Thursday, November 3, 2011




Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I Want to Run

It's the end of the workday. I had no time to work out this morning. Lunch was at my desk.

It's a transitional evening. Breezy, but not cold. Refreshing. A reminder of the autumn's temperamental character. It's a lovely time.

I want to run.

I haven't felt this...ever. I'm an accidental runner, and it's cost me. I'm still in this damned boot. My spirit is diminished, my fire has waned. But there's hope.

I'm not angry. I'm not frustrated. I'm...wistful. I've a longing that's not accompanied by sadness. I've a desire that's not fraught. No tension here. I simply want to run.

I know this want will pass. Just as I know my inability will some day (soon, I hope) become a necessity.

I simply want to earn the breeze I feel on my face as I glide across the land, rhythmically distancing myself from whatever it is I leave behind. I look forward to the moment of the moment, when the past and the future aren't...when the present is all that matters.

It may be months before I feel what I feel again. It's rare.

And I knew I needed to capture a reminder of the good times that are in front of me.

Even though they are months away.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Got a Call from My Doctor

"Mr. Wheelsucker, this is Dr. ___'s office. Dr.___ needs to talk with you about your blood test from last Friday."

Ice water rushed down my back.

Bone-chills. Sweaty palms. Heart races.

Spooked, I twitched a glance over my shoulder. Just the dog...unsettled. Does he know something?

The kids burst into the room, joyfully embracing after school freedom on a cool, autumn evening. The circled the kitchen, foraging, and flashed out into the yard like two roman candle bursts—all light and color and energy

Their shooting-star brilliance filled my world for a moment, burning away my chilled fear—but only for a moment. In their wake I remained—unsteady, shaken, but upright and mindful.

Fear Is the Mind-Killer...

I've been through this before.

I have the confidence of hard-won experience. I've learned. I've grown. It's just a could be anything.

I mused.

I'm blessed with the love of a wonderful woman, whom I hardly deserve. I'm humbled and honored to be the father of two girls who amaze me every day. I'm connected and supported by loving, caring, devoted friends and family.

I'm blessed.

I'm grateful.

It matters.


"Good morning, I'm Wheelsucker. I received a message that Dr. ___ needed to talk with me about some test results."

Some test results. So insouciant. What a poseur. I guess if it helps me manage my anxiety...

"Just a moment Mr. Wheelsucker. I'll see if the doctor is available."

Muzak. "Just the Way You Are." Thanks Billy. Not right now. How about some Smiths, please, so I can feel sorry for myself. No, this is more a Nine Inch Nails kind of morning...

"Mr. Wheelsucker?"

"Yes." I knew her voice.

"This is Dr. ___." I know! Get on with it! "I wanted to touch base with you about your blood test results."

Good sweet mother of all that is holy and not-so holy. Tell me! Tellme! TellmeTellmeTellme!

"I understand. I'm all ears." How composed. I impressed myself.

"Well, I want to congratulate you..."

Warmth flowed through me. Somewhere inside the Ode to Joy echoed...just outside my hearing.

"...your numbers are completely normal..."

I hugged myself, eyes welling...

"...across the board. You've done very well. You are in remarkable health for your age. Congratulations!"

I know I thanked her for telling me directly. I expressed real, deep appreciation for the caring and the support. I have no idea if it came out in anything like English. I babbled...

"We just need to send the results..."

And so it went. Details. No problem.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

We'd celebrated prematurely. It haunted me.

We were beholden to a date, but I hadn't taken my test. I'd done my homework—I was fit and living a healthy lifestyle. But we held the graduation party before I took my final.


Partly logistics—making the time took time that I didn't want to spend.

Partly laziness—everything felt fine! Everything's okay!

Mostly, it was fear.

Yep. I was scared.

"What if..." reigned.

What if the cancer returned? What if I need chemo? What if it's a new cancer? What if...

What If...

How many of us are ruled by What If...?

How much of your life is dominated by fear?

How often are we held back from what we should be...could What If...?

It's a trap. Fear is the mind-killer... It's an elegant, infernal, impersonal, intimate trap.

We're not held back by What If...

We're held back by ourselves.

The challenge is to master it. The task is to overcome doubts and fears and move into a new space.

And it's hard. It's damned hard.

But it's possible.

And it's necessary. If we are to become; if we are to thrive.

Sometimes It's Hard Not to Think

After sitting on my test paperwork for a month, one morning I simply stopped thinking and did it. It was that simple. Okay, so I exaggerate. I needed to fast, so it was per-meditated. But you get the idea.

It's like the day I decided to take my 215-pound fatty, slovenly, grey-skinned carcass to the gym for the first time. I simply did it. I stopped thinking and I did it.

So, yes. It's hard to not think. But sometimes we simply have to get out of and beyond ourselves to stop being a barrier to our selves.

"Sometimes I suspect that we build our traps ourselves, then we back into them, pretending amazement the while."

All limitations are self-imposed.

When we get out of our own way, what might we accomplish? What might we learn? Where might we go? How high might we fly?

Let's find out, shall we?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Line in the Sand (a Sort-of Manifesto)

I wrote a post the other day in which I commented on my weaknesses in the face of (yet another) recovery.

I wrote "Something's got to change..."

Let's begin.

Seven Pledges

I hereby pledge to myself, mine own self, and none other self, in the full light of day, under the gaze of all who read the words written herein and all who witness the deeds (or deed-nots) of my self, mine own self, and none but myself, that I (hereinafter known as "Wheelsucker", "Flalloper", "The Accidental Runner", "Mr. OneNutt", or "Bobo the Idiot Circus Clown") will adhere to the following declaration of intentions and activities.
  1. I shall write a post to this blog a minimum of once per week.

  2. I shall write one post each month focusing on cancer in some significant way.

  3. I shall write a post to my professional blog a minimum of once every two weeks.

  4. I shall document my meal plan on this blog.

  5. I shall document every violation of my eating plan on this blog.

  6. I shall document my exercise plan on this blog each fortnight. This documentation will not count toward my weekly posting requirement.

  7. I shall document every missed (or curtailed) workout on this blog.

I—with open heart and mind—pledge to perform these tasks mindfully. I pinkie-promise myself that I shall be honest and diligent in my disclosures.


A "violation" is defined as actions or inactions by Wheelsucker that prevent him from fulfilling the requirements identified in the aforementioned pledges. Examples of such actions are:
  • Failure to post to this blog once during a Monday-Sunday cycle
  • Failure to post about a cancer-related topic during a calendar month
  • Failure to post to InterWoven thoughts once during a fortnight (beginning November 1, 2011)
  • Failure to document my meal plan or any changes to said meal plan, within one day of said changes
  • Consumption of a Snickers bar constitutes a single violation. Consumption of two Snickers bars constitutes two violations
  • Consumption of two Snickers bars, a granola bar, two bags of chips, and a soda constitutes abject stupidity, probable depression, need for intervention, six violations, and the need for some 'splaining
  • Failure to post my workout schedule in each fortnight, starting November 1, 2011
  • Sleeping in when I should be at the gym
  • Cutting a planned workout short

Vacations and illness do not exempt Wheelsucker from Pledges 1-4. They do exempt him from Pledges 5-7 for the duration of the vacation or illness.


For every violation I pledge to contribute one dollar to a sin-bin.

This sin-bin shall be an unbreakable "piggy bank" of some sort (specifics to be determined).

The proceeds of this sin bin shall be donated to a cancer-related charity in one year's time.


There ain't none. No brownie points here. No getting ahead. No make-ups.

Be accountable.




Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fix My Sport!

Something stinks.

And (for once) it's not my orthopedic boot.

But...but...but...he just won the 'effing Vuelta!
And this isn't about doping...
Geox-TMC riders shocked
The Italian shoemaker decides to pull its money out of team, leaving riders and staff scrambling for jobs.

This is in the wake of September's bombshell from Bob Stapleton that the winningest team of the last four years—HTC-Highroad (née Columbia-Highroad) had to shut down for lack of sponsorship. Let's put that into perspective: the team that won more than 440 races, providing exceptional exposure for its sponsors, folded.

A lot of pixels have been generated about HTC. Many not-so-labored comparisons to the NY Yankees and Manchester United have been made.

But no one is talking about Geox!

(And heaven forbid that I reference the Dr. Moreau-style vivisectionist horrorshow of the Leopard-Trek-RadioShack-Nissan-smallfurryanimalsfromAlphaCentuari merger. The announcements were hysterical!)


HTC was the winningest. Geox was a an up-and-comer, certainly more than a wannabe, had a small cadre of quality riders (Sastre, Menchov...Cobo?), and they seemed to never get their wheels steadily underneath. Even so, they showed some mettle in the Giro, and famously won the Vuelta. From a exposure standpoint, they provided.

So what happened?

Geox (a shoe manufacturer) determined that cycling was no longer strategic.


A business is a business and it needs to operate accordingly.


When will cycling realize that it's business model is broken? Others have written more knowledgeably about this. I defer to commentaries like Joe Lindsey's Boulder Report.

Cycling needs a plan. I don't trust McQuaid or the UCI to get anything right. They make rules without consultation with those most affected by those changes (Get rid of race radios! They're killing the sport! ...really? Really?), they promote events that don't make any sense whatsoever (Tour of Bejing...really? Really?), and the entire doping mis-management fiasco cluster embarrassment (Contador and myriad others...really? Really?).

So, how does cycling get the grubby UCI paws out of...cycling?

The sport needs a sea change. I hate to admit it (because I consider him to be an insufferable prat), but Jonathan Vaughters makes a lot of sense.

TV revenue needs to be shared. The teams need to have an entirely different foundation upon which they can build a real structure.

Think about the history of cycling, and what do you remember? Riders and teams. But how many of those team's still exist?

Whither Eddy's Molteni?

Where's Coppi's Bianchi? Merckx's Moltini (or Faema)? Hinault's Renault (or La Vie Claire)? LeMond's Z (or ADR)? Armstrong's Motorola (or Postal, or Disco)?

How many of the current teams will be around in two years? Three years? Five years?

If Highroad couldn't cut it...what team will?


My sport is beautiful. It's a compelling blend of elegance and suffering. Remember the old Wide, Wide, World of Sports intro? That's cycling. It's the thrill and the agony. Every event can become epic in a split second. Every event has the potential for...greatness.

Someone, please, fix my sport. Give it what it needs to thrive...not merely survive. Stop the squabbling, grow up, and realize your potential!

This sport is greater than we've seen. I dearly hope to see its becoming.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How Do You Deal With It?

Author's Note: So many of my posts are of the quasi-heroic nature. Life isn't like that, though. It's filled with bouts of doubt and insecurity. I'm right in the middle of one right now. It's where I've been since Pelotonia. I haven't written about Day 2 for a reason...

I'm just over half-way.

7 out of 12.


Then I start rehab.


I'm recovering from a major injury...again. My third in three years. You'd think I be wiser about it...about recovery.

I'm not.

I'm still learning.

And I'm doing a bad job of it.

What's Going On

I have a torn calf muscle.

Sounds pedestrian, doesn't it?

How's this: I tore part of the muscle from the bone. Think "chicken leg". More specifically, think: "gnaw on chicken leg."

Yep. I excel in the art of the injury.

Simple Is Never Enough

Two years ago it was a torn labrum (shoulder) with a detached bicep tendon. Not enough for me...nope! I had to take it to another level! Two weeks into recovery I developed bronchial pneumonia. You try coughing up buckets of phlegm with an immobilized, excruciatingly painful arm. Five weeks out of work, a frozen shoulder, and scary rehab followed. I rock!

Last year? Same shoulder...still with limited range of motion...and I shatter the collarbone--not broke, shattered five to seven pieces. Surgery. Titanium plate. Later x-rays revealed...the bone not fusing, so all I have holding the shoulder together are six screws, a thin, green (!) titanium plate, and my atrophied muscles. I am awesomeness personified!

So here I am, recovering once again.

You'd think I be wiser about recovery.

I'm not.


Every Snickers I sneak. Every morning I stay in bed. Every "bad for you" food I devour. Every blog post I consider, and abandon, betrays me.

I'm weak stuff.

Sure, I still work out. Fits and starts. No regularity. No plan. No cardio (I can't!) Strictly weights.

I keep trying to convince myself I'm enjoying it. I keep looking at myself in the mirror seeking...something.



Focus, desire, intensity?

Nada. All I see is a flabby forty-something with little self-control and no drive. Where's the fire?

Who is this guy?

I don't recognize him, and I certainly don't like him.

So, back to the beginning.

How do I deal with it?


Something's got to change...

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Vision of Loveliness, and Fond Memories

I was in Los Angeles for a conference. Walking down Hollywood Boulevard. Ray Davies's brilliance echoed in my head.

I stepped over Lou Costello. I tripped on Mel Tormé. I slipped on Ingrid Bergman.

I watched tourists take photos (of what, I have no idea). I listened to shills hustle. I dodged meth-hazed, vacant-eyed locals. I witnessed arrests and pat-downs.

I spotted her.

I stopped breathing.

I stopped moving.

Waves of joy crashed over me!

I blinked.

When my eyes opened, she was still there.


I smiled a smile of pure delight!

There she was! Right in front of me! A vision from my childhood. A memory as fond as any I'll ever have. Here! In LA!


She's wasn't pretty.

Let me re-phrase that: she was pretty battered.

The years had not been kind to her.

But she endured.

She's tough, that way.

She's no longer bright, shiny, or new.

But she's beautiful to me.

Here she is:

Curvacious AND bombproof!

She's a Ross Compact. She's a sister of my first multi-gear bike.

Mine was yellow.

I rode her...everywhere.

Bounding. Exploring. Romping. On road. Off road. BMX tracks. Woods. Trails. Over jumps. Through creeks. Rain. Snow. Who cared?

I remembered racing her. I pedaled furiously through my neighborhood, winning! The competition? Whomever I imagined!

Somehow, the lack of bar tape suits her.
I love those crazy brake extenders on the top bar!
She was my companion on wild adventures. My wanderlust and imagination took us far beyond suburbia. Her rat-trap and my backpack carried the necessities: lunches, soccer ball, baseball mitt (and bat!), basketball, tennis racket, towel, sleeping bag, books, water...everything.

She was bombproof. The wheels may have wobbled some (riding down stairs will do that), but she had friction shifters and heavy-duty brakes. In all the years I had her, I don't think I ever chaged her brake pads. And a cable adjustment? I never heard of such a thing! I don't know that I ever had more than one or two flats. Bombproof. She was bombproof.

We'd crashed—spectacularly. A lot. I skinned my knees and chin and whacked my shins with the spiky pedals. Games and races with neighborhood kids would regularly see me dismounting at speed and thrusting her aside as I ran...somewhere.

Underneath that pedal is where I wore through
the chainstay on my yellow bomber!
What memories!
With all the battering, I don't think anything remained in-line. I know the handlebars were bent and permanently off-center. The seat was tattered. The shifters were constantly out of position. One crank was bent so badly that it clicked against the chainstay until it had worn a deep cut into the metal.

But she rode. She was mine.

She was special.

And here was her sister, in LA, chained to a stand with a flat rear tire. No bar tape, but with end plugs inserted.

She's someone's baby.

I hope her owner knows what a treasure she is.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

So, You've Never Been Here Before?

It's on.

I'm Wheelsucker.

I'm a guy, a dad, a cyclist, and a cancer survivor.

This is my blog.

Well, it's one of my blogs.

I have another blog. It's more along professional lines. It has a (mildly) clever title, but it needs more content. It hasn't matured yet. It's still seeking its voice.

But I digress.

Sorry, I do that a lot.

I'm delighted that you're here!

I suspect that some of you have come here from Pelotonia's "The Rider" blog.

Welcome. Welcome! WELCOME!

Take a look around! It's not dangerous. It may entertain. It may...affect you. It's a labor of love, and I am overjoyed when I get feedback!

Wheelsucker Diaries is an outlet for me. It's my place to write about thriving, not just surviving.

I also write a little cycling—amateur and pro. It gets a bit silly, sometimes.

If you're looking for Pelotonia stuff, you can select "Pelotonia" under "Labels". (It's down there on the right, beneath the Blog Archive.)

Leading up to Pelotonia 11, I wrote ten posts in ten days.

They started with my celebrating my 5th year cancer-free.

They concluded with a re-posting of a Pelotonia 10 post (that I couldn't improve).

They cover sexiness, coolness, geekiness, money, expectations, commitment, and they culminate in a four-part (yeah, it's epic) ride report about Pelotonia 11 (Day 1).

So, again, I welcome you! Poke around. Stay awhile!

Share and enjoy!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Two Words: Mark Cavendish

Long-time club teammates battled
for the rainbow Jersey.
Frantic. Maniac. Terrifying. Blinding. Breathless.

That describes the final 500 meters of the 2011 World Cycling Championships.

If you haven't seen it, you're missing a finish for the ages.

Uphill, after a final right-hand turn into the final strait, the final bunch sprint was always going to go to the man with the most power.

"Of course," you say, "isn't that always the case?"


Sometimes luck has her say. Sometimes guile plays its part. Sometimes it's pure speed. Sometime it's power. And rarely, it's because of a team. The rainbow jersey doesn't always go to the fastest...but it always goes where it is most deserved.

In 2009 Cadel Evans won, with a clever attack at precisely the right moment. He soloed to victory as the other contenders squabbled among themselves.

In 2010 Thor Hushovd won from a small group, using his massive power to carry his massive carriage over the final climbs in Geelong. Power and guile won the day Down Under.

This year was predicted to be a day for the sprinters. The course was largely flat, and it was certainly not difficult enough to cause a selection. The final ramp to the finish, however, was reminiscent of several stages in the past two Tours. It had enough slope to slow the final sprint, making the effort longer than a classic flat sprint. As a result, while many believed that Cavendish could win, others pointed to the possibility of Hushovd repeating last year's triumph.

Predictions are like opinions, everyone has one. And they're usually worth less than the paper they were written upon.

Cavendish won because he is an amazing talent, and because he was the undisputed leader of an eight-man team from Great Britain. That team worked. They controlled the race all day, and they protected Cav until that final turn. Much like the HTC-Columbia train that dominated sprints over the past few years, Great Britain lined up and drove the pack.

Cavendish said after the race: "There couldn't be another
result, after the way the guys rode today. We had
eight of the best guys in the world...They took the
race on from start to finish and we won."
Truer, more graceful words have seldom been
uttered by a newly-crowned World Champion.
It was lovely to watch.

It was inspiring.

And it is a new chapter in the ongoing saga: "Cycling Is a Team Sport."

So, back to Cavendish.

In the final 500 meters, he found himself alone and boxed-in by the remaining contenders. His experience pointed the way, and his 1600+ watt legs powered him. He had to start his kick earlier than is his preference, and if the race were just a few meters longer, he would have been passed by his club teammate Matt Goss.

But if wishes were fishes we'd never do dishes.

And the win went to the most deserving: the fastest rider from the best team. party in Piccadilly!

So, look out world! Cycling's enfant terrible is in the rainbow jersey!


(And doesn't this make the 2012 Olympics even MORE interesting?)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My First Coaching Gig!

This week I start coaching cyclocross with members of my team.

And one of the LAs is in the class!

We'll be teaching the basics, once a week for eight weeks.

And like any addicted blogger, I created a NEW blog for the class.

Check it out!

The first real post explains what cyclocross is, and what it isn't.

This is gonna be great!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pelotonia Interlude: Highlights and Lowlights in Athens

I've been working on my write-up for Day 2.

It's not ready yet.

And, of course, there's more to the story of Day 1.

Unfortunately, I don't get paid to write this blog, and The Man needs my attention.

So do BCB and the LAs; and they deserve it!

I am accepting that I will never capture it all. I have some memories that will last a lifetime. Other memories will fade into time-fogged images formed more from emotion than reality—the impressionist art of our collected past.

For today, here are a few highlights and lowlights from Athens.


Highlights included seeing volunteer queen extraordinare and absolute cutie Liz (and having her recognize me). Each year she was a beacon of support—for so many. She was always up (even at 0530) and ready for the challenge.

A Brief Digression

Here's an example...

Pelotonia 2010. I finished with the top 20 riders. We were in Athens just after noon. While most of the bags had made it, mine had not. I was standing there, stupidly, exhausted and unsteady on my feet, still wearing my soaking kit and bike shoes, with absolutely no ability to think.

No bag = no shower.

No bag = no personal support (food, clothes, teddy bear).

No bag = no anchor; no clue.

She's the woman in charge—she should be!
She's darned good!
And she's a cutie!
I looked at her blankly. I think I said something like: "Point me in a direction."

She put her hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eye, and said: "Go get some food. Relax. I'll handle this. When your bag gets here, I'll come find you."

I did as I was told. I got some food. I relaxed. I let her handle it.

The next thing I knew (time meant nothing; I could have been sitting there for 10 minutes or an hour), I got a tap on my shoulder from another volunteer, who directed me to my bag, and offered to carry it for me.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is volunteer support at its finest!

Back to the highlights

What else did I enjoy?

  • I loved watching others finish. Everyone has a story. The joy and catharsis is inspiring.
  • I enjoyed telling parts of my story in interviews. Shameless self-promotion? You cynic! I prefer to think of it as furthering my mission as a Thriver.
  • I love the randomness of conversations at the finish. People approach other people to congratulate or appreciate, and warm personal exchanges manifest. It's an absolute joy to soak in the positivity and the overwhelming heart of the finish.


Somebody's got to write it.

To quote Genius Ed:   "We can do more. We can do better, and the best time to fix next year is right now."

The scalding hot-hot-hot showers in the convocation center left something to be desired. In a way it was funny—we all wanted a hot shower after the ride. But the complete lack of cold water was ridiculous. I know that Pelotonia could not control it, but it is worth mentioning...

I was lucky—I got in early enough to get a (very short) massage. Unfortunately,
the lack of massage and chiropractic was disappointing. I applaud those who showed and offered their services. I hope there can be some incentives put in place for future events, to ensure this support for the riders—especially the late arrivals. They were told that there was a four-to-six hour wait for massages. And these are folks who really needed it! Something better can be done.

Wheelsucker on the left.
VS DM Jeffry on the right.
I would have liked to have had a
conversation with my favorite
Victoria's Secret Dungeon Master.
But who could hear anything?
The bands. Crikey! Who thought it a good idea to have music that loud blaring across our recovery meals? Might we maybe have an environment that is simultaneously festive and conversational? We had just ridden long and hard. We wanted to share the experience with family and friends, and we wanted to commune with the wonder and joy of the experience WITHOUT SHOUTING! WHAT, YOU CAN'T HEAR ME? I SAID WITHOUT SHOUTING! I'm not bitter...much. Really, the bands are way over the top. This has nothing to do with musical taste. It has everything to do with the objective of the event. If you want to go over the top on the opening ceremonies, great. more power to you. I can pick up my packet an leave. But the finish is our finish. And we want to share.

Say, maybe channel some of those band funds into incentives for chiropractic and massage therapy for riders. Now there's an idea!

Finally, some kind of carts or logistics to get the bags from the dorms to the trucks on the Sunday morning.

I can completely understand the logistics behind Saturday, and how support to the dorms would be difficult.

Getting out is different. If we had a bag drop at the dorms, it might be possible to pull a truck up to the dorm and sling the bags all in one fell swoop. It would eliminate the problems we have of navigating a long-haul early morning.

None of these individually or in combination reduced the overall goodness of the experience. My Pelotonia memories are not defined by these personal lowlights.

But my experience would have been enriched that much more , if they wre made to (poof!) go away!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Into Athens - Pelotonia 2011 Day 1 Ride Report (Part 4)


"I just got here. Help me out! Don't make me pull!"

Perhaps not the best way to announce yourself. Not exactly "Bonjour, je m'appelle 'Wheelsucker'. Comment ça va?"

But it was all I had. And in the circumstances, it made sense.

The group was small—four or five riders, and they were cursing their misfortune. They were stopped by a light, and traffic, having lost the blessing of a police escort (bless those OHiPs!). I recognized Dave C. and Bob Kirk. Dave looked...bad. (Sorry to say it, Dave!) Bob Bob.

Bob's US Cycling racing age 63. The man's my idol (hereinafter known as MI Kirk). Twenty years from now, I plan to be as fit and centered as is he. In 2010 he was hugely supportive of me on Pelotonia Day 1.

I had no idea I was in such exalted company!
The guy's a stud. And incredibly generous, too.
When we finished last year—beating my five-hour goal by six minutes—I had something of a breakdown in Athens. Emotional floodwaters overwhelmed me, and I cried salty tears in a purging cry that emptied me. In 2010 I was completely invested in Pelotonia. I had come through a period of self-reflection—on this blog—that changed my life. Crossing the line in Athens was the culmination of so, so much.

And it all had to be released.

And release it did.

And as I stood there, banshee-howling, with tears and snot dripping from my face, there was MI Bob.

And here is what he said:
"I don't know who you're riding for, but you're a hell of a rider, and It was a pleasure riding with you."

And here we were, once again, riding together.

What to Do?

As I recovered, drinking and eating and hiding from the wind, I sensed that I was surrounded by disappointment. Dave C. was hurting—cramps had gotten to him earlier—and he was distraught. For the most part, the others seemed to be suffering from ennui. There was no spark! No...something!

I moved to the front with MI Bob, pacing us through town. Dave C was in "game over" mode. For him, as soon as he lost contact with that lead group, his day was done. His ambition was to finish in 4:30. He'd worked for months to get ready. He was disconsolate.

I felt for him. He had, after all, been my contact with Rick. My entire PPPPP-PP strategy was built around my connection to Dave. I owed him a lot. And it was hard to listen to the tone in his voice.

Making things worse, we were in one of the most dispiriting places you can be when you're suffering: town. Stop signs, traffic lights, quick turns, railroad tracks, traffic: they're all obstacles; they're in your face; and they kill your legs with all the stop-start, stop-start.

And then entered the other worst place to be: flatland. A long, flat, wind-swept road endlessly unrolled in front of us. Misery. Pure misery.

I'd had a mechanical. He had cramps. Big difference. It's empathetic to state: when you're done, you're done. Dave C was done. It was only a matter of time.

So, what did that mean for me?

A standard paceline gives the point
man a lot of responsibility—
for good or for bad.
On the straightaway, our paceline was a mess. We just couldn't seem to get it together. Maybe I was being impatient, but I had bridged up to these guys, working hellaciously to do so, and I wasn't going to soft-pedal the remaining miles. I had my ambitions, too.

I knew Bob was strong, and there was a guy in an Ohio State kit (with 437 water bottles attached to him), who had good legs, so I suggested we try a reverse (rotating, rolling) paceline. It would enable us to get breaks, and it would pick up the pace.

This technique is different from the standard paceline. While the lead rider still sets the pace, he no longer determines the length and speed of the pull. It's the responsibility of the the overtaking rider to get to the front. Once on the front, that rider simply maintains, knowing that another rider is approaching from the rear at speed, and that a rest is soon to come.

When it works, it's an elegant flow. Bikes rotate with clockwork regularity, and the entire group glides forward with inevitability. It cycles beautifully.
In a reverse paceline, the overtaking riders
shoulder responsibility. It's fast and effective.

In our case, I hoped to spark something in the group. A reverse paceline mitigates the situation we were having—where riders got on the front, tired, and slowed the pace (or riders simply did not ride on the front). I wanted to ride. I wanted to see who wanted to ride. Someone had to try something.

It didn't take. A few of us took the point in turns. Onward we labored.

But I lit a small spark. The pace quickened.


There was one more hill to come: Carbon Hill. We all knew it was out there; but I couldn't remember how far it was, or what led up to it. It's one of those landmarks that impresses itself on you, but that seems to come out of nowhere.

In Pelotonia's two previous editions I rode over it strongly—to the consternation of my companions. Like Starner Hill (whoa), it's perfect for my power-climbing style.

If only I could make it there!

Despite my PPPPP-PP, I had a problem. I was nearly out of water, and the thirst was upon me. Thirst is like...needing to pee—as soon as you acknowledge the sensation, you need to pee more. If only you could ignore it! In this case, as soon as I felt thirsty, I started seeing water everywhere. I just couldn't drink any of it. A stream here, a puddle there, water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink!

You caught me. I'm exaggerating.

I did have a quarter-bottle of water left. But I knew I needed much more than that to support my effort. And if I killed that reserve, I would find myself in bonk-town.

There's a literary/film reference you
didn't expect!
So I turned to Gunga Din, the previously-mentioned, Ohio-State jersey wearing, 437 bottle carrying, strong-legged fella with the aerobars.
"How are you for water?" I asked, fully knowing that he had several full bottles.

"Um, ok," he responded, confusedly. As in: why-is-this-guy-asking-about-water-this-can't-be-good.

"Can I have some?" I ventured. "I promise not to drink it all."

Kindly, and patiently, he responded: "Sure."
My faith in human nature restored, I drank lustily.

In seconds I felt stronger. I hadn't felt weak, but the speed with which the water had an effect told me that I was closer to the edge than I'd thought.

I thanked him, and we rode on—closer and closer to the hill.

Just like Starner Hill (whoa) I kept asking the locals where it would start. I knew there was a slight turn to the left (at least I thought it was to the left), but I didn't know where it would appear.

And just like Starner Hill (whoa) it was suddenly upon me—84 miles into the ride.

I shifted my gear, rose from my saddle, and found my rhythm. Just like Starner Hill (whoa), I told myself to ride, not to race. There were no King of the Mountain points here.

I crested and descended, relieved. The hard stuff was in our wake. Now we would run in to the finish.

And what a run-in it would be.

The Strait

We navigated Nelsonville and halted at the last traffic signal we would see before Athens. As we waited for the ruby light to change, I looked at my companions.

Tired: that's what we all were. Yet everyone was itching to go. When the signal did turn, we dashed off—across the railroad tracks, and up the gentle grade beyond.

Up we went, softly curving left, and then down to the long, flat, final road leading to the bike path.

This stretch was just that—a stretch. We shook out what needed shaking out, fed, and assessed. I felt good; Mission Control was still reporting a status of "Go!"

I finished my borrowed water and my own meager bottle. Rick was somewhere ahead. I was confident I would make good on my promise to Gunga Din.

Two dodgy twitches—left and right—and we were on the path—the Strait of Athens.

And there was Rick!

Looking for all the world like a goateed boy hosting a summertime lemonade stand, he had set a table lined with bottles. I screeched to a stop, swapped bottles, and surged away, to bridge back to Gunga Din and those others who hadn't stopped.

I was sprinting down the path when I realized: I was sprinting down a bike path.

It's not the tunnel of love, I can assure you of that!
Really? Is this a good idea?

Anyone planning to fly through Pelotonia's course (such as the lead group with their 4:30 ambition) is challenged by the course itself. While the last ten miles are smoothly paved and on an aggregate downslope, they're mostly on a bike path. Even if you had a police escort through all the previous roads, you would need to share these miles with local runners, dog walkers, kids, and cyclists.

It was a short sprint, but it gave me much to think about, as I slowed from 30 mph.
Ok. It's not yellow, and not merely a pole,
but you get the idea. Road furniture is the
stuff of cyclists' nightmares!

The group re-formed and we pacelined through the canopy. I glanced down and saw that our speed floated between 24 and 25 mph. On the open road, that was lovely! Here? I was so tense, I was waterproof.

Adding to the excitement, at irregular intervals we encountered "traffic furniture"—cycling parlance for "shit that can hurt you."

At each road crossing—the path intersected a number of minor roads and other paths—we dodged around yellow-painted posts. These were placed to keep motor vehicles off the bike path—a noble idea. But they had a devastating effect on our group.

Nope, no-one crashed (thanks, Holy Spoke!).. Instead, we became rubberband men.

Stretching, Stretching, SNAP!

We WISH we had rubber-band propulsion!
Curious things happen in traffic. When the head of a line of vehicles slows, the line compresses, with everyone filling the micro-space between bumpers. When the head of the line speeds up, the line elongates, with large gaps forming between vehicles, due to uneven reactions and accelerations. Then—as speed normalizes—spacing normalizes.

In our case, every time we would come to one of those crossings, we'd compress (to mere inches), expand (to several feet), and normalize, returning to our one-foot spacing, with each rider adjusting his speed accordingly.

This elasticity is a horrorshow, if you're not ready for it. Especially for the guy on the back.

On the front? You call the shots. You control the line. In the next three? Get gunslinger-ready! You're going to be braking blindly, and you'll need your fast-twitch reactions to not crash. On the back?

Well, that's where it gets bad. If you're near the rear you have the greatest distance to cover when the line accelerates. You're a rubberband man.


Let's say the line is eight riders long. Normally, in the paceline, you have a one-foot gap between your front wheel and the rear wheel of the rider in front of you. When the line slows, that gap shrinks to inches (centimeters!). But when the line accelerates, the gaps can grow, the rubberband stretches until there's an average of a six-foot gap in between.

Then it the rubberband contracts; it normalizes.

The second rider in line only needs to close five feet (from a six-foot gap to a one-foot gap for a total of five feet). The third rider needs to close twice that (two six-foot gaps are closed to two, two-foot gaps—one for his gap and another for the gap of the rider in front of him. Rider three closes a gap of 10 feet).

Confused yet?

Here's the important part: On the back = bad.

The 8th rider needs to close a 40-foot gap. That, dear readers, is work—especially at the speeds we were sustaining.

The guy in yellow is off the back.
He's  got some work to do,
or he's going to be in the hurt locker.
So, being on the back hurts. But it's part of your paceline responsibility—everyone takes a turn on the front and drops back to the rear, rotating through the entire line.

But, sometimes you're on the edge. You're tired, cramping, sore, and just this side of being cooked. If—God forbid!—you are stuck on the rear and can't move up in the line, then every time the line slows, you're going to be sprinting for your life.

I don't know how many crossings that path had. I do know this: I never got out of the top four—I was happy to take pulls, rather than become elasticized. I was pushing the pace, despite my misgivings about racing down the path (BIKE UP! MOVE LEFT!).

And at some point we lost Dave C and others.

I'm not proud of it, but it's a fact: they was gone. I knew it would happen, though I'd hoped it wouldn't. Even so, in my hyper-aware, are-we-really-going-this-fast-on-a-bike-path (RUNNER UP!) mode, I barely noticed.

IM Bob, a few others, and I took turns pulling on the front. Gunga Din was there—and I had returned a full bottle to him at some point on the path—as was Riley Adams, with his escort and confidante, Richard Lewis. I know very little about Richard

Riley? He has a powerful story (and a lifetime ahead of him to realize his dreams). Godspeed, lad. You're a strong rider and a better person. May your wishes be fulfilled...

Off the Path

The final stages of the path include a long straightaway with woods tight to the right and open fields to the left. It's a fast runway that leads to a long, sweeping left. we hit this stretch and I knew we were home free—it was just a matter of completing the run-in. A shorter-pitched curve to the right carries you to a short rise and more traffic furniture. Careful, careful boys!

Then, POP!, you're on the street. You can feel the rubber bite the road as you bank hard-over, keeping your  speed in a tight, fast left.

For more than a few miles I'd been thinking about the finish. Who was going to do what? Did the group have an unspoken commitment to finish together? Was is every man for himself? How was this going to go? Would some folks get cagey and slow, looking for draft position in anticipation of a sprint?

I had no idea.

Until we came off the path, and all hell broke loose.

It was just like a Cat 5 race—everyone went, and they all went too early. We were a good mile or so from the finish—a long way!

I came onto the road and instantly got passed by IM Bob, in full-out sprint mode. Maybe he was trying to break away, I dunno. I stopped thinking. I reacted.

I jumped his wheel and tucked into his slipstream. We were surging ahead when he suddenly pulled up and slowed.


Somehow I didn't crash. I was hyper-aware, and I was lucky. I shouted something guttural as I slowed, losing top-end speed. I watched several riders sweep past us.

What to do?

I stayed in the saddle and re-accelerated without sprinting. I needed a moment to recover and view the situation.

Everyone had sprinted out of the bike path. Now, they all slowed. We made the final right turn into the finishing sweep. Everyone was gassed, or they had simply stopped racing. Gruppo compacto. Or becoming so, at least.


That's a look of joy...intensity...desire...focus...passion.
I owe this photographer for capturing the essential me on the bike

I was behind the bunch as it re-settled. And I had no intention of joining them.

When IM Bob flew past me earlier, it triggered me. All my ambition came forward. All my hard work justified it, and the group's disintegration cleared my conscience.

I was going to finish. I was going to finish alone. I was going to finish strong.

It had been a long day. My abilities and my mettle had been tested. My planning had paid off, and Dame Fortune had looked upon me with favor.

In the morning I had declared: It's on.

I saw no reason to turn it off now.

Just as the group came together, compacting back into a bunch, I spied a gap on the left.

I punched my pedals.

We were inside the finish barriers, on a sweeping left turn.

I shot through that inside gap like a cork from a well-shaken champagne bottle. I had some distance! No one followed. I was clear!

I have no doubt that everyone in that group cursed me. I am absolutely certain that I was called names that I would prefer my LAs to not hear.

I didn't care.

I was completing my mission.

The finishing archway greeted me home.

I sat up, crossing the line, with my SURVIVOR arm thrust in front of me... 9th overall. 4:40—a 21.7 mph average. the first Limited Brands finisher.

...wearing my heart on my sleeve. a testament to what survivors can do.
And it was done.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Nothing Is Easy - Pelotonia 2011 Day 1 Ride Report (Part 3)

Author's Note: I apologize in advance for some language that will appear early in this post. I try to be PG-13 on this blog. However, circumstances dictate otherwise on this day.


(Heart leaps into throat)
      Fuuuuck! Noooo! That was me? Fuck! WOW! Loud! No!
(Glances back at rear wheel)
(Looks ahead, seeing the lead riders roll away)
      Goddammit! No! Shit...shit...SHIT!
      Rick! Bugger! Where's Rick? The plan! Get to Rick... Where the hell is Rick?

It's amazing how many thoughts explode through your mind the moment your ride is flushed down the crapper.





In which the author faces his fate...

No time for regrets, recriminations, or sadness: disaster focuses the mind nicely.

Could I yet salvage this ride?

Dave C. and a few others raced past—no doubt thinking that I'd blown up (racer-speak for "exceeded my limits")—and he called out to me. I shouted back "Flat! Where's Rick?"

Gravel = bad.
Mood = worse.
"A mile," came the response.

And with that I limped up the gravelly hill.

Complete concentration consumed me. My eyes were riveted to the road. If I rode perfectly upright, keeping the tire between the road and the rim, I might make it to Rick without destroying my beloved Zipps. If I hit a rock just wrong—game over. The rim would be damaged beyond repair.

Either way, I had to get to Rick. He wouldn't wait forever.

Each contour, fissure, pebble and gradient impressed itself on me. I rode steadily—and slowly—and in complete control. Few riders passed me, and I expect that those who did thought it was "game over" for me.

So did I.

Crunching grey matter under my wheels, I rolled, my breath sucking deeply the woody-scented, dusty air.

Mindful Breathing.

In which the author describes a tactic for managing effort (and mood)...

When the littlest LA is upset (frustrated, angry, wild), and in that state where she lashes out at others, I try to help her calm herself by telling her: "Breathe!"

Breathing works.

It's one of the main lessons I try to share with my spin classes: breathe mindfully.

Don't let the breathing happen to you. Be in control. Be aware. Use your breathing to meter your effort. Seek and find your rhythm. Draw breath from your belly. Suck it in and savor it. Feel it open your chest and cleanse the humours. Push it out and purge the demons.

Manage yourself by breathing.

It's amazing how well it works. You can be in the middle of a spin class climb—with your focus on everything but your breathing—and when someone says "breathe", the effort suddenly becomes...less. Even when sprinting, an exhortation to "Breathe!" centers you.

It's the same on the road. In the middle of an ego-bumping, frenetic group ride, when the hormone/endorphin cocktail is at its corrosive height, a reminder to "Breathe!" calms me. It's all still there—the chemistry and the physicality of the event—but it's managed.

Powerful stuff. Simple stuff. Internal stuff. And I'll be damned, if it doesn't work. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the most effective.

Sucking in the wooded air, I was breathing.

SAG Support

In which the author describes how PPPPP-PP works in the field...

The grey blur rolled upward and turned black. Pavement!

I was so far inside that I had no idea how long I had been riding flatted. Suddenly, a panorama opened before me. I crested the rise on the blessedly smooth tarmac and...there was Rick!

It's Qatar (NOT Ohio!). But you get the idea...
And there was a crew collecting their caches.

I wasn't dropped (yet)!


I bumped down the hill and shouted: "Flat! Rear wheel!"

Rick was frantically handing-out bottles, sorting through what was who's and reacting to the moment.

Just as I rolled next to him, with his hands slotting my refill-bottles into my bottle cages, I heard him say: "did someone flat?"

With acidic adrenaline flowing through me like jet fuel! I shouted: "Rear wheel! I need a rear wheel!"

Rick jumped to the wheel bag, arms a-flurry like a dervish. I pedaled over to the truck, shifting into my lowest cog to get the derailleur out of the way of a quick wheel change.

And suddenly, with almighty urgency driven by my heightened senses, I had to pee!

As Rick changed my wheel, I leaped away and (with acidic adrenaline flowing through me like jet fuel) shouted: "I gotta pee!"

Now, I have no idea what Rick's reaction was to that declaration. He probably thought it a might bit strange. Yet, in the moment, I could not have cared any less.

I had to pee.

Many, many, many ounces later I came back to my bike, wheel changed and bottles full. I hopped on and started pedaling, getting a fantastic push from someone.

And the long chase had begun.

What Next?

Wherein the author describes torn allegiances and NASA...

Two hundred yards in front of me was OS Blair, his pink Limited Brands jersey a beckoning beacon. I mouthed some water and tempoed up to him. He seemed to have waited. "Let's work!" I declared as I pulled past him.

He was eating, and when ready he hopped on my wheel. The rolling road rose to meet us. I pulled, then rotated to recover in his wake. He pulled, and as he drifted next to me, he let me know that he could follow, but that he couldn't pull—he was cooked.

I grunted, and said: "get on." And off we went.

We approached one of the Clydesdales as he labored up another rise. I sat on his wheel to get a breather, and considered. .

Should I stay? Or, should I go?

On that day, in that moment, I knew I was stronger than either of my companions. But I like OS Blair. He was kind to me in 2010, and he had been a supportive companion all morning. Should I leave him? Should the three of us work together?

I had no idea how far ahead anyone was. Three minutes? Five minutes? After my misadventure, did the leaders form a paceline and drill it? Did they remain scattered? Were they strong? Suffering?

And what of me? How was I really doing?

I dove inside (again). How was I?

I checked with mission control:
  • Head? Clear and focused. Go!
  • Lungs? Clear and calm. Go!
  • Heart rate? Strady and strong. Go!
  • Neck and back? Some stiffness, but not limiting. Go!
  • Shoulder and collarbone? Sore, but manageable. Go!
  • Hands and feet? Recovered from the Road to Roubaix. Go!
  • Perineum? Just fine (thanks for asking!). Go!
  • Legs? ...
  • Legs? I was thinking! ...Um .glutes, quads, hams good. Calf?
  • Well? Er, the calf's surprisingly good! Go!
  • Feet? No hotspots. Ankle brace is biting into arch, but I can handle that. Go!
  • Headspace? Well, we're having this conversation, so it's obvious that it's a... Go!
System check complete!
All systems, GO!

Nothing Worth Doing Is Easy.

Wherein the author makes a decision...

The body and mind were capable. Were they willing?

My major concern was my injury. Thus far it had survived the harshest tests. Was it ready for another?

It was gut-check time.
"It's not a race," I told myself. "You can hang and enjoy," I continued. "No one—but you—expects you to do anything. You're injured—seriously injured. Finishing will be an accomplishment, and something to savor. There's no need to work this hard!"

I grabbed a sandwich to chew on my thoughts.
You're Ohio. You did the right thing. I know you were luke-warm about it this year. I know you've been conflicted. I know how many doubts you wrestled with just to be here, and I know that leg hurts like hell."

I chewed some more, I couldn't swallow.
"Sit up! Pace yourself! Cobble together a group and finish with them. Be a leader; but don't hurt yourself. It isn't worth it. Why are you even considering it?"

Chewing. Bitter. I couldn't swallow that. Peanut butter and honey never tasted so...bitter.

Thanks, Kara.
I reached down with my left hand—breaking the habit of many miles—and grabbed a bottle. As my arm came up, I saw Kara's artwork: SURVIVOR.

That's why.

I was done chewing.

That I could swallow.

And I was gone.


Wherein the author discusses loneliness and rabbits...

When I raced Giro di Coppi this year, I chased...a lot! Who knew that it would be perfect Pelotonia preparation?

Me chasing. Practice makes perfect (or something)...
Chasing takes balls. (Stop snickering, you in the back! I know I only have's figurative!). It's a leap of faith. You may chase and never catch anyone! (I did that at Coppi.) Or, you may chase passing stragglers without ever forming a cohesive group. Either of those options sucks your soul.

I had little information: I couldn't meter my efforts. I didn't know the time-gaps. I wasn't well-familiar with the course or the distances between landmarks (especially the upcoming hills). And I no longer had a power meter; the wheel change eliminated that.

So, I did the only thing I could do: I found a strong tempo; I swallowed the pain; I breathed through the effort; and I got on with getting on.


Chasing is lonely.

There's no other way to describe it. You're fighting the wind with no relief. You're alone with your screaming doubts and body sensations that universally declare: "Stop! Now!"

Spanish riders often describe—at the end of long stages of the grand tours—their "sensations". On good days they talk about having "good sensations" and being tranquilo on the bike. When chasing, that's precisely where you need to be: you need good sensations and tranquility. Which is precisely the opposite of what you're feeling!

So, how do you get there?

You need a surplus of motivation. Heaps and gobs of the stuff. You're entirely self-dependent. You need to have something inside of you that shouts down those screaming doubts and fills you with sensations other than suffering.

So what if the Yellow Jersey was on his wheel?
Cadel was racing his demons...
I love Cadel Evans. He's been one of my favorite pro riders for some time. He's a tenacious, tough bastard, and I absolutely love the way he's "real"—he wears his heart on his sleeve.

In this year's Tour, on Stage 18, he delivered a masterclass on chasing. With Andy Schleck more than four minutes ahead, up the road on the legendary Galibier climb, Cadel assumed his crocodile-wrestling, I'm-a-hard-man-so-to-hell-with-how-I-look climbing position, and dragged the remaining contenders up the mountain. Not one other rider helped. The chase was Cadel's. On that day he fought and battled and scratched and scrapped—with himself. He wasn't racing those behind him; he was fighting his demons.

The result? He cut two minutes of that four-minute deficit—in 10 kilometers.! On the Galibier!

And if you don't know what he did when chasing time in the penultimate stage, shame on you!

Chasing is lonely: even in a race, it's all about you.


Those Ohio roads twist and turn and undulate. You don't get a lot of straightaway. As a result, you never can see too far ahead. Sometimes, just as you round a bend or crest a hill, you catch a glimpse of another cyclist. Other times you're riding on blind faith

I spent a lot of time with my head down, churning, simply driving—mind empty, living the moment, breathing...breathing.

But when I looked ahead, I prayed for one of those glimpses.

All I needed was a flicker of color, and I would transform into a greyhound in the blocks. A glimpse would set my jaw and slit my eyes. It would flex my fingers on the bars, clenching the carbon, creaking my leather gloves. It made me faster.

How could I resist?
Rabbits: the other riders were rabbits. And how I loved them.

I saw rabbits. I caught rabbits. I left rabbits behind.

Each was a rung on a ladder. I climbed, ever upward.

Ahead, on one of the few long-sighted stretches of road, I spied a group ahead. That's what I was seeking. A train!

They disappeared. I dropped into the drops and paced. I had been making up time! A knowing smile curled my lips. I was going to catch them—whoever they were!

Another climb. Stragglers dropped from the group. I passed them, crested the hill, and tucked down for the long descent to Logan Dam. They were there!

As I hit the nadir of the descent, and started up toward the overpass, I could hear their gears shift. I was just about on them. I would catch them...there, at the intersection after the overpass!

I was no longer alone.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Kust m'n kloete!

Ouch! OUCH!
Kust m'n kloete!
We Interrupt These Pelotonia Proceedings...with a bit of humor.

I'm dutifully writing and preparing posts to continue the Pelotonia 2011 story; but I need a quick break!

So, here's a quickie... You can't make this stuff up!

Boonen Suffering from Open Groin Wound

“I suffer from an injury to the scrotum....There is a hole....I got a 'second skin', and glued it at times to a kind of diaper. The perineum, the area between the scrotum and the anus, is simply the most delicate part of the body."
I know a little about that area—being a guy and a testicular cancer survivor. I feel his pain!

Yep, it's a little sensitive down there!

Boonen's racing in the Vuelta a Espana, preparing for the World Championships. He's a tough bastard (and a funny one!); you have to admire his tenacity. He could have abandoned the race, but he didn't. He finished last in the time trial, but he's still in the race.

Chapeau, M. Boonen!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Scattered Dreams - Pelotonia 2011 Day 1 Ride Report (Part 2)

And So It Begins

Wherein the author describes the beginning of the journey...

We launched out of Columbus in a jostling flurry. The motorcycles blazed a path through the dewy morning streets, and the front of the pack settled into a three-wide arrow, following the lead rider.

Iron Man leads us out of town.
The guy on the front—wearing an Ironman Canada kit—tucked on his aerobars and cranked out a steady pace. It was good: not too fast, and not too slow.

I jumped into the fray and found a comfortable spot in the front dozen. I had a few Clydesdales in front of me (polite racer-speak for "large men"), who seemed perfectly happy to ride together and protect me from the wind.

The lead rider's long, steady pull settled the group while forcing an initial selection. Sure, there were a lot of guys in the lead bunch who wouldn't be there after Starner Hill (whoa). But the folks in the first 30 or so could do their part, rotating in and out of the wind like an Emperor penguin daddy colony, protecting their precious cargo from the biting chill.

My turn, no, YOUR turn...get out there in that wind!
There was plenty of time and space to stretch out, warm up, eat, drink, and converse. For you heart-rate geeks, I was in a high Zone 2. If you took a pull—depending on the length of the effort—it was a Zone 3 to low Zone 4. Nothing crazy. Easy peasy.

The city rolled past us. We entered and exited suburbia and glided into rural country. Steady, calm, no surprises.

I stayed in the middle, maintaining a position in the initial dozen or so riders. It was the safest place to be: no "sketchy" riders ride that close to the front; I could see and react to any road hazards, as opposed to the blind-riding that occurs in the big bunch; and I could keep my eye on people, learning who was strong, who was laboring, and who had what habit.

Nasty Habits

Wherein the author describes shares secrets...

We all have them: habits. Like poker "tells", they identify us. One guy loves to ride with one hand in the drops and one hand on the hoods. Another guy likes to ride on the bar tops—he's the one to avoid. No way he gets to his brakes in time.
What's your tell, M. Le Chiffre?

Some riders have an exaggerated "throw" of the bike when they get out of the saddle, and woe betide the rider on his wheel. When the "thrower" launches, his bike jets back a few inches, and an unwary follower eats rubber (and possibly gravel). Bad. Bad. Bad.

And then there's snot-rocket guy...You've got the idea...

Cyclists—especially racers—look for these tells.  A bobbing shoulder, or a particular look on one's face can say volumes about how you are feeling, and let you know when to attack.

I have habits. For example, I adopt Chris Horner's smile/grimace when I'm suffering, and I come out of the saddle more than is fashionable, or predictable. But not all of my habits are harmless. I always grab my bottles with my right hand, and nudge to the left when doing so. Unless I am completely focused on not swerving, it happens. A multitude of shoulder injuries have had their impact! I'm not as young as I used to be! I'm! Right-brained!

I know this, and I try to make amends. When I drink, I try to do so only when I have space around me. And when I eat, I move outside the bunch—into the wind. It's safer for everyone. Especially me! I don't want to be that guy..


Wherein the author writes of input and output...

The steady pace let me eat and drink comfortably. I didn't plan to stop on the ride—if I did, I knew I would have a hard time bridging back.

Dave C whizzed past, taking his station near the front. His white-and-black kit standing out amid the explosion of color around me. He looked good—fit and happy and bursting with speed.

Blair Beavers (Old School Blair), on his lovely steel steed, paced with precision; making forays into the front, and representing the Limited Brands Peloton with aplomb.

MS Trent was everywhere—sometimes in front, sometimes behind. His white spokes whirred dazzlingly as he chatted up and down the line. He had a video camera on board, and has quality footage of my rear end, and a flopping, flapping name-tag thingy. Why, oh why, did I bother to put that thing on?

Pelotonia 2011 - The Adventures of the Bath & Body Works Brothers from MS Trent on Vimeo.

One of my habits is to not look behind me. This sounds strange, but it answers the question: "Where was Sloan?" I had no idea. When I ride I am completely conscious of my immediate front and periphery. I sense what is behind me, but (unless it's a race, and tactics dictate it) I don't look back.

Sloan could have been behind the guy sucking my wheel, but his whereabouts were unknown to me. I didn't even know how big (or small) our group was. It really didn't matter.

We glided past the 23-mile stop, with barely a blink. It was only notable for the one rider who pulled off to use the bathroom. Given our pace, we wouldn't see him again.

Unfortunately, his leaving reminded me that I needed to pee.

I was not yet at floating-eyeballs level, but I could have used the stop. It's that whole pre-ride hydration thing. and once that "I gotta pee" thought pops into your head, you're doomed.

Amanda's Popcorn

Wherein the author discusses detritus...

Before I could blink, we approached Amanda (mile 43) and—almost as though on signal—bottles flew.

Like popcorn from an air-popper, bottles popped out of the bunch. We rolled through town, and pop a white one flew to the left, then pop-pop-pop a yellow and a white to the right, a blue to the left.

It was something to see.

Souvenirs! But I'm not certain how the locals felt
about having our discards in their lawns...
I'd never been in a bunch that actually did that. The pros jettison their empties; clearing space for new bottles and losing unwanted weight. But I'm neither pro nor neo-pro (A wannabe pseudo-pro? Guilty as charged...but that's a conversation for a different day!)

Yet, there I was, riding with a crew of tossers!

Unfortunately, these guys were heaving their bottles into front yards. That seemed a bit rude to me.

Now, in fairness, I had tossed one (of the three I'd started with) as we passed the first rest stop. And that's the point, I threw it into the rest stop, where I knew that volunteers would dispose of it.

And that was my plan in Amanda: drop a bottle in the rest area, and be gone!

Flying through the parking lot I tossed a bottle (into which I had put my food wrappers), aiming for a garbage can. I hit it, with a satisfying "thud". Grinning with childish self-satisfaction, I rolled on...


Wherein the author finds himself in the middle of a Spring Classic...

Left. Right, then left. Cornfields. Farmhouses. Small hills. Then...larger, rolling hills .

Lovely stuff.

Fast descents, slower ascents. The bunch held together, constantly reconfiguring. Big guys go fast downhill. Little guys go fast uphill. I'm in the middle at 173 pounds, so I was flitting about, like a bird in flight—finding my place in the flock.

I knew from previous years—and recent visitors emphatically confirmed—that the valley road leading to the Starner Hill (whoa) turn was a mess. Translation: eat and drink at the covered bridge; it's your last chance!

I saw the bridge, shot some gel, swallowed some water. I drank a little more than I wanted—to prepare. We made the left, and... was on!
The cobbles of Ohio?

In Paris-Roubaix—a legendary race that must be seen to be believed (and even then, it's difficult to appreciate)—when the pros approach the Forest of Arenberg's brutal cobblestones, the peloton accelerates. It's blinding. It's as fast as the lead-out for a sprint finish, but there's no finish line in sight, and it's over roads that test mettle and metal with merciless scrutiny. Riders fight for position, using every tactic and trick to lever themselves in with the leaders. Why? Because the Arenberg Forest is treacherous. It destroys bikes and mocks carefully-planned stratagems. It is a force of nature.

Who decided to throw-down the gauntlet and power through the valley?

So, who the hell declared that this road was our Arenberg? When did this become Paris-Roubaix?

Someone lit the fuse; we were flying.

The group scattered. We took the entire width of the road—praying that no cars would appear from the other direction—and spread ourselves. Orange paint marked the largest of the hazards, but it would take a pool-full of paint to warn us of what was to come.

This is what you're trying to prevent
by powering across the rough stuff.
And it came fast. We rocketed down that road like the Dukes of Hazard, getting nearly as much air-time as the General Lee. I kept my hands as light as possible, knowing that a death-grip would only make it worse. Even so, my arms were punished and my teeth crunched with each bump and crack.

I glanced at my computer and saw 500 watts. Holy carp! Really? 500?

Perspective: I ride long tempo at 275 watts; I press on climbs at 450 watts. On a flat? 500 watts puts me just under 30 mph.

We were moving!

MS Trent was a few positions in front of me when life became slow-motion.

Bottle! Bottle! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling...

It's a missile!
I watched as one of MS Trent's gorgeous blue gingham Bath and Body Works CamelBak bottles popped out of its cage. He tried to pinch it against his frame with his leg, but too much was happening too fast. The bottle dropped, and bounced, inscribing a white-blurred arc against the grey road. It bounced again, with the randomness of a football—defying predictability. And again it bounced... bicycles raced past at 30 miles per hour.

And somehow, some way, by some small miracle, it bounced to the side of the road—and no one got hurt.

Gobsmacked. I was gobsmacked.

At that speed, in those conditions, for that to have happened, a slew of guardian angels worked overtime. How they managed it, I'll never know. Maybe they play hockey in their down-time, or maybe they all had a bet on "how many bounces can we get and still keep our boys safe." I don't know.

I do know, however, that I wasn't thinking about how badly I needed to pee. I was praying to the Holy Spoke that I would survive!

Starner Hill (Whoa)

Wherein the author recounts his ascent of Pelotonia's most-famous hill...

Really, it's not that bad. Three kicks and you're there. That's all: three hard kicks.

Now, a "kick" in this case is "an effort." It's not one leg-thrust, but many revolutions, following an initial power surge.

In other words, the hill goes up and levels off three separate times. You kick each time it rises.

Three small hills; that's all!

Not buying it?

We made the right off the Road to Roubaix and onto the Starner Hill (whoa) approach, rattling past a rest stop. People cheered! Nice! It helped relieve my mind of a nasty realization: if anything, this road was worse than our previous dragstrip. This made the Road to Roubaix look like the Yellow Brick Road. Gravel! Potholes! Cracks! Lions! Tigers! Bears! Oh, my!

And the band played on.

I took a 30-second recovery, considered the tactical situation, grabbed my bottle, and nearly drained it.

Yes, tactics mattered. I knew that Rick the PPPPP-PP SAG master was somewhere after the next rest stop—the now-legendary stop atop Starner Hill (whoa)—and I had a bottle-and-fuel cache with him. So, I could afford to drink.

But what of the guys around me? We had just power-blazed across the past two miles and we were about to hit the first climb. Who had what left? Who were the gazelles? Who were the Clydesdales? Where was MS Trent? Whither Dave C.? What about OS Blair?

MS Trent was gone. Dave C. was on the front. OS Blair was just ahead. I was boxed-in among three Clydesdales. I couldn't tell who was still strong.

There's where it starts! I couldn't see it
from behind the behinds I was behind.
"Where does it start?" I shouted. Between the road's twists, the forest around us, and the behemoths surrounding me, I had no idea where the actual hill was! I knew that false flats and teasing grades led to the hill proper, but I lacked local knowledge, and I couldn't see a damned thing! I needed to know where she started. My attack depended on it.

And I planned to attack.

The selection would be here—that much was clear. The lead-in had softened legs, and riders were about to get dropped.

The powerful Clydesdales who had gotten us to the base (many thanks!), were going to go. Those with spirit, but not the legs, were about to founder. It was about to happen.

And if I was to have any chance of realizing my ambitions, I had to attack this hill.

The road straightened, chains rattled, gears clattered...we were there!

I spied a gap to my left and shot through, shifting to my climbing gear as I rose from the saddle. I flashed past riders who waited too long to shift, and I was in open space. 360 watts.

I looked down and drove it. Eyes focused on the road just in front of my wheel, conscious of others, but aware that it was every man for himself.

Just before the top of Starner Hill (whoa) Marty S. unleashes,
beating me over the top. I hope he was just angry with his bike.
Did he know I wasn't racing him?
I'm a power climber. Short and steep is my happy place. Starner Hill (whoa) is short and steep—three short-and-steeps. It's my kind of hill.

I had rhythm as the road leveled. I saw Dave C. as we hit the second rise and moved past him. 600 watts.

I felt good. I had great rhythm and my breathing was in-sync. Lactic acid welled in my legs...and we came to the second reprieve. It was enough, just enough. I flashed a look around, surveying the scene: a handful of riders in front, few near me.Gears exploded next to me as I passed Marty S. Problems with shifting under load. He was not a happy camper.

Steady on. Don't race. The selection is made. You're in the top ten. Steady.

460 watts across the top.



Wherein the author...ah, to hell with it!

A flatter grade means a lower heart rate and less-labored breathing. I finished my water, recovering nicely, and charged. In front of me was a strung-out line of a few riders, negotiating the downs-and-ups that remained on the gravel-strewn roads.

Starner Hill (whoa) has a nasty little secret: it ain't over 'till its over.

You see, after you've climbed her; after your legs and lungs have stopped burning, and your heart has returned to your chest from its stratospheric vacation, you're greeted by some short steeps.


You dig deep, asking your legs to power-up once again. They respond (or not).

I climbed the last of the steeps (590 watts), feeling good as I closed the gap between me and the riders in front.

We passed the World Famous Top Of Starner Hill (Whoa) Rest Stop (the one with the brownies). In my sights along the straightaway in front of me I spied Marty S. and a few others. Tactically, everything was perfect. I was over the top, closing the gap, and my cache was just ahead.




If a tubular tire explodes in the forest, does anyone hear?
(Er, yes, they most definitely hear! DAMMIT!)