Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Handicapping the Prologue, Part One

OK, triathletes, you're gonna have to be patient for the next, oh, month, as I go TdF crazy, checking Cyclingnews.com every five seconds for race updates. I'm tossing my own proverbial hat in the bucket, inspired by J. Dukes' amazing handicapping aunt, who comes up with subjective criteria for the 20 horses in each year's Kentucky Derby. There's hard data in those criteria, to be sure, but there's a lot of other stuff, too, like whether Dukes' aunt likes the horse trainer personally. So, in her honor, I'm going to run through the twenty or so riders who will place highly in the Tour's prologue on Saturday. My top five go today, followed by five a day until Friday, at which point those attending a super-secret Tour Prologue party will have to make their picks for the big day. At stake at the party will be a case of Oregon Beer to the man or woman who scores best in the following manner:

Each player picks his or her top five riders, who accrue points in the same manner as a cross-country race: you get points equal to your position across the line (i.e. points are bad, like in hearts). The player with the fewer points wins, with the following bonuses:

Pick the winner -1 points
Pick the perfecta (1st and 2nd place are correct) -3
Pick the trifecta (1st, 2nd, and 3rd place are correct) -9

For example, if you picked, say, Fabian Cancellara, Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Bert Grabsch, and Cadel Evans, and those riders came in, respectively, at 1st, 2nd, 7th, 4th, and 11th, you would receive 1+2+7+4+11-1-3=21 points. Get it? Cool. If you'd like to play "online," drop me your picks in a comment and I'll send you a case of virtual beer in a later post. Alright? Alright. Without further ado, the first five riders:

Fabian Cancellara
: Cancellara is currently top dog in the odds, going at 4:7 on several sketchy European betting companies like Unibet.com. Here's his C.V. from the incredibly unscientific criteria of Chris (note that these are mostly scored from 1-10, with exceptions provided for data that just won't fit that kind of limiting parameter).

1: ManCrush Factor—9. You'd think that a guy my size with a similar penchant for weird facial hair and the ability to absolutely drop trousers on the TT bike would take home top honors in the mancrush category. Sadly, Fabian, that honor is going to go to a teammate of yours to be featured a little farther down. Still, Chris can't help his heart from fluttering a little bit at the sight of those treetrunk legs and high-schooler mustache.

2: Team Scandal Score (note for this score, you still want a higher number, since all of these points are going to be added for one number that will indicate how the rider will possibly fare during the opening prologue. But a low scandal number indicates the presence of controversy. Skewing the numbers and predictions even further, however, is the fact that a high TSS will probably indicate the presence of doping, which will directly relate to the rider's daily performance—I guess that this score envisions a perfect world): 9. Things have been really quiet over at Team Saxo Bank, even though the team has three legitimate tour contenders (2008 Champion Carlos Sastre, and Brothers in Yellow Andy and Frank "I looked like a rat when crossing the line at Alpe D'uez in 2006" Schleck. Fabian will have few distractions when it comes time to roll up to the starting gate.

3: EuroScore (like everything in Europe, I just ran these two words together and then capitalized one of the letters. This score tells you how much this particular rider is shaving and embrocating, spiking his hair for the podium, and maintaining arms that an 8-year old girl would be proud of—I have no idea how this score will affect riders' ability on the road on Saturday, but as I run through my list of contenders, I realize that guys who are good at the Time Trial don't really rack up high EuroScores. So, again, just like above, the lower a number, the more Euro he is): 8—Fabian sure has a Euro name, but he weighs 81 kg, which won't even let him fit through the door in most Italian Espresso Bars.

4: Form (OK, this one actually means something, so I'm gonna score it out of 15 points—it relates to how good a rider is presently going): 13. Cancellara had a quiet spring (anybody remember his 2008 spring campaign?), but then recently destroyed everybody on the final day of the Tour de Suisse. Sure, he was on home territory. Sure, give this guy a chance on a final day TT and he's probably gonna be up for up. Still, I think that we'll see an on-form FC on Saturday take another TdF stage win and yellow jersey.

5: Course Suitability (a kinda minor concern, but some of these guys are better at pancake flat and some like the rollers, so we'll only go out of 5 points, here): 4. FC likes the flat flat stuff, and this course has a climb and some technical cornering that might suit a riders like, say, Lance Armstrong or David Zabriske. So I'm bagging on FC a little bit here, but I still see him bringing home the proveribial Swiss Chocolate.

FC Total Score: a very respectable 43 out of 50. Chris's top pick.

Lance Armstrong: Lance didn't do so good in the Giro, but, c'mon, he was recovering from a broken collarbone and several weeks of light training. Word in the peloton (see Ivan Basso's comments in Cyclingnews recently) is that he's going better than ever. Toss in the fact that he's only lost an opening day time trial once (2005, to the excellent David Zabriske), and it makes sense that his odds, at the moment, are 8:1, second only to the abovementioned Fabian Cancellara. I'm predicting that Lance won't win this TT, either, but will gone on to have great success later.

Mancrush Factor: 6. Lance is not crushy. However. He has won seven TdFs and he is harder than any one in the peloton. He's never failed a drug test and has as much polish as Peter Fonda. Still, I wouldn't buy him a drink.

Team Scandal Score: 4. Who's the leader on this team? Contador? Lance? Leipheimer? Popyvych? Even Brunyeel doesn't know who to tap, although I'm pretty sure where his allegiances lie. Lance's TSS is pretty bad, but he's also brilliant at avoiding distractions. Maybe this one doesn't hurt him too much.

EuroScore: 9. He's from Texas. He's raced in Europe for almost two decades, but he knows how to wear a baseball cap.

Form: It's Lance in July, and he's got three weeks of hard cycling under his legs from the Giro. Easy call. 15. No, he's 37. 14.

Course Suitability: Lance loves time trials that go up and down slightly. This course could only suit him better if it were 45K longer. 5.

Lance Armstrong Total Score: 38. His team is bringing him below FC's 43.

Alberto Contador
: I personally don't like Contador very much. He backed into the tour win in 2007 after bizarro Michael Rasmussen disappeared to Mongolia. He then, did, rattle off wins in the Vuelta and Giro in short order. He can really ride. He knows how to time trial. Still, he's on the same team as one Lance Armstrong, and I don't think Lance's competitive, um, juices will let Contador one-up him. He might not have the power to destroy a relatively short (but relatively long prologue) time trial.

Mancrush Factor: 5. It only ends up this high because he says his favorite climbing gear (and this is in the Alps, remember) is something like 39x16, which is insane. He climbs like Ricardo Ricco off drugs, which is impressive. Still, he's pouty, which, as anyone knows, is not alluring in a man.

Team Scandal Score: 4. See Lance's entry, above. Except Contador might be even at more of a disadvantage, as he may feel the odd member out at Astana's tea party. Remember, Leipheimer has worked for Lance before...

EuroScore Factor: 4. See those arms?

Form: Here's my one concession. He just came in third in the Dauphine Libere and won the Spanish TT National Championship. Boyfriend can flat out ride, and I don't see any reason why he shouldn't be close to perfect. 15.

Course Suitability: Again, he might like it longer, but this is a good course for the Spaniard, with some climbing and technical corners. 5.

AC Total Score: 33.

Cadel Evans: Gosh, I wish I liked Cadel more, what with his button nose and cute cleft chin. Still, I'm not a huge fan of riders who never attack. He's a former World Mountain Bike Champion, for god's sake, couldn't he get away somewhere on a descent and then use that climbing ability to get some time, somewhere? All of us who hoped to see Evans challenge Sastre last year on the slopes of Alpe D'uez just got to see the Schelcks destroy Cadel's chances, and he seemed to take that shellacking as if he were accepting a marmite biscuit.

Mancrush Factor: 3. Goes downhill like a bomb, but cozies up to second or third place like no professional cyclist I've ever seen.

Team Scandal Factor: Gosh, is Silence-Lotto even a team any more? No one hears anything about them. 8.

EuroScore: 9. One area Cadel does well in. He wouldn't know what to do with a bottle of Perrier if he found it in his bottle cage.

Form: Here's an interesting one. He's been going quite well, recently, and has had several under the radar results this spring, particularly in the time trial. Let's say he's in at least as good shape as Fabian: 13.

Course Suitability: He's a GC Contender. Up (and particularly, technical down, which this parcours has) is his bread and butter. Marmite and toast. 5.

CE Total Score: 38, putting him on even footing with Lance.

Levi Leipheimer: I was going to try to just use cycling photos, but this image (the first, if you type Levi's name in Google Image Search—interesting) was just too good to miss. It encapsulates a lot of how I feel about Levi: a nice guy, good with animals, but so clueless as not to know which animals to like. What else do you say about a guy that can dominate a mediocre stage race in California, but then can't seem to ride with the others across the pond?

Mancrush Factor: 3. Look at that dog!

EuroScore: Levi, like Cadel, would use a croissant as a boomerang. 9.

Team Scandal Score: 4, courtesy of the Astana mess. Levi is a bit exempt from this liability, seeing as he is definitely not the team captain. Still, I can imagine him bursting into tears whenever Lance and Alberto get into a spat over who gets to go through the line at the baguette store first.

Form: He was pretty so-so during the Giro, and then skipped the Dauphine to go ride in a pro-am in...Nevada? 11.

Course Suitability: Levi crushes up and down time-trials, like the one in Solvang in California. 5.

LL total score: Oddly, Levi scores evenly with Contador at 33.

OK, that's it. This took longer than I planned. The next five tomorrow!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Observe your VDOT

While most cursory web searches for the term 'VDOT' returns pages for the Vermont and Virginia Departments of Transportation (side note—Vermont does better in terms of environmental impact: they have fewer paved roads, but Virginia takes the prize in terms of road maintenance: on many long rides around Charlottesville in the past two years, I have been amazed at the quality of third tier country roads), you'll find an athletic training gem slipped in among the bueracratic sites: RunBayou's VDOT calculator. VDOT is Jack Daniels' (the running coach, not the distiller) modified VO2 max term, and it can be used to predict your training performance. Better yet, it can give you the times at which you should run your intervals. Run below your VDOT and you don't improve; run above your VDOT and you risk injury. It sounds simple and, happily, it is simple.

For example, I ran a 1:20 half-marathon earlier this year in Portland (not great, but I went out fast, Ryan Hall style, with the front runners, and blew up a little bit). Using Jack Daniel's VDOT tables, I found a value of 58, which feels a bit low for my cycling VO2 max but is probably in the ballpark for my running. Daniels' tables, though, don't offer the level of specificity some of us desire. Enter Runbayou.com, which lets you enter a race performance (note that this figure is an actual performance, not a goal) and then breaks down your interval numbers in fine detail. Entering my 1:20 1/2 marathon time, I get the following results:

VDOT=58 (good, consistency)
Easy Pace (25% of my weekly training): 7:34/mile
Marathon Pace (about 35-40% of my weekly training): 6:25/mile
Threshold Pace (about 12% of my weekly training): 6:00—6:04/mile, depending on whether I'm doing shorter intervals (400s, 800s) or longer intervals (1200s, 1600s).
Interval Pace (about 8% of my weekly training): 1:23 400s; 3:28 1000s; 4:10 1200s.
Repetition Pace (about 5% of my weekly training): :37 200s; 1:17 400s.

The page nicely warns you about running above your VDOT, saying that you'll hurt yourself. The proof is always in the soup, however, and on Tuesday I ran 12x200, aiming for that 37' mark. Too bad I ran with a runner above my abilities, and most of our intervals came in around 35'. Yesterday my quads hurt; today they are full of the mythical cobra poison that endurance athletes learn to love and hate. I went for a recovery trot this morning and could barely manage to keep one leg moving in front of the other. The lesson?

Observe your VDOT.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Living the Life

Now that it's been almost six months since I last posted to this blog, I think it's about time to get started again. During the year the pressures of training plus teaching overwhelmed any ability to publish on the blog regularly, and now that the summer months have arrived I think I'll be able to return to these pages more often.

Presently I'm in Colorado Springs, dealing with a little altitude sickness (are you supposed to feel that you're drowning at the third flip turn of a 100?), and living with my fiancee, Amy VanTassel, who has been killing it recently on the road running circuit (8th in her age group at the ridiculous Spring Runoff 10K at the Teva Mountain Games and then 1st in her age group and 5th overall at the Colorado Springs Sailin' Shoes 10K).

I'm adjusting to life of just being a professional athlete, which the title of this blog ostensibly states. It's a funny transition, since I'm used to filling up the hours of the day with work and training. Now there's just training, and it can be a little overwhelming. I haven't been good about getting to the pool in the morning, since it's easy to say "Oh, I'll get there later." Still, getting into the water early (before breakfast!) makes the rest of the day Oh So Much Better.

Racing has been hot and cold up to this point. I've only raced twice, at Wildflower and then two weeks ago at Boise 70.3. Wildflower was a bummer, with a bad swim and two flat tires. Boise was much better, although I still swam poorly (28:30! Yikes). I came out of the water 4 minutes behind the front group and got back to T2...4 minutes behind the front group. My cycling, it appears, is on par with the Craig Alexanders and Ben Hoffmans of the triathlon world. I ran well, too, for me, posting a 1:22, which, at this point in the year is quite good. Final time 4:05 and change, 10th place. I missed the money by two spots, but I feel that I raced well.

Here's the schedule for the rest of the season:

Boulder Peak Tri
Boulder 5430 Long Course
Canada IM
Scott Tinley Challenge
Austin 70.3
Clearwater 70.3 Worlds

I already punched my ticket to Worlds at Boise, courtesy of my training partner Chris Boudreaux, who has been a huge help in getting my head around this whole professional thing. Chris has had a tough season thus far, but he'll figure it out—he's mentally tougher than most, and knows how to compete when he has to.

That's it for now! More updates to come. A huge shoutout to Athlete's Lounge in Portland, OR, who are presently helping me out with race related expenses and equipment.