Sunday 31 May 2009

Too many updates...

Tim Horton's--not the ideal training diet, perhaps, but at least the company is a cycling sponsor in Canada

There has been so much going on in my little cycling world that I have been hard-pressed to keep up. The last week has not been very good from a training standpoint, primarily due to the stupid weather here. It has been very cold in the mornings and we have had a great deal of rain. On Wednesday's commute home I got totally soaked and can honestly say that I did not enjoy it. Adding to this a four day-long sinus headache and I had to drop all my training plans, plans I usually am very conscientious about doing. And on Thursday evening there was more rain and even though there was a chance it would stop and my headache had cleared up, I have really had enough of riding in the rain since my Animalthon ordeal so I skipped that too. And with the lack of training and the feeling-sorry-for-myself that comes from it, I really broke down and bought two doughnuts at Tim Horton's. I do this very rarely but feel that as a shareholder I must occasionally. Needless to say, my weight has started to go back up.

I did not do a race report from the time trial I did the week before, on May 21. This was one of my worst time trial experiences. I had a good warm-up and felt pretty relaxed. It was quite hot but not uncomfortable. Unfortunately, there was a massive sidewind, even worse than the previous week's. Anyway, as I was being positioned for the launch I asked the holder if he was set and he said okay; it turned out he wasn't holding the seatpost and when I had both feet in the pedals I started to tip over. Luckily, the timekeeper grabbed me. Needless to say, this was not good for my concentration. 10 seconds later I launched but when I was getting up to speed I sat down and could not find my seat! I did a moment later when it jammed into my left inner thigh. When falling, I think it had caught my leg. Anyway, it was twisted way over so that the nose was hitting me on every revolution. I stood up and hammered it back but could only get it partway. At the turnaround when I slowed down I tried again but when I crossed the finish it was still pretty cockeyed. Poor results, needless to say, so the next time I race I will be put up at at the front again I suppose. At least I will be able to pass people, which will cheer me up. Actually, the time was not horrific and put me in 8th place yet again in my age group. I can't imagine what other excuses people were using...and, on the positive side, no cramps!

MacDonald-Cartier Bridge
photo by Jessica Trinity, Creative Commons

This morning it was pouring rain again and I dragged myself around, cleaning bikes and doing household things until it cleared up nicely in the afternoon and I was able to actually do my 3 hour training ride as scheduled. This involves some hard intervals in the first hour but then 2 hours of endurance-speed riding. The intervals went very well, in spite of most of them being into yet another awful headwind, and I felt much happier being out on the bike again. At the end of the ride, I went west and crossed the dreadful MacDonald-Cartier Bridge into Quebec and then turned east and rode the empty bike paths to Gatineau. The roads there are so poor I retraced my steps and arrived home with 80 kms to my credit and a much more positive outlook on things. And tomorrow I will do the first Almonte Bicycle Club time trial of the year, another 40 km ride from Calabogie, so this will make up for missing Thursday's 15 km ride.

Mt. Vesuvius-Naples
photo by fachxx00, Creative Commons

The other cycling things? Well, of course I have been following the Giro d'Italia very closely. Lots of great racing and superb routes--Friday's stage included a climb up Mt. Vesuvius! This is timely as I have been recently sent a new book to review for It is the first English-language biography of Fausto Coppi and will be released in June. Here is Carlos Sastre on Vesuvius, climbing a whole lot better than I can:

I also have the latest edition of Joe Friel's Cyclist's Training Bible to review so watch this space in the coming days.

The collection of Tin Donkeys grows. I have finished the final touches on a new bike for my wife who wanted a "blingy" bicycle. With some judicious E-Bay shopping and a great deal of care, I have assembled a like-new 2008 Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL2 for her, with Specialized Roval Fusee Star wheels and gorgeous Ice Grey Ultegra SL parts. It is quite spectacular and I will post some photos soon.

The other Tin Donkey is not yet ready to be photographed. It is a 1985 Raleigh professional team replica and I have been acquiring Campagnolo Super Record parts for it. Marinoni will paint it and build a new fork for it later in summer. The parts hunt is almost over and next week I will pick up the wheels for it when I go to Cirque du Cyclisme in Virginia. Several posts will be devoted to this interesting bike that even my wife admits to liking.

Yes, back to Cirque! I really enjoyed it in 2007 in Greensboro and now that I have the Marinoni restored and the new Raleigh pro bike (admittedly not ready until 2010) I feel that I really am a fellow lightweight bike-collecting geek and will fit right in. Jan Heine, whose book on racing bikes I reviewed for Pezcyclingnews, will be a speaker and framebuilder Peter Weigle will talk about bike restoration and how it doesn't have to be totally authentic to be fun. I will be bringing the Marinoni to display as a show bike; the organizer of the event actually has a Raleigh identical to mine!

Immediately after Cirque, I will join Dr. Chef, the Badger and Mrs. Badger and we will ride the Great Allegheny Passage from McKeesport, Pennsylvania to Cumberland, Maryland. The Passage is a rail-trail that links up to the C&O Canal towpath in Cumberland, so the route basically takes you from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC (well, the bit from McKeesport to Pittsburgh is still not complete and is apparently some way off). This will be a three day tour of 132 miles and I promise to bring back lots of good photos and stories of local colour.

And after all this, I can still look forward to my trip to Europe on August 4-16th. The Giro dell'Inferno will see us spending a few days near Munich where we will be able to drink a lot of beer before heading to Bolzano for some serious climbing rides (and drinking more beer afterwards). The group will be about ten people and everyone is already pretty excited about the trip. Custom jerseys are being prepared. I will order the just-released Naxos scenery DVD (with Beethoven) to get into the right frame of mind.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Cycling: Not Just For the Beer

A very nice piece appeared in the New York Times describing a bicycle tour of wineries in Oregon, and you can read it here.

Looking at the writer's bike, I can imagine that this tour was quite a workout!

Tuesday 12 May 2009

It's All Downhill at the Giro d'Italia

There is an excellent article (find it here) in today's Wall Street Journal, of all places, on the skills that it takes to descend if you are a racer in the Giro d'Italia. Most non-cyclists think that climbing is the hard part (well, sometimes it is!) but there is an art to descending that probably makes it even more challenging. As a fairly heavy person, I accelerate so fast on downhills that I have to brake a lot and envy riders like Young Jeff who can just fly through the curves. It is an aspect of racing you do not see very often on live coverage since the motorcycles and their camermen cannot keep up with the racers through the narrow curves. Exciting stuff, and an excellent article.

And here is Christian Vandevelde, who unfortunately crashed at the Giro yesterday and is out of the race, commenting about the type of race the Giro is:

"There are days where you go through a town and you might be going easy or you might be going hard and than all of a sudden you have random people like Bettini sprint to the front. You wonder, 'What's going on?' and then everybody slams on their brakes.

"Suddenly you have people passing out pastries, cookies and ice cream and everyone grabs as much as they can and start stuffing their faces. Then they jump back on the bike and keep on riding. That's just weird and crazy to me [laughs]. We get back on the bike and everyone acts like that's a normal thing and you go on with the rest of the race."

While riding home...

I mentioned in my report of Saturday's not-quite-completed Animalthon brevet ride that I took shelter at a cabin museum where there was a small display devoted to the Pileated Woodpecker, an extremely interesting bird that I have never actually seen. I have read a great deal about one of the most spectacular birds to have gone extinct in the United States, the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, and the Pileated resembles it closely although it is somewhat smaller.

The weather in Ottawa has become quite wonderful, with clear blue skies, although the mornings are still just above freezing. Yesterday I rode home a bit later than usual, enjoyng the sunshine. I ride through residential streets and as I passed a house with a small tree in front I suddenly saw a large black bird swoop down and land on the trunk. It flew so strangely that I stopped to watch and--behold!--there was a male Pileated Woodpecker. It was about the size of a crow and did not pay any attention to me although I was only a short distance away. He ran methodically up to the top of the tree over the next few minutes and then flew away. A marvellous sight and one that I certainly did not expect to see in town.

I enjoy my short commute every day and opportunities like this would never come if I was in the car or on a bus. It is a pleasure to hear the bird singing, or seeing people out walking their dogs early or enjoying the sight of ducks and geese on the Rideau River. This aspect of bicycle commuting is not touched on much compared to the exercise or fuel savings or more prosaic elements but it certainly makes it worthwhile for me. Especially if I don't have to drag the bike through ice and snow to do it!

Monday 11 May 2009

Animalthon: It Ate Me Up

On Ferguson Lake Road

After my recent bold success at completing a 200 km Brevet ride with the Ontario Randonneurs, I planned to do one more long ride with them to improve my season’s training. The 300 km Animalthon was scheduled for yesterday and I made some useful preparations. I put the rack on the Marinoni, together with the rack trunk I have, so that I would not have to use a backpack to carry my supplies, and put the bike rack on the car so I would not have to reassemble the bike at the starting point.

Waking up at 4 a.m., I checked the weather and things looked pretty good. There was a threat of some rain showers and perhaps even thunderstorms in the afternoon but I did not think these would be too much of a problem. I did pack my windvest, just in case, and was soon in the car, drinking a nice strong double espresso, and heading towards the jump-off point.

First problem. It turned out that the directions from Google were wrong and it took some time to find the Cheshire Cat pub in Carp since the directions took me most of the way there and then went somewhere else. I arrived around 5:50 a.m. to find that there were only two others doing this ride, and the both left by the time I had the bike set up and was ready to go myself. Peter, the organizer, gave me my check-in card and I was off at 6:15 a.m. into the coolish morning air. I put on the windvest but thought I would have to take it off fairly soon.

Leaving Carp, I cruised comfortably along the country roads at around 28 km/h. I was hoping to average 25-26 km/h for the day, which would easily bring me back to Carp before darkness. There were a lot of birds singing, and I saw some cardinals and a blue jay fly by. At one point I thought I saw a deer lawn ornament but when it turned its head to look at me I realized that it was the real thing!

The Prince of Wales drank here!

The ride began with a headwind but my progress was good and fairly soon I caught up to Trevor, the slower of the two riders. He had also been on the 200 km Brevet ride. In fact, so had Mark, the first rider out, but we never saw him on that ride and would not on this one as well. Trevor and I had a nice chat was we rode through Almonte and then rode towards Lanark and the turn that would take us most of the way to Calabogie. Trevor pulled off at a convenience store to get some Gatorade but I wanted to stay warm and kept on going.

Gravel to asphalt...

The road to Calabogie was particularly nice, with some interesting climbs and some small lakes to look at. A fox came up to the edge of the road but ran away when I approached. There was almost no traffic and the road was in quite good shape. Unfortunately, after a brief stop, my Garmin GPS fell off the mount on the stem and landed in the grass. The mount had cracked and when I tried to reattach the GPS, the tongue holding the unit in place broke off. The GPS would function since it was not wired to the bike but by carrying it in my pocket I could not read off the directions or distance on the ride easily. But I guess randonneuring is about self-sufficiency and I knew that I could easily order a new mount once I was back home.

The road looked familiar and I realized that I was riding the same route that the Almonte Bicycle Club uses for its excellent monthly 40 km time trial and almost before I knew it I was back in Calabogie. I had my card signed off at a gas station/restaurant featuring one of the most unpleasant washrooms I have seen in Canada and prepared to start on the next leg. As I was pulling out, Trevor, who clearly is not all that slow, called out as he arrived at the gas station. We chatted for a bit, but as he was going to go in and have breakfast I decided to keep going. Clouds were rolling in and I wanted to get back in Carp preferably dry.

Riding out of Calabogie, which was at the 95 km mark, I came to Ferguson Lake Road, which took me on some quiet byways through woods and fields and past the small lake-of-the-same name. The road turned into gravel but it was not too bad, although I had to slacken my pace a bit. It was a pretty road but at one point I reached down when I felt something on my sock and discovered blood–it was black fly season! For those unfamiliar with these pests, they come out in swarming clouds in May for perhaps two weeks. Unlike mosquitoes, they don’t sting but actually rip out bits of your flesh. Nasty things and so I made sure to keep my speed high enough to keep them away.

But it was getting darkish now and the first drops of rain were falling. It seemed pretty light and I was in good spirits as I approached the first of a series of climbs on Opeongo Road. The rain was heavier now, and I stopped at a small cabin that was the local historical attraction (there was in interesting outdoor display about Pileated Woodpeckers and their nests!) and had some of my sandwiches. It did not look like the rain was slackening so I rolled out again onto the silent road and began climbing the first of seven hills which would eventually take me to the highest point in Ontario. I did mind the climbing, which was moderately steep, but the rain was hard and I turned on my blinky lights as I approached some stretches of fog. When I finally reached the t-junction that was at Foymount Road, I was completely soaked and soon, with a massive descent, become even wetter. The downhill leg would have been quite exciting in nice weather as it hits grades of 14 percent, but today was not so nice as the rain slammed into my face at 70 km/h like needles and I could feel my lips swell with pain.

This was followed by a rather dull stretch that brought me into Eganville, where I checked in at the local coffee shop and had my card signed. It was only 1:45 p.m. and I had ridden more than 170 kms, so I was pretty much on schedule. After I drank two large hot chocolates, I went outside to get on the bike and found that the rain had increased and I was instantly freezing cold. I rode two more blocks and then saw a German restaurant where I pulled in to figure out what to do.

I still had 140 kms to ride. It would be quite flat and most of it would probably have a tailwind. My legs felt good and I had been eating sufficiently along the route. But I was wet and very cold and had no additional clothing (as if that would not have been soaked through in a few minutes anyway). For only the third time in my cycling I decided to abandon the ride. I ordered a mushroom omelette and a salad and then used my cellphone to call home for rescue. Two hours later, my wife arrived bearing that most welcome of things–warm, dry clothing. I got changed at the restaurant, we loaded up the car and she drove me back to Carp through evil rain and thunderstorms to where I retrieved my car at 5:00 p.m. Trevor’s car was still there, so he had clearly determined to keep going or else was making other arrangements. When I got home, I sent the organizer an e-mail to let him know I would not complete the route today. I also ordered a new GPS mount.

After a good dinner, including a fine Doppelbock beer, I was sound asleep by 9:30 p.m.

At least I did the climbing...

Although I did not meet my goal this time, I did ride more than 170 km on a challenging course so at least I met my goal of more training mileage. The Animalthon is offered again later in the summer by the Ottawa Bicycle Club, but with the cue sheet I have there is no reason I could not do the ride on my own in better weather since I was riding this one by myself anyway. My average speed, including the climbing, still worked out to a respectable 24.8 km/h so I definitely could do it in daylight. This will be the longest randonneur I plan to do since I have no interest in riding at night.

Race Report: May 7 Ottawa Bicycle Club 15 Km Time Trial

We have had unsettled weather recently and I was worried that there would be thunderstorms but when I arrived at the parking lot it looked good, albeit humid. During the warm-up the rains did in fact show up and I got pretty wet but just kept at it anyway. By the time I was done on the trainer the rain had ended and we were getting very mild temperatures. There were about 74 riders in all, including some newbies--including one who was seeded ahead of me.

At the start, I realized there was a slight headwind, the opposite of what we invariably have, so I decided to change my game plan and push hard at the start and then use the tailwind after the turnaround. I had an excellent launch and brought up the power very smoothly, seeing some good numbers (40-42 km/h) on the computer. I passed my 30-second man about 4 kms into the ride and just kept churning on. My heart rate was quite steady at a surprising 168 bpm.

I passed two more cyclists and then began the climb to the turnaround, where I ran into more headwind and saw the speed fall off to around 35-37 km/h. Unfortunately, at the turnaround I could not cross over due to four cars passing and I had to slow down quite a bit. This was very irritating as I had barely passed the 11 minute mark, making this my fastest outbound ever. On the downhill I accelerated up to 49 km/h and tried to regain my concentration but on the return leg I found it hard to focus. Furthermore, the hoped-for tailwind was pretty invisible. I was starting to hurt a bit but morale was boosted when I passed several more riders and was able to accelerate again until I got to the last 2 kms, where the pavement is pretty rough.

At 800 m I felt pain in my right calf and then it cramped very badly. I had to drop down about four gears to keep going and after I crossed the finish line I had trouble pedalling back to the car for the cool-down as my muscles were seizing so badly. My final time was 23:17, which put me 8th out of 12 in my age group but quite a few of the people ahead of me were new to the race and appear to be ringers from other teams. And Hermann the German beat me by 10 seconds, so I have to do something about this. I did manage to beat the other 70+ racer, even though he too is usually faster than me.

Bad news: well, obviously, the cramping. It was still sore when I rode into work on Friday morning. The turnaround traffic was beyond my control so not much I could do about that.

Good news: I think I have become faster over the winter. Without the cramping and the long delay at the turnaround, I probably would have gained a good 30-40 seconds. This is only the first week of May, and the first serious time trial (1:15 faster than the Good Friday ride), and my time is not far off of my June/July results, although we had a wet road and high humidity. Secondly, the bike fit was better but could still be improved by moving the seat up and back a bit more. The bike felt pretty comfortable and I am getting happy with the positioning. Thirdly, the launch was nearly perfect and I reached a steady HR of 168 bpm pretty fast. The highest HR I saw was 177, and the average, including a 2 km cooldown, was 158 bpm. This suggests I was well-rested since the numbers are quite high.

Although I was quite certain I was on the way to a PB before the cramping, to feel this good so early in the season, and only in the second race with this bike, is pretty positive. I think perhaps I will ask my Coach of Cruelty to amend my training program so that I do a long interval at race speed on the return leg of the course, where I always seem to have the worst problems.

Not quite Fabian yet but I think I will get to the 40 km/h level very soon. This is one of my New Year's Resolutions--as to the others, I have met my weight loss goal of 74 kg and increased my strength training results (although those 100 push-ups still look a long way off!). And I have raced every time trial offered by the club this year!