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Early Season Training

We all know that races are won or lost before the season starts, when we brave the cold to ride outside or punish ourselves by spinning on the trainers while staring at increasingly numbing videos.  This year we have decided to train with more focus and energy than in years past, and, to help make us more honest in our training, we bought a formal program with our most consistent training partner.  The training plan is designed to help prepare racers for the Tour of the Battenkill, which arrives in mid-April.

I have quickly learned that the way training plans look on the computer screen bears little relation to the way they feel in my legs.  The plan we are following has us doing a lot of short days with rides under two hours.  As a big-miles freak, I looked at these short rides and scoffed.  How could 75 minutes ever get me in shape to race?  The answer is simple: when those short rides are stuffed with intervals, you get in shape fast.  I’m sore and tired, and I expect I’ll get very used to that feeling in the next several weeks.

 

Killer Weekend

The dreaded Battenkill, the biggest amateur race of the season, America’s “Queen of the Classics,” was last weekend, and it managed to live up to its hype. We (Dorothy and another friend and teammate) left here early for the nearly three hour ride to upstate New York, and this helped dissipate the nerves somewhat, as we could sort of joke about things and pretend that we didn’t really have to do this race. Once we got close to the race staging area, we started to get more nervous, with huge “Battenkill” banners waving in the stiff breeze warning us about conditions on the course.

The registration process was very quick and painless, and Dieter, the race promoter, did a great job making sure everything ran smoothly. I can’t imagine putting on a race where 2200 racers plus almost as many supporters (spouses, friends, non-racing teammates) in tow. Our little crew did have one problem, though, as our teammate (who needs a snappy blog name, I guess), had, in her nervousness, left her race kit at home. She had her shoes, her helmet, and her socks, but shorts and jersey were missing. Luckily, I had packed two kits despite Dorothy teasing me for being so ridiculously overprepared, and I was ready to let her use them. A nice racer from another team had a pair of women’s shorts that she was willing to lend, so our teammate wore those plus my somewhat too-large jersey.

The women started their race in surprisingly good mood, and I sat around for an hour until it was time for my race to start. By this time, the clouds had disappeared, but the wind had become even stronger, and I knew this would make things difficult out on the course. I lined up with almost a hundred other racers in bright but cool sunshine and, after what seemed a ridiculously long time, the official started us.

I had started near the front but got squeezed back a bit once bikes started rolling. After a quarter of a mile, I edged my way back to the front and then started taking some pulls. I wanted to be at the front for the first narrow section (a covered bridge) and the first dirt section (shortly after the bridge). This part of the plan worked, and for the first 8 miles or so I was never more than 15 back. Then the pack squeezed over to the right pushing me off the road into the gravel at the side, and a surge came through on the left. This put me back more than I wanted to be, but when we hit the next dirt section, I noticed that the pack had split in half. I was in the back of the first half, but the positioning was still not too bad. I started to move up in a leisurely fashion on this dirt section, feeling pretty good about things in general.

Soon we came to the notorious Juniper Swamp Road, a steep dirt section that threatened to be one of the big selection points in the race. I started climbing very well, not taxing myself at all but staying with the bulk of the pack. About halfway up I started to worry that the guy in front of me was going to die–literally. He was weaving back and forth across the road, wheezing. I started to pass him, but he weaved in front of me. Then I spent about five seconds too long watching what he was going to do. By the time I got serious about my own race again, the pack had surged over the top of the hill. No problem, I thought, I’ll just catch the back of the pack on the descent.

As I came over the top of the hill, I was hit by a fierce wind. This threw off my calculations, but I knew I had to chase to catch back on. On a long descent like this, that shouldn’t be too hard, but the wind had other ideas. Then, as I swept around a long curve, I saw bikes and bodies on the road in front of me from a crash that had just happened. I slowed and weaved through the carnage before putting the hammer down again. I looked behind me to see if any of the guys who had dropped before me could help me chase, but they had apparently opted out of the race. With that ominous sight in my mind, I set my mind to a long chase and swooped into a paved corner.

Soon I was caught by three other guys and we settled into the chase. The pack was maddeningly close–just out of reach about 100 or 200 meters ahead of us. We kept trying to pull them back, but one guy had trouble rotating through smoothly and keeping the pace high. Our progress was minimal, and when we were in some wide-open stretches, the high winds helped the larger and more powerful pack pull away slightly.

After a while we came to a very long and steep climb–it was about 10 or 12% and went on for more than a mile. I tried to pace myself and concentrated on climbing smoothly and efficiently. Perhaps too efficiently: I ended up dropping my chase companions so thoroughly that I couldn’t see them. I tried to regain some ground on the pack on the screaming fast (nearly 50 mph) descent, but that gain was wiped out by the winds that again greeted me on the flats. Once more, my former chase companions caught me and we set out to chase again.

The rest of the race was a long series of pulls, some of them frustratingly ineffectual, and the pack ahead of us pulled out of sight. We kept at it, though, working as hard as the winds and hills would allow. By the time we hit the last steep dirt climbs, I was shot from pulling more than my share and from spending so much time chasing alone. The group of chaser, which had grown to about a dozen by that point, dropped me shortly before the final descent into the finish. I put my head down and worked pedaled, because there wasn’t anything else to do. I crossed the finish line in a little more than three hours, and about halfway back in the standings. It was not a brilliant finish, but it was much better than the last time I did this race two years ago when I didn’t even get to the 30 mile mark.

The next day was week five of the Bethel Spring Series, and I was sure that I was not going to be able to race. I was tired and sore, and I was struggling to keep myself hydrated. Nevertheless, I lined up and started pedaling when the whistle blew.

There were a lot of Battenkill riders at this race, so I thought the pace would be slow. It was not, however, and the race began with a series of short-lived attacks. After two or three laps, I was beginning to feel pretty good, so I moved up to the front of the pack. A couple of guys were hanging off the front by about five meters or so, and I was thinking about jumping across when the bell rang for a prime lap–a pound of coffee this time. I pulled a little harder and got on the wheels of the guys in front. As we came to the final corner at the bottom of the hill (the mirror building, for those of you familiar with the course) the two guys in front were starting to play the cat and mouse games–neither wanted to jump first and let the other guy draft. So I decided I would jump hard and get that coffee. I took the sprint easily and kept the pace fairly high around the first corner and down the hill. When I looked back, five guys were chasing me, and we had more than 50 meters on the field.

We went into breakaway mode immediately, taking short turns at the front and extending our lead slightly. Soon a few more guys bridged across, and we had about a dozen guys pulling. This was good because we had enough horsepower to stay away, but we were also threatening so the pack might work harder to pull us back. We kept riding hard, though, pushing some big gears even into the headwind, and we seemed to be holding a steady lead.

After a couple more laps, we had been joined by a few others, bringing our total to 16. One of the guys who bridged late was Guido, the local breakaway monster. He likes to fly off the front and eat up the miles while everyone else withers behind him. He gave our break some solid pulls and our lead started to feel secure.

Except for one problem: Every time we passed the start line, some people on the sidelines called out our time gap. They kept yelling things like “10 seconds,” which seemed impossible, because a 10 second gap would mean we should be able to see our pursuit. Then, after some hard efforts, they yelled “15 seconds.” Only a five second gain after that effort? It was almost discouraging, and our paceline faltered a bit and seemed to be on the verge of falling apart.

We pulled it back together, though, and the next time we passed the start line, the official came out into the road and shouted, “Pull through on the left!” I didn’t know what he was talking about. Left of what? I figured a car had pulled onto the course and was in the way, and he was just warning us. When we came around the first corner, though, we could clearly see the pack right there, not more than 100 meter away. We had nearly lapped the field.

With that beautiful sight, we sat up and took the next couple of laps at an easier pace. There was no way the pack could make up 1:50 in the space of three laps, so we were home free. At the bell lap, the sprinter games began, and I situated myself near the front. When the surge went by, I got myself squeezed to the curb, but I fought hard for my position and launched a tired, weak sprint from the wrong place. Despite this, I managed to hang on for 9th place. It was a very gratifying end to the race, and it felt good.

2010 Racing Starts

The 2009 season did not go quite the way I wanted it to, with strange inexplicable pains and a pretty bad crash in September that resulted in a broken rib and several hours in the ER. Then the fall was so busy that I started to worry about my 2010 season well before it started. Finally, in December I started to think seriously about training again and embarked on my Special Forces training plan for the new year. The Special Forces training plan is based on the SF theory that a recruit must be torn down completely before being systematically rebuilt into a highly trained, reliable, and tough fighting machine. My SF plan was to hit myself so hard with horrible training that anything–a race, a crash, ordinary training–would seem unremarkable.

So, when 2010 began with some very horrible weather, I knew that I had just what I needed to start my training regimen. I rode with temperatures in the teens. I rode with howling winds above 30 mph. I rode in blinding snowstorms. Whenever possible, I rode when all of these things were happening. For over two weeks, until classes started again, I rode every day, even when I didn’t want to ride. Especially when I didn’t want to ride. I looked forward to the horrible conditions, knowing they were making me tougher.

I’m still not sure how well that plan worked. By the time the racing season started last weekend, I had completed over 1,000 miles in training, all of it outdoors. My fitness level was high, but I was not anywhere near peaking, which is good, as peaking in March would be stupid and ruin the rest of my season. I felt ready to race, eager to pin on a number and hit the course.

Sunday’s race marked the beginning of the Bethel Spring Series, a race I like to do every year because it is local, and it is expertly organized by a friend of mine. This year I registered for two events each week, the 3/4 combined field, and the Pro123 race. The 3/4 promises to be a very competitive race, with several old and new racers targeting it. My team has a racer who is chasing upgrade points, so he was going to be targeting this race to win. The team plan for the first race was to help the young gun as much as possible while also trying to help me out. This two-pronged approach has its dangers, but it ended up working well for us.

To help YG do well, I, as the team captain, proposed that everyone on the team attack over and over throughout the race to try to tire out the competition. Then, our guy would be ready to hit the line hard at the end of the race, with everyone else trailing after him, too tired to chase, or with teammates too tired to help out.

This worked. We started attacking almost from the gun, and we always had at least one guy up the road, and at one point we had four in a small break. None of the breaks held because no one else wanted to work with our team (they know how strong we are), but we didn’t stop our relentless riding. By the end of the race, our young gun was able to get away with two others from other teams, and he managed to win the final sprint. After the race, several guys from other teams complained that they didn’t have any teammates who could help them out at the end because we had worn them out. Mission accomplished.

The second part of our strategy didn’t work so well. At the bell lap, I was positioned perfectly, about three or four back from the front of the pack. At the bottom of the descent, the rider in the lead just sat up and quite pedaling for no reason I could see. This slowed things down horribly, and, before I could react properly, I was swarmed by riders from behind who then boxed me in. I had terrible position for the final sprint and had to fight around half the field to eke out a 19th place.

I didn’t finish quite where I wanted to be, but I feel like my early season training is paying off. I’m stronger and have more fitness than a lot of my competition, and I’m only getting stronger every day.

New Parts

I received some of my new components in the mail today. Unfortunately, the company shipped me two 10 speed cassettes instead of two 11 speed cassettes and a front derailleur with a 32mm clamp instead of a 35mm clamp. So, I can’t completely build up my new frame until I get this mix up straightened out.

I did put on the parts I could, which is basically everything else, and it looks great. Earlier, the company gave me a free upgrade to Super Record cranks because the Record cranks were out of stock. The cranks are beautiful and they are clearly very well-made. Installation was effortless, as everything seemed to fall together with no fuss at all. I’ve installed Centaur cranks many times, and they were never this easy to assemble. Here is a look at the cranks:

dscf1734

I also got an upgrade/substitution on the brakes. I ordered the 2009 Record 11 speed brakes, but they were also out of stock. The company offered the ’07-’08 Record brakes instead. As far as I can tell, the older Record brakes are exactly the same as the new Super Record brakes, with the titanium hardware and subsequent lighter weight. They also installed very easily, but I did have to run to the hardware store to buy a Torx wrench set, since Campy has decided to use Torx instead of hex in some of their applications. From an engineering standpoint, it probably make sense, because it is probably harder to strip out a Torx than a hex. Here is the front brake:

dscf1736

The Record rear derailleur arrived with no trouble. It is a very beautiful piece of machinery and looks more like kinetic sculpture than a mere mechanical device. Here it is:

dscf1735

Once I get the rest of the parts and can finish the build, I can use my other purchase, the new 11 speed chain tool. It is an insanely precise tool, and, for the price ($150) it should be. I read through the booklet of instructions and was stunned by 24 pages detailing the proper way to set up and mount an 11 speed chain. Here it is:

dscf1737

I also ordered the special Laneo edition of Look pedals. They are white and will complement my white frame perfectly.

I went out with Greg to get a few hours in before the wicked storm hits us tomorrow.We went at a nice, easy pace, and put in over three hours. Here are the details:

Summary:
Activity Type: Road Biking
Event Type: Training
Total Time: 03:27:47
Distance: 55.44 mi
Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,539 ft / 3,550 ft
Calories: 3,944 C
Average: 141 bpm
Max: 175 bpm

Laneo

Road Biking

Car=1, New Bike=0

I went out for a two and a half hour ride today that turned into a six hour ordeal.  About ten or eleven miles from home, I was riding on a fairly busy main road when I saw a car stopped at the stop sign on a smaller intersecting street.  I had a strange feeling about the car, but I thought I made eye contact with the driver.  As I got closer, the car pulled out.  I was sure he would see me, since I was right in front of him, but I still swerved to get out of the way.  Unfortunately, he did not see me or hit his brakes until he had hit me.

I tumbled over the handlebars and crashed to the street.  As I lay there holding my head and looking at my mangled bike, I could see cars stopping all around.  I thought vaguely about trying to get my mobile out of my jersey pocket, but I saw a woman in a car roll down her window and shout that she was calling 911.  In what seemed like seconds, there were several people all around me, and when I attempted to move, they told me to lie still.  The police rolled up quickly, and then the firefighters and EMTs.

The driver of the car that hit me was wandering around in what seemed to be a bit of a daze, and he kept saying over and over, “I’m so sorry.  I’m so sorry.”  A small part of me felt bad for him, as if I should comfort him, but a larger part of me wanted to yell at him for smashing up my new bike, so I’m glad he didn’t come over to talk to me.  The people who were gathered around me kept him away, and when he suggested that he move my bike out of the way, they jumped all over him.  “The police need to see where it is!” they told him.

In the meantime, one of the women at the scene called Dorothy and told her what had happened.  A physical therapist, whose office I had conveniently crashed in front of, was on hand, helping to check me out and make sure I hadn’t done serious, vital damage to myself.  Others appeared to be directing traffic and generally being good Samaritans.

Soon I was strapped into an uncomfortable neck brace and lashed to a stiff backboard.  The EMTs and firefighters loaded me into an ambulance and took me to Danbury hospital.  After getting my vital signs checked for the fourth or fifth time, a nurse wheeled me into the x-ray room, where I got my chest and neck zapped.  Back in my little room, Dorothy was waiting for me with a worried expression on her face.  I assured her I was fine, but a little banged up.  I then got a CAT scan, another x-ray, and a lot more waiting around.

The PA who saw me happened to be a cyclist himself, though he confessed to having too little time to ride as much as he might like.  He told me I had nothing too seriously wrong with me other than a lot of banging around and bruising.  My left wrist somehow took the worst of it and is badly sprained at the least.  I have to see an orthopedist soon to have it checked out.  My neck got a little wrenched by the fall, but is not badly damaged, and there is some minor road rash on my right shoulder.

I have to go to the Newtown police department tomorrow to pick up my bike and see how bad it is.  From my vantage point lying on the road, I could tell that both blades of the form were shattered, but I could not see it well enough to know if there was more extensive damage.  This hurts the most–I have only had the bike for a week, and now it is all smashed up.  The only consolation I get is that the driver’s insurance will be paying for this.  That doesn’t make me feel any better, though–I really like my new bike, and it makes me very sad to see it.

The only other good thing is everyone involved was very professional and very nice.  The Newtown police officer who took my bike back to the PD, the EMTs, the people driving by who stopped–everyone was very kind and helpful and made me feel a little better about our world.

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