Friday, March 28, 2008

1999 Tour De Flanders

Yesterday the afternoon forecast called for rain and sleet, and I had to get in a tempo workout, so I sighed, went to see Daq at The West Hill Shop, got a wheel trued, and picked up, for my trainer pleasure, the 1999 edition of the Tour of Flanders.

I don't know if it was the film itself, with shots of Frank Vandenbrouke crashing three times on his way to 2nd place, or a clearly off-form Johan Museeuw riding the rest of the peloton off his wheel for 3rd, or a marvelous Peter Van Petegem with nary a grimace on his face as he made the decisive final attack on the brutal Bosberg, but my wattage figures for the tempo repeats were up, and like, way up, from my last trainer based tempo workouts. About a month ago I was struggling to average 315 watts for 15 minutes. Yesterday it was comparatively easy to average 340, then 334 and 333 in the final interval. Corresponding HRs were (averages all) 154, 155, 156, about what I'd expect due to cardiac drift. So, I recommend it, and here's a little snippet to send you out looking for the video.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Grammatical Grumbles

"What?!" you're thinking (all three of you that read this sometimes woefully inconsistent blog). "He disappears for two weeks and then returns with a English language usage quibble?" Fear not, brave readers of, this post will connect, however tangentially, to the world of bikes and bike racing.

Before I vent my rage, however, a quick apology. I've been out traipsing the West Coast, scouting new job locations that will take me away from this winter of hell in the Northeast. While out there, I had to attend to things like the thickness of my Windsor knot, and whether or not I should wear the jacket to the interview (not, I went with, and it was the right decision; what teachers (at schools I would like to teach at, anyway) wear blue blazers to work?). So the blog suffered. But I'm back, and using a little invective to get things rolling. No worries, I'll be back to my good-natured earnest self tomorrow.

I get to be good-natured and earnest because I can go to blogs like Bike Snob NYC and get my fill of invective and rage. The bike snob is a smart guy, as you can tell from the quality of his writing and general sangfroid. So I was dismayed, in today's post, to find this:

"If I were a doctor, and this were a fixed-gear colonoscopy, then I just found two growths. I’ve also just tested them, and by God, they’re malignant! So what must we do, you ask? The answer is simple. We must do as the doctor would do: nip them in the butt."

For context's sake, he's talking about top tube mounted brake levers, something I'll confess I've never seen (for good reason, I believe; why the hell would you put your brakes there?). But here's the problem. I'm a lover of mixed metaphors, but only when I want to hold someone up for some light ridicule. The saying is "Nip it in the BUD." It's a gardening metaphor, and it means to cut something off before it grows. So the Bike Snob has his connotation correct, but his metaphor is confused. Doctors don't, last I check, garden regularly. They probably do nip things in the butt every now and then, but usually this kind of thing only happens around nasty little dogs.

Keep your knees in, and your published metaphors unmixed, people.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Giro Almost (The Trip, Day 13)

I usually don't like to pan things, especially something that's responsible for my continued existence on Earth, but I have to give a resounding Bronx Cheer to the Giro Almost (yes, I have anagrammed and added a letter to this popular helmet's title). Sure, Lance wore one, and it's supposed to, like, make your head cooler than if you weren't wearing a helmet at all, but this hardhat has been nothing but a hassle from the moment it came out of the box. A few reasons:

1: The Fit. The Almost uses a kind of slide/release cinch mechanism located at the back of your head. This mechanism has two faults. One, you can't make it small enough (I had a size large and I do not have a small head; go ahead, I left myself open for that one), and two, it breaks easily. In fact, that's the second problem with this helmet...

2: It breaks easily. The suspension system (more on that below) is attached to the helmet's foam in two places, with a sort of rivet/button system, right at the rider's temples. Both of my rivets broke after only using the helmet for a short amount of time, so the suspension slides around pretty easily up top, which is not an endearing feature of a helmet.

3: The suspension is cheap and flimsy. After the attachment points breaking, the suspension slid out of place at the top of the helmet, too. You can now hold onto the suspension and the helmet will dangle, jellyfish-like, about a foot below the stretched and maxed-out suspension plastic.

4: It's huge. I look like a Goomba from Super Mario Brothers. Seriously. Put this thing on and you'll look like a mushroom, too.

I miss my good 'ol, white, Specialized Decibel. Classy, sleek, low-profile, and did I mention it was white? I'll be riding in Rudy Project helmets for this year, so I'm bidding the Almost farewell when I get back to Putney. Good riddance.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How-To: The Nature Break While Riding (The Trip, Day 12)

First off, let me apologize to any women who might be among the 14 people who read this blog (I have Google Analytics; I know): you may find this post to be of limited importance/use. Boys, listen up.

Triathletes are guilty of many sins against cycling. We mash gears instead of spinning them. We (although I would like to say I've never done this one) wear sleeveless jerseys (they're called vests, people, and they're supposed to be worn over other jerseys) with arm warmers. I've seen triathletes shamelessly use their aerobars in pacelines during group-rides. They cannot glue tubular tires or adjust their rear derailleurs. We cannot climb. We plaster electrical tape on our expensive carbon bicycles. We're much more likely to drop $1500 on aerodynamic wheels (bling) than we are to make sure our bikes are properly fitted.

But what really keeps the cyclists looking down their noses at us (and they do, certainly), is our inability to relieve ourselves without getting off the bike. I first saw someone do it in the flesh on a group ride in Portland, ME, several years ago, and I thought "I could do that." You can also watch a hilarious section of Hell On Wheels where you see basically the entire peloton peeing from their saddles.

Most of the roads I ride back in Vermont are, believe it or not, pretty heavily populated, so when I found myself in the middle of nowhere yesterday, riding Virginia's rural (but paved!) roads, I thought I could practice those skills I don't often get to use. So here's how you do it:

Wait until you're on a slight downhill (slight!). If you try to do this while going up, you'll fall into a puddle of your own urine.

Drift over to the right side of the road, and lock your right knee so your right leg is fully extended.

Take your right hand off the handlebar and twist your hips toward the side of the road.

Lean forward to get your center of gravity between the two wheels, and brace yourself by putting your left knee under the handlebar.

Use your right hand to navigate your bibs and to aim. If you're careful and relaxed, you won't have any problems.

Triathletes, don't try this on a TT bike. If you don't know why, go back to prowling the forums at Slowtwitch. You should also not practice this skill on rollers, but if you do, use a small-mouth spittoon and send me some pictures (or better yet, video) of you riding off said rollers into the wall, half-naked.

Tomorrow, the first of my gear reviews get going!

Monday, March 10, 2008


What do you get when you take three people, three surfboards, four wetsuits, one bicycle, two sets of wheels, a whole wardrobe of outdoor cycling clothing and neoprene, and send them to Chincoteague, VA, for four days of surfing and general beach fun?

You get three days of rain and, at times, 30 MPH wind.

It wasn't a total washout. I got out on my bike twice, conducting the good 'ol Ronde du Chincoteague more times than I could count (the headland on the bridge to the mainland was beastly, and the road had no shoulder; I attempted it once and came home shaken, afeared for my life). I ran a lot, going back to the old 2-a-day running training (I'd forgotten just how much I like running twice a day), and we went surfing twice. The first time was laughable, huge onshore breezes that turned the waves into dirty slop. We stayed out maybe twenty minutes and then almost froze trying to get out of our wetsuits. No rides, anywhere, except for one moment when Uncle Jesse stood up on a 1-foot reform about five feet from the beach. Day two of surfing was better, as the wind was howling offshore, and the waves were crisp, clean, and not-small. There were even a few barrels out there. That said, the surfing was still frustrating. The water was cold (around 45 degrees), but the heavy wind really chilled. I caught three rides, courtesy of Buddy Ben's 10-foot Big Orange, but also got whacked in the head by said giant surfboard, the aftereffects of which I still feel this morning. Uncle Jesse and I surfed for almost an hour, I think, and then tried to get out of our wetsuits before hypothermia set in.

Here's the thing about vacation, though. If Jesse and I really wanted to surf for our vacation, we would have eschewed further company (Jesse's girlfriend Sierra came along), crashed in a tiny hotel in Cape Hatteras, and had a more focused, but probably less enjoyable time. As it was, we woke up, had breakfast, I'd go for a run, we'd try to surf, have lunch, take naps, I'd run again, and then we'd cook dinner, have a few drinks, and then collapse on the couches to talk about radio and writing (Sierra's a fiction writer, Jesse's a radio producer, and I like to play around with poems). So although the surfing was less than perfect, the time spent in our rental cottage (a steal; the time to rent in Chincoteague is definitely the off-season) was marvelous.

If this weren't enough, there's a gigantic fiberglass Viking statue on the side of the road in one of Chincoteague's trailer parks (see above). There are also wild ponies!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Trip, Day Seven: 100 K A Day

"100k a day, that's what you gotta do," says my friend and sometimes mentor, Scott Wade. Scott is one of those guys who's deeply misunderstood by those who don't ride bikes. They find him abrasive, short, and dismissive. He can be all of these things. But his attitude isn't born of anger, or aggression, or dislike of his fellow human beings, I think. Scott made a living for years riding bikes, both off- and 0n-road. He's a formal cyclocross national champion. He wrenches bikes in the summer and grinds skis in the winter. Whenever I asked him for advice about racing, he'd give me the short, dismissive version ("You just never got it done this season, did you, Bagg? Huh, did you?"), but if I waited, soon he'd be the one doing all the talking ("You gotta keep attacking—one of you goes, and then the other, and see who'll come with you, but you gotta mix things up, can't just sit at the back and just suck."). When I told him I wanted to be a Cat 2, he shrugged and said "100k a day. You want it, go do it."

In no way do I average 100k a day, and in that simple rubric I see my promise as a road racer: talented, but not enough time in the saddle (since I'm primarily a triathlete, it's hard to find time to ride 62 miles a day) to regularly take away the Cat 3 races. But today was a 100k day, down in the James River Valley of Northern Virginia. Doesn't anyone else know about the riding here? Why was I the only cyclist I saw out there today? Perfect pavement, good temperatures, a good mixture of flats and climbs, beauty, beauty, beauty...

I set out from Scottesville at 10:30, and didn't check my odometer for forty minutes, at which point I'd covered almost 15 miles, all at an easy cadence and heart rate. One of those stretches in which you feel what it's like to truly co-exist with your bicycle, in which there's no wasted energy (I had a tailwind). I've been trying to ride with a higher cadence, and the PowerTap helps with that. Turns out that my "comfortable" cadence is around 78-80, i.e. I'm a masher, not a spinner. So I've been trying to hold that 85-95 rpm that'll keep everything efficient.

As always, there was a bit of a dip in spirits halfway through, when I was starting to get dehydrated and sugar-low, but both of those issues were easily fixed, as I had about fifteen caramel PowergGels with me (has anyone else had these? They're amazing; I like to eat them for dessert). Having weathered that challenge, I realized my rear wheel felt squirrely, the way a wheel feels when it's getting a bit low on PSI. I pulled over and pressed, and could almost bottom out the tire on the rim. Not good. I must have picked up a slow leak. I loaded a CO2 cartridge into my pump, thinking I would just pump up the leaky tube and change it at the car, and realized I had bought threaded, not unthreaded cartridges; they wouldn't work. My only choice was to pedal the last 9 miles incredibly gingerly, trying to keep my weight off the back wheel and avoiding all bumps in the road. Looking over my powerfile for this workout, you can tell I was nervous: I rode about five miles per hour faster during that period than my average for the whole ride. But I made it back to the car as the rear wheel was taking on that tire pressure you associate with tubular 'cross tires: nice and mushy.

I got home, ate a bunch of rice and beans, and fell into one of those post ride naps that, at first, you think you won't need, and then totally pass out into oblivion. I met Jesse and Sierra for a swim, and then Jesse and I cooked dinner before packing the car for Chincoteague. Come next post, I should have spent some time in the Atlantic Ocean on a long plank of foam and resin. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Trip, Day Six

Day six already! Amazing how leaving Putney last Thursday seems both recent and long gone, but that's how mixed vacations go. Today I finally settled into one location, Charlottesville, although after tomorrow, J.Dukes and I are off to Chincoteague for some surfing and shirtless wild pony chasing. Today brought some swimming and some running, as the weather was Pacific Northwest all day. But tomorrow I've got big plans: and 80 mile ride down around Scotsville, in the James River Valley. The flood-like rains currently coursing down have me worried about wet roads, but with temps in the 60s (take that, Vermont), things'll dry out quickly. The road rash is healing, courtesy a dip in the UVA pool today (gross for everybody else, but disinfectant for me!), and I'm ready for some real training hours tomorrow. 6, if everything goes to plan!

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Short Bike and Traveling Story (The Trip, Day Five)

This is a bike story. I’ve told it so many times as not a bike story, but I was reminded today that it was, in fact, a bike story, and so I’m here restoring it to its proper place. I realized it was a bike story (or remembered this fact, actually) today, as I drove from New York City to Charlottesville, Virginia, with two surfboards and a bike on the roof of my small car. People react to toys on top of a small car the same way they react to small, cute children. They light up themselves, as if the promise of someone else’s fun reminded them that they, too, would have extravagant fun at some point in the future. When I pulled up to the toll booth in the Delaware Water Gap at around 9:30 AM, the toll collector took my money, looked at the equipment dominating my car’s rooftop, smiled and said: “Have a good time, man.” Later that day, after two surprisingly good tacos in Mechanicsville (burg?), PA, while re-caffeinating at a gas station, a sunburnt, crew-cut man approached my car, pointed to the two boards and said “I was just in the DR for two weeks. Where you headed?” I told him C’ville, then Chincoteague, and his face creased into its burnt lines. He said he’d noticed my Vermont plates, and we commiserated about this year’s snowfall, which has been prodigious.
So as I pulled back onto the highway, I remembered this story, which, as I said above, I’d forgotten was a bike story. It takes place last summer, one day before my sister’s wedding, and begins in Portland, Maine.
It was a hot day, at the end of July, and I hadn’t gone for a run that day. My parents had left me a long list of things to do, clothes to pick up from the tailor’s, food to cooler and pack in the car. I tossed my new bike on the roof, hoping to enter a weekly time-trial that takes place on Thursdays in Duxbury, MA, where the wedding was taking place. In addition to wedding clothes, food, cooking equipment, I had running clothes, my swimsuit, a bike, and all my riding stuff. I left the house in Portland sweaty, tired, un-walked, and stressed. As I pulled out of the driveway, my gas indicator came on.
Forest Avenue, in Portland, is the place you go when you need something, and you’d rather get it cheap: Inexpensive do-it-yourself car wash places, Rite-Aids, Jiffy Lubes. There are stop lights every hundred meters, the traffic is awful, and everyone is procuring his cheap (sorry, inexpensive) item as fast as possible, so as to avoid all the other cheapskate shoppers. It is, in short, a strip, and I figured I could find a gas station somewhere among its tuxedo rental shops, its detailing shops. I saw a Mobil sign on the other side of the street, and even though Forest Ave is not an easy place to get to the other side, I dove across the oncoming traffic and stopped in front of the pump.
As I opened my door to get out, I got that sense that this was a full-service joint. Having someone else pump my gas for me is difficult for me. It offends some puritanical vestige hardwired into the reptile part of my brain. I wonder what to do while someone is doing something for me I could easily achieve myself. It’s like having someone brush your teeth for you, and just as embarrassing. The man approaching my car looked in his early fifties, with a curly mess of blond hair, bad teeth, and half crazy eyes. Since I had my door open and my foot on the ground, trying to express an affect of “Hey, never mind, man, take it easy, I can pump my own gas,” I didn’t think I could just shut the door again as Crazy Eyes had beaten me to the pump. So I pretended like I just wanted the door open for, you know, air.
“Hi,” Crazy Eyes said.
“Hi there,” I said. “How’s it going?”
“Fine,” he said. He eyed my bicycle while slipping the hose’s nozzle into the waiting hole. “That’s a nice bikc.”
It was a nice bike, but I certainly don’t want to brag about my bike to anyone, least of all a friendly gas station attendant.
“Yeah, it’s a good one. It does what I want it to.”
“You a serious biker?”
“Yeah, I guess,” I said.
“I had this friend once,” he said, one hand still on the pump, the other circling in the air, “Who went to the Olympics for cycling. All he cared about were ball bearings. Ball bearings! He was nuts about them. Spent thousands of dollars on them, back in the 60s, too. Got beautiful ones. That’s all he cared about, though. Bearings.”
As he spoke, Crazy Eyes looked back and forth between me and the bike. He seemed to want to keep talking, so I indulged him.
“Do you ride?” I asked, lamely.
“Me, no. I used to run. Ran a lot. I can’t run any more. I got something wrong with a muscle in my leg. A deep muscle. Called the piriformis. real hard to stretch it out. Can’t do anything for it.”
He knew what a piriformis was. I was impressed, and had one of those backlashes I get when I assume someone doesn’t know these things, and then does. It’s a good reminder of how one isn’t the only sentient being on the planet.
“How’d it happen?” I asked, now interested.
“Oh, working here at the shop. So I can’t run now, but that keeps me fit. You know, putting tires on, carrying stuff. It’s hard. But it helps, and I’m 73.”
I goggled. 73! He was blond, fit-looking, and tan. I’d pegged him for middle fifties at the latest.
“73!” I said. “I thought you were, like, 56 or something. 73. No way.”
“It’s because I didn’t stop doing anything,” he said. “You know, I had friends—like the bike guy!—I had friends that loved doing things, like running, biking, you know. But they stopped. They got wives, husbands, kids, all that stuff, and they ended up stopping. In their 30s or 40s. I don’t know. I just kept doing it.”
“Wow,” I said. He looked down at me and then at the bike.
“You look like a nice young man,” he said (he actually did say that). “I’ll tell you something. Never stop doing what you love. No matter what you do. I had friends that stopped, and they ended up unhappy. But I didn’t. So don’t stop, no matter what, don’t stop doing what you love.”
I paid him, and tried to tip him surreptitiously, but of course it felt awkward and forced. He turned away, our interaction finished. I pulled out of the gas station and onto Route 295, heading south. I got out my phone and called my friend Jesse.
“Hey listen,” I said. “The universe just gave me a gift.”

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Trip, Day Four

Day four came early, with a 5:00 AM wakeup call. Grits, coffee, PowerBar Endurance, a pair of bibs underneath my skinsuit, leg warmers, base layer, skinsuit, jersey, jacket, balaclava, lobsterclaws (my sister calls those cameltoe gloves—eeesh), booties: the full cold weather racing regalia. Sadly, it all came for nought, as I got taken out by a guy who couldn't hold his line at the bottom of a hill. Yes, first race of the year, first crash, and I didn't shave high enough (who shaves his hips, anyway?!) to leave the abraded area bald. My buddy, Tyson (he of the year-round leg shearing), never does Cat 3 (or, god forbid, 3/4 races) any more, and I think I'm now of that mindset. I didn't do the 1/2/3 race because it was the first race of the year, I wanted to score some points, I wasn't sure of my form, blah, blah, blah. So I entered the 3/4 race.

As Hunter S. Thompson once said: "It seemed important at the time."

So this guy swerves into me, sticking his derailleur firmly through the spokes of my front wheel. I now have to go to my mechanic (happily, he's the best mechanic in the Northeast—goes by Daq Woods at The West Hill Shop in Putney; check him out some time) and say "Daq, could you rebuild this Zipp 404 for me? Some Cat 4 idiot destroyed it." The wheel wasn't totally tacoed, but 6-8 of the spokes were ripped cleanly in half. I walked back across Central Park to the start line to retrieve my jacket, and made it to the Park's east side just in time to see my field come past me, starting its last lap. Tellingly, there was an 8 rider pileup as they came around an easy, sweeping corner. Never again for me in the 3/4 races. I swear. Everything's a bit tore up: my hip, my bibs and skinsuit, gloves, leg warmers, my bar tape.

I miss cyclocross season. There you only had yourself to blame.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Trip, Day Three: Shaving Day

Yeah, I know I didn't get to a "Part Two" for yesterday's post about the Carney, Sandoe and Associates job fair in NYC. I figure you got kind of a picture of it, so I'll just add two details from interviews subsequent to that post:

A) Head of English Department (?) who talked about the school's history for 25 minutes, then outlined the benefits program (!).

B) Head of school who asked me, in all honesty, with his own iPhone sitting there on the table in front of me, to "Describe to me what the iPhone movie of you teaching a class looks like."

Other than that, the people I talked to were great: excited about education and about bringing a good person to his/her school. Of course, when you're the interviewer, you get to be normal and balanced. It's the other side, the "Please love me and value me" side that looks pathetic and creepy the way all seekers of love/affirmation look.

Anyway. I got in two lovely workouts today, both in Central Park. My hamstring was acting up, so instead of the 8 x 1:00 fartlek intervals, I did 8 efficiency intervals, basically running swiftly with good form, but not pushing it. Then I did my recovery run for the week, bringing my run time to 1:15. After two amazing tacos from my favorite taco shop in Manhattan (La Esquina, at Cleveland and Lafayette just north of Chinatown) and two cups of coffee with one of my best friends, Damien, I headed back to the park for 5 laps (30 miles) of Central Park riding. The C'Dale, as expected, rides like a dream. Back to my cousin's apartment, it was time to shave, even though most Belgian PROs (and my crazy teammate, Tyson) won't shave the day before a race because it's "fatiguing."

I love that first shave of the year. The aformentioned Tyson shaves throughout the winter, because he claims that his legs start to itch. I like not having to worry about it for a few months, but that first shave back is truly a bitch. I had help this time from Aki's shaving post at Sprinter Della Casa, and used disposables rather than my Mach 3. Hard to say if they helped, since I didn't have an electric to take care of the hedge trimming aspect of legs that hadn't been shaved in months. Still, I got it done, and the first race of the season goes off tomorrow. There are almost 60 guys signed up for my race tomorrow (incredible, really, for a 3/4 race that starts at 6:30 AM on the second day of March), so I'm ready for some good racing. My legs may be a bit tired, but I think I've done the head work to nab a result tomorrow. I'll let you know then.