting. Take the time on a ride to just shift.

You'll realize a lot of benefit, quickly.

Shifting: Remember: it's not about the gear you're in, it's about the gear you need to be in.

Always think ahead. If you're approaching a corner or a stop sign, downshift (make it easier) beforehand so that you are already in the proper gear when you get going again.

It's the same thing on a hill, going up or down. Shift early and often. Don't ever be in the situation where you can't turn the pedals over—because you are in too hard a gear. Making your chain pop, clank, or grind is worse than bad form, you can do real damage to your bike and (in worse case) strand yourself.

Flats: When riding on relatively flat ground focus on breathing, rhythm, and roundness. This is your chance to relieve muscles. Find a comfortable zone and CRANK!

Downhill: When the warm embrace of gravity is upon you, and you find yourself accelerating to uncomfortable speeds, you still need to pedal.


Thin of yourself as an engine, powering the bike. If you shot off the engine, it takes work to get it started again. Similarly, you should keep pedaling (soft pedaling) when going downhill**. You do not need to be in a high cadence, just keep the legs working. it will maintain your heart rate, making it easier for you to resume effort. (You will need to be in a bigger gear to support this.)

**Of course, the exception is when you are going too fast to pedal. I don't know if any of you will achieve this, since with your gearing you won't get there until you are at more than 37 mph. If you do get to this point, you want to tuck down out of the wind and make yourself invisible. Then, when you come across the nadir of the hill, start pedaling as soon as you feel the sharp edge of your speed dullyou will know when this happens.

Let's be honest, you need to find your comfort zone with speed. I know that Val has just gone to narrower tires, this will affect her stability. Kim is on a new bike, until you have descended a bunch, you won't know your limits. Patience is good. Panic is not. Have fun with it.

Finally, remember that other people will be all around you. You will overtake and you will get passed. Many of these folks will be as uncomfortable as you are. Communication is key. If you are about to pass (and you will!), you need to SHOUT "On Your Left!"

Between the mental focus and the wind noise, you really need to shout it out. They will appreciate it.

Uphill: You do not conquer hills, you manage them.

That hill was there before you were born, and it will be there for many, many years to come. Riding hills is almost entirely mental.

Mentally, you need to focus inward, not outward. Go deep. Breathe deep. Listen to your heart. Feel your legs. With increased effort the deep, deep muscles close to the bone awaken. Feel the blood flow there. Right when you think you're done, drive deeper and focus inside.

She's gone deep to go steep! →

Climbing hills is all about you. It's not about the hill. Like the 20-mile barrier for a marathoner, a hill will teach you something about yourself. Let yourself listen.

That said, there are a few techniques that can help.

Spin it out: It is far more efficient to sit and spin up a hill. It's what the pros do. When you get out of the saddle, you are powering up a climb. It's fine to do it, but it is not sustainable.

Here's an analogy. When you start your ride you have a book of matches. Every time you power up, you burn a match. Sometimes you burn several at one time—going white hot for a few seconds. The problem is that you only have one book of matches. If you run out, you're done.

You only have so many matches. Use them wisely. →

Don't be "The Man' in To Build a Fire. Keep your matches dry, and use them wisely.

Right gear, before you need it. You need to think ahead. There are two ways to go: harder, or easier. What you do depends on the hill and on you.

The worst thing you can do is to start up a hill, decelerating, and get to the point where you HAVE TO SHIFT while slowly grinding, placing a lot of torque on the pedals. When you shift in this situation, you will hear an unwholesome pow, ping, or crack. You may be fine. Or, you may damage something. You might lose the chain. Avoid these situations. Shift early and often.

If you plan to stay in the saddle and carry momentum up the hill, you need to downshift (make it easier) just as you feel your speed diminish ("the sharp edge dulls"). If you are in the big front chainring, an easy technique is to downshift into the smaller front chainring. You may spin a but, so you may need to adjust your rear shift, but you will have placed yourself in a position to continue your roll.

If you plan to stand and power up, burning some matches on the early part of the hill, or if it is a small roller, upshift (go harder) 1-2 gears AS YOU GET OUT OF THE SADDLE. When you stomp on the pedals, you are applying significant force, quickly. You need the gear to be harder so that the value of your effort is not lost.

It should be a smooth motion. Just as you are rising out of the seat to stroke with your dominant leg, upshift. You can then downshift after a few strokes to maintain a comfortable cadence.

Remember: it's not about the gear you're in, it's about the gear you need to be in.

Tawking: You are not out there on your own. be considerate of your fellow racers. You might save someone a trip to the hospital.
  • When slowing shout: "SLOW!"
  • When stopping shout: "STOP!" (it's not very complicated...)
  • If there is a car approaching from the front, shout "CAR UP!"
  • If there is a car approaching from the front, shout "CAR BACK!"
  • If you are passing, shout "ON YOUR LEFT" (and only pass on the left)
  • If you are suffering, shout "ARRRRRUUURRRRGHHHHH!"
  • When you get that endorphin rush, shout incoherently.

You do need to shout. No one can hear you otherwise. Consider it primal scream therapy.

And when it is good, remember that the kids aren't in the next room. Go ahead and let it rip, bang the headboards, and yell "OH! MY! GOD!

It works.

Enjoy the event, my chicas! I know you will be fabulous!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Glenelg Gang-Up


That's shorthand for "oh-my-God-I-am-in-a-world-of-hurt."

I thought I was opening my suitcase of courage, only to discover that it was a portal into hell. And not a cartoon hell, more of a Hellraiser hell, complete with Cenobites, lashings, and exquisite suffering.

Pinhead was riding tempo. Hold his wheel, if you dare! →

The route was hilly (as expected). How hilly? Try ~2700 feet in 38 miles. Not Rocky Mountain-, Pyrenee-, or Alp-like. They were the best on offer within that route's radius.

And the speed was high. Very high.

How high? I usually ride those hills solo. When I do, I am pleased with an 18.5 mph average.

Last night my average was 20.81 mph. 10% faster than my best solo ride.

Oh, and I was dropped.

I was dropped relatively early, and then I worked furiously to bridge back to the "A" group. I used my mad descending skills (read: insanity) to shrink the gap, and I used a furious climb to just catch the back of the group. But...

I connected with the last wheel in the group near the crest of the climb. I gave everything I had to get there. Just as I was feeling the thrill of my accomplishment, I realized that the last wheel in the group...just got dropped.


The rest of the ride was a fast run-in, endlessly hoping to catch the few stragglers off the front group.

Waaaay off in the distance is a figure appearing in the dust. Or is there? Delirium has a way of making the real fuzzy, and the unreal clear. →

Sometimes I would see a jersey off in the distance, sometimes I would only see a mirage. Sometimes I would think a distant mailbox was a rider, and other times distant riders became farm animals.

I eventually made it back, approximately 5 minutes behind the "A" group. I was a little down about that result, until I waited for friends who had flatted.

Twenty minutes later, in rolled the "B" group. Five minutes after that my friends rolled into the lot.

Conclusion: I wasn't that bad for an old man.

But the ride home was brutal.

Everything hurt. Indiana Jones hurt. My eyelashes hurt. My fingernails hurt. My hurt hurt. Ouch.

What doesn't hurt? →

And I was tired. Very tired. Twenty-minutes-to-eat-a-bowl-of-cereal tired.

And I hurt. (Did I mention that I hurt?)

I'm looking forward to next week!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Take a Free Ride (Holy Hills & Serendipitous Soda)

We ride, constantly training for...something.

And we want progress. Faster, stronger, longer. (Riding a bike and "male enhancement" have a lot in common!)

We measure. We are surrounded by data. We infuse ourselves with information. We track our progress.

Time, distance, speed, elevation, temperature, humidity, heart rate, wattage, YIKES! →

And it is good.

But, what happens when it all goes wrong?

Free Ride!

Data, Done and Dusted

My computer was dead, probably a low battery.

No mileage. No speed. No cadence.

My heart rate monitor? In the bedroom, and it is always better to let sleeping brides lie...

So I went out with a simple goal: ride hills. Do repeats. And don't give a damn about the data. I committed to a four hour ride, picked a general direction, and let the spirit move me.

I headed for Ellicott City, with ambitions to do hill repeats on Ilchester. That's it. Simple.

You can cut a log with that sawtooth! →

The morning was hung over from Saturday's heat and humidity. When it's 80+ degrees at 0600, you know you're living a verse from Gimme Swelter...

Distance: 64.88 miles
Time: ~4:00
Ascent: 3684 feet
Average Speed: ~16.2 mph

It's a one-hour ride from my house to the top of Bonnie Branch Road, at the center of the hilly excitement in Ellicott City. When I started down its steady descent, I planned to ride Ilchester three times and then move over to the center of town, riding Oella and Westchester before...whatever.


Ilchester is our Manayunk Wall. It's our Muur.

For my Lawn-Guy-Lander friends, it's my local East Broadway (a la Port Jefferson).

She's .8 mile long. She's got an 18% grade. The annual Highway to Heaven Hill Climb Time Trial rolls up her. She's a touchstone, a reference point, a challenge, and an ambition.

So why not ride her thrice?


I have no idea what my cadence was. I don't know my speed. All I know is that it hurt. I tried while sitting. Meh. So the second time I tried to ride her while standing (even though I knew there was absolutely no chance to make the entire length out of the saddle). The third time I intentionally rode a mix, but I wasn't completely happy with my "sensations". I lacked Contador's tranquilo, so as I came down Bonnie Branch the third time, I decided to give her one more go.

The fourth time was a charm. It may not have been the fastest, but it felt the best—a fair balance between achievement and suffering.

Satisfied, I rolled down River Road to the old part of Ellicott City to try my legs on Oella and Westchester. Three more serious climbs and I headed home.

One Hour in Hell

I started back at the three hour mark. I hadn't eaten—I did bring an almond butter sandwich, but my stomach wasn't interested. I had already consumed three bottles, and I knew that I needed more water. Trusting in serendipity, I headed home, hoping for some refreshment along the way.

This is See-wious! →

I've had better plans.

Each time I thought I might be able to stop, something prevented me. The store was closed, the toothful dog was barking...something kept happening.

I was bonking.

Race Road was a blur as I struggled onward. Then, like a hallucination from an Abbott and Costello movie, a Coca-Cola machine appeared.

I've had this brain for [42] years. It hasn't done me any good! →

Never—and I mean never—has a vending machine offered so much hope. Serendipitously, I had singles, dollar bills, greenbacks in my jersey. I was going to survive!

I rolled up to the machine. It was humming and vibrating with the satisfaction of a job well done. It was cooling the precious liquids within its bosom . I would survive!

I unzipped my kit and peeled away two of the moist bills. Would the machine scan wet dollars? I inserted the first bill...but I couldn't! My hand was shaking so, and the dollar was so wet, that it limped from my fingers like overcooked pasta. I tried to straighten and flatten the bill, and with two hands (one bracing the other) I tried again to slot it into the machine.

A cheerful whirr sounded like the music from angel's wings. I slotted in the second dollar. With another whirr and a click, I could make my selection.

What to do, what to get, what to drink? Water? Nah, I wanted value for my $1.25. Soda? Hmmm. I've seen the pros quaff Cokes mid-stage, but how would my tummy tolerate the bubbles? Nestea Iced Tea. Yes! Take the damned plunge! Icy-s sweet high-fructose corn syrup satisfaction in a caramel-colored elixir! Do it! Press the button!

I pressed the Nestea Iced Tea button.

whirr, click

whirr, click

whirr, click

whirr, click


Uh oh.

I pressed again.

whirr, click

whirr, click

whirr, click

whirr, click


A thought echoed in my mind:
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
~ Albert Einstein

Oh. My. God.

Heat reflected off the road and the building, baking me as I stood, forlornly staring at the foul machine's red-and-white face. Its satisfying hum mocked me as I suffered. I thought thoughtful thoughts, pondering and puzzling. "Why didn't it work? I made the whirr, click noises! What's happening...oh, maybe it's empty! more iced tea?"

I closed my eyes and visualized. I pictured a frosty bottle of soda. I envisioned my drinking that soda, and I felt the sting of the bubbles as they washed down my throat. I tasted the cloying caramel candy aftertaste as the syrupy residue lingered on my tongue.

I opened my eyes.

I pressed the Coca Cola button.

I was doe-eyed for a Coke like an anime heroine! →

whirr, click


whirr, click

Oh, please please, please...

whirr, click, ka-THUNK,

Oh. My. Mercy.

Never—and I mean never—has a soda bottle engendered such joy! I opened it. I drank. I snarfed bubbles through my nose. I was going to survive!

Crisis Averted

I emptied the remainder into one of my water bottles. I could feel the sugar (almost) immediately, and I was able to get rolling home. The soda didn't last but ten minutes, but its effect was incalculable!

The remaining hills felt...good. Vollmerhausen was steady and Murray Hill Road was a manageable bump. Now I get it. The pros drink Coke works!

I rolled up the driveway a little richer and a little wiser. Unplugging occasionally is good, it lets you experience the sport for the sport's sake. And for God's sake, when it's that hot outside, MANAGE YOUR FLUIDS!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Long Island Doesn't Suck!

Long Island's got a rep. It probably has a rap sheet, too, but we'll let that slide.

For my generation, Long Island is far less Roosevelt and Gatsby and far more Joey Buttafuoco and Amy Fisher. "Lawn-Guy-land" is the land of the famous "New Yawk" accent.

I don't know who she is—I'm sure she is a lovely person—but that hair! →

Long Island lives large. It's the land of big hair, big boobs, big nails, and big attitudes.

The Daily Show captured it thusly:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Long Island Wants to Secede
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

It's impossible to argue against the reality—and the comic genius—of that clip.

Riding the Island

So, I just returned from our annual trek to my outlaws' homestead in bucolic Mt. Sinai. It sits just uphill from Port Jefferson on the northern shore of the island. For the intrepid amongst us, Port Jeff is where the cross-Sound ferry embarks for Bridgeport, CT. Port Jeff is an old, established town with a still-active port, despite the now-defunct shipbuilding industry.

This, however, is a cycling blog, not an "Isn't-Local-America-Great!" blog, so I'll get focused.

My cycling—in the week we were there—featured two standout experiences:
  • Riding with BCB (beautiful and charming bride)
  • Riding the hills of Northern LI
I'll write a separate entry about BCB (since that will cover a lot of territory). Today I am inspired by the lack of LI suckage.

Why Long Island Should Suck

Watch the embedded video.

Now, consider what those three yahoos are like when behind the wheel of their IROC-Z, GTO, or modified 4x4 pickup (black, 'natch, with completely tinted windows).

The quintessential transport for the sharp-dressed Lawn GuyLand man... →

Now consider what it would be like to be on the same roads as those gentlemen.

Not pretty.

We've traveled up to The Island (much more Peter Benchley than Scarlett Johansson) for many years, and I've read Newsday enough to become uncomfortable on the road. Cyclists get hit there with some frequency in all sorts of circumstances. I've read the accounts. Riding there is intimidating. (I write "intimidating" because BCB will eventually read this. The appropriate word is "terrifying".)  

Long Island should suck because it is a land of aggression. It is a place where toughness is rewarded and weakness is dismissed. Drivers are fast, decisive, and committed. They "shoot the gap", squeal their tires, and flip the bird with a righteous impunity that flows from their DNA.

Long Island should suck because the culture demands it do so, and woe betide the outlander who invades their territory. Woe...woe...
And to hell with you fags on your carbon-aluminum ball-knockers! You're fresh meat for the grinder. Feel the bite of my steel behemoth!**
But this is my sport. Risk is a part of it, and managing that risk is a daily reality.

It's what we cyclists do.
**NOTE: No one on Long Island uses words like "woe" or "behemoth". If you do, you get punched in the face.

Why Long Island Didn't Suck

I didn't die.

This is a good thing. Otherwise, you wouldn't be reading this incredible blog posting.

Among my other accomplishments:
  • I didn't get hit
  • I didn't get run off the road
  • I wasn't flipped off 
  • I didn't flat
  • I got lost and received helpful directions (when I asked for them)
  • I suffered (in a good way)
  • I saw some truly lovely areas of our fine country!
I've ridden Long Island before, having completed the Long Island Harbors Ride in 2009. But this trip I rode five times in seven days, so I got a better feel for it.

Why didn't it suck? All of the above, but most importantly: It's the roads, stupid!

I like hills. And they're everywhere in this area. And one in particular is a beast: East Broadway.

It's a half-mile quad burner that kicks up to 20% gradient for 75 feet.

Welcome to East Broadway! →

Now, 75 feet may not seem like a long distance. Fair enough. But consider that it it rises one foot for every five feet you travel forward. Your bike has (about) a four-foot wheelbase, so you are on a steep pitch.

Too technical? How about this: remember when you were a kid and you rode your bike up a steep hill, crossing back and forth across the grade because it was too steep to ride it on your singlespeed? Right. That's East Broadway. I have 20 gears on my bike, and I still want to ride sideways!

Long Island has a bunch of these beauties. The best part? They are quiet roads in towns and villages, and people aren't trying to kill you while you ride them!

Deer, Duck Ponds, and Nuclear Plants

Three rides in three days tell the tale: Nissequogue, Eatons Neck, and Wading River. All were quiet, challenging, and beautiful. In 150 miles, I was pleasantly, happily, and satisfyingly surprised.


It rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? I have no idea how the locals pronounce it. I pronounce it "Nissy-Queequeg", like a drag-queen version of Moby Dick's Queequeg.

The highlight of this ride is the 1.4 mile descent into Nissequogue (and thus, ascent upon return). The Nissequogue River spills into the Long Island Sound, just to the north of the town, so the area has a wetland/marshland feel to it. Old trees, deer, and salty, tidal air greet you on this quiet road. In the two days that I rode that road I saw fewer than 10 cars. It's the kind of place where you pass the volunteer fire department, with its requisite "Please Volunteer Because All Our Current Volunteers Are One Step Away from Leisure Village or Permanent Retirement" sign.

The funny thing? If I lived there, I would volunteer. It's that nice.

Eatons Neck

T'was Saturday night. The kids were in bed as I sat in the family room with the laptop on my, er, lap. I clicked through Googlemaps to find a ride for Sunday morning. (This is my idea of fun. It's sad, really...)

Occasionally I would announce a town. "Glen Cove" or "Caumsett", or some such vaguely familiar name. Someone in the family would offer feedback, and I would nod and plot

Eatons Neck looked good on the map, it's an island that sticks out into the Sound, attached by the slimmest of threads. Getting there promised to be an interesting ride.

I got to go through Nissy-Queequeg again (bonus!) and ride Nissequogue River Road (a fun, completely traffic-less route with the river on one side, gated homes on the other, and wise old trees providing shade along its entire length). The rest of the ride was much more of the same (and that was good)—hilly, tree-y, and pleasant—until I got to Asharoken Ave on the neck itself. (By the way, who the hell names these places, anyway?)

The ride along the neck is a perfect time-trial route. It's flat as a frying pan, and most of the wind is blocked by houses or dunes on either side. The air is salty-sweet, what with Northport Bay less than a stone's throw to the south and the Sound just a breath to the north. Surprisingly, near the turn for the lighthouse the road kicks up a 100-foot climb. It seems to come out of nowhere, and suddenly you are enveloped by trees.

Riding back to Port Jefferson forced re-entry into the reality of the day. Something about the ride out to Eatons Neck was surreal. In memory, it keeps getting better—yep, Long Island doesn't suck, after all.

Wading River

BCB is the youngest of five sisters. There is a legend/shared memory/coming-of-age idyll about a peach farm. Most of the sisters worked there at some point, to the extent that the eldest (hereto after called "Shaman Shar-Shar") cannot abide peaches. Among the lessons learned are that "size and color" are very important. (For what, I don't know exactly...)

The farm no longer exists, but the owner appears to have bought-out his competition, who had a farm to the east of Mt Sinai. Davis Farm was one of the highlights of the Wading River ride. Yep, I could smell the peaches in the early-morning air as I rode past. Nice.

The next milestone was the well-stocked (if that is the term) duck pond in Wading River. It was exactly as you would have it: mirrored water, ducks, paths, benches, and a pizzeria across the street. Lovely.

I then had the privilege of rolling up a winding hill through the woods. Deer leaped across felled trees as squirrels chased one another among the brambles. A forsaken road wound off to my right, through the trees to a clearing beyond.

It was a bad color for 1960s-era bathrooms. Who thought it a good color for a nuclear plant? →

Through the trees stands the Shoreham nuclear power plant , a long-decommissioned boondoggle that had been conceived by the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO). It was built between 1973 and 1984. After predictable resistance and political grandstanding (Do I have an opinion? Naw, not me!) LILCO agreed not to operate the plant. The punchline? LILCO's deal with the state transferred most of the $6 billion cost of the unused plant to Long Island residents. Whoo hoo!

It's not often that you can roll through slowly-rolling farmland AND pass a nuclear plant all in the same ride. This is the exception. And the ride is exceptional.

Long Island Doesn't Suck!

It's shocking, but it's true: there are some lovely rides on The Island. What's great is that there's a lot more to explore.

Next trip, I plan to head further east on the North Fork. I would love to head out to Orient Point (the very tip of the North Fork), out past Shelter Island. Adventure awaits!

I Have a Man-Crush! (Jens Voigt Is a Hard Man, Part II)

I posted in March about Jens Voigt's amazing comeback from a devastating crash in the 2009 Tour.

He's a fan favorite and one of cycling's most respected elder statesman.

And he's back.

Another crash. Another recovery. He's gained, er, perspective.

"Last year it was at this time of the race I was in hospital already. At this time I'm still on my bike. Didn't crash on my head, didn't crash on my face, so things could be worse."

Ah, and a little more here:

"I vas cart-veeling through the air at 60K, hitting my arms and legs. I realized everything was still attached, though, so I figured, vhy not ride on?"

How can you not love this guy?


He's tough, determined, and straightforward. He's the consummate teammate. He's a veteran, with tens of thousands of race miles in his legs and more hours of race-time than most will ever achieve in their careers.

He's wise, grizzled, and...he's funny!

Here are a few samples of the wisdom of Jens Voigt:
  • On his control of mind over body:

"Shut up body, do what I tell you!"
  • Jens on cycling fans:

"People with other people in wheelchairs, they keep them in front of them, to give them a better view. Then, they see us coming...panic...jumping back...and leave the poor person out there. I see it every day...every day!"
  • Jens on loyalty:

"My loyalty belongs to my team, my leader, and my boss."

Chapeau Jens Voigt!

Friday, July 9, 2010

I'm in Good Company (The Collarbone Chronicles)

What do I have in common with these pro cycling giants?
  • Frank Schleck
  • Thor Hushovd
  • Christain Vande Velde
  • Stuart O'Grady
Here's a hint: it is something that we all experienced in 2010.


Got it yet?

That's it! We've all had broken collarbones!

It seems that it is a rite of passage for cyclists. At least that's the way the New York Times describes it (For Cyclists, Collarbones Are Made to Be Broken)
“If you haven’t broken your collarbone, you haven’t ridden long enough,” said Ben Day, a member of the Fly V Australia-Successful Living team."

There must be something to this coming-of-age-as-a-cyclist thing. It's not a pleasant experience, but I suppose it's less painful than circumcision.

I guess I've ridden long enough...

It also continues an alarming trend of Lance Armstrong - Ray Whitney life parallels.
  • Avid cyclists - Check!
  • Testicular cancer - Check!
  • Broken Collarbones - Check!
  • Multiple Tour de France victories - Check!

Er...about that last bit...never mind.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Into the Breach: Bike Commuting to Washington DC

Time is not my friend.

To achieve my training goals I need to ride 200+ miles per week. If I average 17 mph for that total, I need to find nearly 12 hours of riding (NOT sitting at stop lights, waiting for ride partners, or dealing with mechanical issues) each week.

Where will I get the time?

I'm Insane

What if I ride into Washington?

That's insanity!*

Or, is it?

*That was a shameless excuse for embedding an Oingo Boingo tune...I'm feeling the vibe today!

A Plan Forms

Kiril, the Mad Ukrainian, is a cyclist I know from the Tuesday night Race Pace group ride. He recently moved to Columbia and took a job in Silver Spring. He scoped, scouted, and secured a route from Burtonsville into Silver Spring, and he swore that it was doable and (relatively) safe.

I planned to ride my 29er, not my road bike. I didn't want to risk destroying my precious BMC on a commute. Another bonus is that it weighs roughly 437 pounds more than the BMC, so it would provide additional resistance. Make. Me. Strong. Like. Bull.

The ride starts at the Burtonsville Park & Ride, so we avoid Route 29. (I rode the stretch from my house to Burtonsville once, and I'll never do it again. There's something, er, unsettling about being passed by trucks going 75 mph at 0530. I was really, really hoping that they had had just enough coffee to be awake but not enough to be jittery. Pucker factor = 10+. Not again.)

I just had to figure out how to get from Silver Spring to Washington. It looked pretty clear on the map (go through Rock Creek Park), but then I read a little about it. Here's an example of the love shared with cyclists by automobile drivers in the park:
I live at 27th and Military [Saint Johns College HS] it is the top entrance to the park within the District. I commute thru [sic] the park to downtown daily, Mon - Fri bikers are rude and inconsiderate to be on the roadway, and alot [sic] of us harried commuters let them know it! It is a WORK - COMMUTER route, we the taxpayers have spent millions on bike paths that run from Maryland all the way to East Potomac Park but the "purists" would rather clog up the roadway at 10mph, cyclists should realize that they too, are required to obey ALL traffic laws, impedeing [sic] traffic is a violation!

I personally cannot stand these arrogant people who think that because they ride bikes they are special, and above the law, well you are not!

Now that I have vented this out this morning, I must add, on weekends, and, holidays, I let the little egos ride the open road and feel like the big kids. Without a horn honk or a mean word.

All-righty then!

Looks like I would do what I do best: make it up as I go along.

Set a Course for Adventure...

My first trip downtown was beautiful (except for the aforementioned jag down 29....yyeech!): a chill in the air, but no bite to it; little traffic, and what was there was not aggressive; and I saw several deer along Sligo Creek Parkway.


When I got into Silver Spring a roadie came up to me at a stoplight. Orbea Orca. Matching purple tires. Sweet.

Since I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do at this point, I asked her if she was heading into Rock Creek Park, and if so, would she mind if I followed her. The map confused the hell out of me, and I always trust in local knowledge.

She was amenable, and off we went, dodging through the movable labyrinth of downtown Silver Spring, with buses, cars, trucks, pedestrians, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.

We survived and chatted. It turns out that she is Washington DC cycling royalty. Evelyn is a major force with Artemis Racing. She was commuting to her day job at the Washington Hospital Center and was more than happy to ride the park with me. She was on a recovery day, so my 29er pace was welcome!

With Evelyn as my guide, the big, bad wolves of Rock Creek never appeared. Happily, I saw deer, not angry headlights. And it's all downhill! This commute was turning out to be OK after all!

Ok, it's not all downhill. The climb out of the park is a burner. Then it is rollers down to 14th Street and its bike lane.

The transition from parkland to urban riding was easy, and I found myself time trialling (well, as much as I can on a 29er) down to Rhode Island Avenue and the Y, where a much-needed shower awaited.

Er, Maybe I Should Have Chosen a Different Day

Genius-boy (me) chose to start commuting on the first 100-degree day of the year.

When I rolled out from the office at a little after 1500, the tarmac was baking, the air was heavy, and I was wearing black. I had soaked my jersey in cold water before leaving, to mitigate some of the heat, and I would be starting the ride through Rock Creek park, so there would be plenty of shade. I was cautious, but not overly concerned.

The ride home is a wholly different creature from the morning ride, but it is entirely doable.

Two water bottles, two hours, and once low-speed close call later, I was home. Navigating downtown Silver Spring is a bitch. There's no other word for it. It's attitudinal, moody, passive-aggressive, and unpleasant to be around. But once through it, all is well. Mercifully, Randolph Road has a sidewalk that is as wide as a road lane, and New Hampshire has a bike lane that is sufficient for the quick run up its flank.

That commute is 50 miles round trip. It helps me achieve my goals.

Insane? Yes. But well worth it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

2010 TdF: Post Stage 3 Musings

As expected, the opening stages of this year's edition of the tour have torn up the racing form.

No one could have predicted this version of the carnage:
  • Frank Schleck: Out with a broken collarbone
  • Christian Vande Velde: Out with (more) broken ribs
  • Tyler Farrar: Down (but not out) with a broken wrist
Or these results:
  • Mark Cavendish: Gains a single point from three stages (137th and last place in the points competition)
  • Lance Armstrong: Loses a full minute to Contador on the cobbled stage
That's one SERIOUSLY hard day at the office →

Yet, expected events still occurred:
  • Fabian Cancellera: Drove the train into Arenberg, savoring his yellow reward
  • Thor Hushovd: Powered from Spartacus's wake to take the cobbled stage
While some pleasant surprises graced the event:
  • Geraint Thomas: Honored  his newly-won British National Champion's jersey in a surprising second-place, stage three finish
  • Cadel Evans: Pulled with the Saxo train into Arenberg, gaining time on all GC rivals
  • Bradley Wiggins: Leveraged the strength of Team Sky to place in the top ten on the day
  • Alberto Contador: Proved to be tenacious and untroubled by the cobbles, proving the exception to the rule that you need to be a big man to survive the pave.
In this World Cup year I am reminded that the Tour is the world's greatest annual competition. Chills and thrills and bellyaches greet us every summer as the grandest of the grand tours rolls on!

Friday, July 2, 2010

2010 Tour de France Predictions

I usually am useless at this sort of thing. Even so, the game is (nearly) afoot!

White Jersey -- Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas)
Alternate: Der Panzerwagen (Tony Martin) (Team HTC - Columbia)

Andy Schleck is the safe choice, but Kreuziger showed at the Giro that he is ready to roll. He will ride to support Basso, and if Basso suffers, I can easily see Kreuziger becoming the Liquigas #1. He has the all-around skills and his recent performances (Paris-Nice, Tour de Suisse) indicate that he is on-form.

Crazy thought: instead of going for the Yellow, perhaps Liquigas could focus on the White and the Polkadot. I see Kreuziger helping to make the 2010 Grand Tour season a Liquigas affair.

Martin is a strong, tough competitor who showed his mettle in his near-win on Ventoux in the 2009 Tour. If he can get out of the first week unscathed, he will be a strong contender for Maillot Blanc.

Polkadot Jersey -- Ivan Basso (Liquigas)
Alternate: Cadel Evans (BMC)

His Giro-winning performance was a testament to his quality.

Liquigas owned the Giro. They dominated. It was breathtaking. Watching those final mountain stages was reminiscent of the Blue Train era when Lance dominated the Tour. I was rooting for Cadel Evans, but BMC had nothing to offer--and neither did any of the other contending teams.

Unfortunately, Liquigas doesn't have the personnel to handle the Tour's opening week. There are several strong teams who will battle it out on those historic flats. Basso also doesn't have the time trial skills of Contador, Armstrong, or Evans.

There are plenty of candidates to dominate the climbs, but I think Liquigas has the legs and the unity to take Basso to the top.

Cadel Evans is my second choice. I don't see BMC contending for the overall against Radio Shack, Astana, Saxo Bank, and others. But, Evans is a tenacious bastard who has stepped up, honoring the Rainbow Jersey. His uphill skills may just carry him into the dots.

Green Jersey - Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions)
Alternate: Spartacus (Fabian Cancellera) (Saxo Bank)

This jersey is about consistency. The wearer doesn't have to win everything, he has to be there--win, place, or show. 2009 gave us Mark Cavendish's breakout year with six stage wins. 2010 will be Tyler Farrar's.

While Cavendish's train has lost several engines (the loss of George Hincapie will prove decisive in the long term), Farrar's has become more unified. Farrar has also shown himself to be strong on the cobbles, and is a likely contender to win Stage 3--a legendary stage in the making.

The God of Thunder, Thor Hushovd, last year's Green Jersey winner, has had a star-crossed season. Illness, injury, and the absence of Heinrich Haussler relegate Hushovd to also-ran status. Hushovd and Cavendish will get their share of the spoils in the form of stage wins, but I pick Farrar for his consistency.

Cancellera has the biggest engine in the field, and he has proven to be a master of the cobbles. Given the instability within the Saxo Bank squad, however, I don't know if he will have the support necessary to battle the other lead outs on a regular basis.

Yellow Jersey -- Lance Armstrong (Radio Shack)
Alternate: Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky)

I surprise myself with this pick. It is absolutely not from the heart (that would have me pick Cadel Evans), but from the cold calculus of looking at the teams. Cycling is a team sport, and the modern Tour is the ultimate expression of that adage.

Quality, leadership, and unity will see Armstrong win his final Tour de France. Radio Shack is stacked and it is led by the master, Johan Bruyneel. It is built for one purpose. Stage wins? Nope. White, Green, Polkadot? Nope. Just win, baby.

The Shack has plenty of experience (just look at their individual palmares) and leadership on the road--enough to handle any eventuality. And I don't see another team director pulling the strings, making the critical calls, with Bruyneel's decisiveness and clarity. It is a team that has proven that it will grind itself into a pulp for Lance. And when Armstrong has a bad day (as he will) Popo, Kloden, Horner and Levi will bail him out of trouble. Radio Shack simply has too much quality.

The favorite is Alberto Contador, but I don't think it will happen again for el pistolero. The Tour seems to be tailor-made for him, with the climbs in the second and third week, the penultimate stage being an individual time trial, and no team time trial in this edition. However, we saw in the Giro the value of a quality team. Basso would not have ended in the pink without Liquigas dominating the final week. Astana is no Liquigas; and it ain't no Radio Shack. Another factor is that Alexander Vinokourov is a loose cannon, again, as witnessed during the Giro. I see the potential of a Spanish/Kazach rift and the loss of Contador's tranquility.

Bradley Wiggins is my alternate winner, despite my Cadel Evans fanboy status. While Team Sky worked out the kinks this spring, developing impressive cohesion in the early season and then learning to work through the Giro, Wiggins has lain low--to his benefit. Armstrong was legendary for his exclusive focus on the tour. Wiggins may well benefit from that approach.

I'm Back

It's been a long spring. Frustrated by my injury, I studiously avoided this blog.

I have a lot to catch up on, and with the Tour starting tomorrow, I expect that this month will be filled with posts.

Many will be of the short-and-sweet variety.

But I have a few larger ones to finish before posting.

Stay tuned!