Monthly Archives: July 2009

Not-so-deep post-Superweek thoughts

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After the last few weeks my jerseys are beginning to resemble pin cushions.

9 races in 15 days (Tour of the Valley + Westlake + Superweek) weakens your immune system, allowing you to catch the dreaded summer cold and waste the race fitness you just built.

A VW Passat wagon can fit a bike, 4 wheels, work stand, bucket, pump, shoes, helmet and assorted other bike gear PLUS 4 people and their clothes for a week. And all without putting the bike up on a rack.

4 people in a room for a week will result everyone getting annoyed at least once about something or someone. Even when it’s family. Especially when it’s family.

If you go to a multi-day race, bring a bucket, rags, cleaning supplies and a work stand. It sucks washing your bike in a hotel parking lot. But having supplies makes it at least doable.

Compared to Milwaukee, Cleveland’s lakefront is an embarrassment.

Blowing past the toll booth lines because you have an EZ-Pass is very cool.

After racing 5 days in a row, it feels weird to wake up in the morning and not have to get ready to race. It also feels weird to just go out and ride easy.

The drive up to Wisconsin seems easy. The drive back seems horrible.

I do not like the smell of fast food in my car.

In every race, at least one person will do something stupid.

In a criterium it’s usually best to stay away from riders who look like Mike Ditka.

If you’re going to fall, fall on someone else instead of the pavement.

More races should have beer primes.

How long will it be until losers stop yelling “go LANCE” out of their car windows, thinking they were the first to do it?

The 5 lbs you lose during a week of racing comes back with the first beer you open.

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Not the same old …

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When you find yourself staring at the same jerseys, same bikes, same wheels week after week it can get a little boring. It’s often the same guys in the breakaways, same guys sprinting at the end.

One of the reasons I like going to Superweek is to race against different guys. And not just a different set of locals, but guys who come from all over the country to race. Looking down the start list you see WI, IL, CA, CO, FL, MN, TN, and a handful of other states.

I first went to the race in 1999 or 2000 and have come back most years. Many others do the same, so we’re no longer complete strangers. I know Chris Halverson will be there to drive a breakaway (and ride guys off his wheel); Chris Black will recount every lap of the race in detail; Gary Doering will shout out instructions to his Mack teammates. It’s great fun.

Riding around before or after the race, you can hear, “remember that time in Kenosha, when …”. Just like a bunch of geezers. Except when you look around and see how fit everyone is, and how fast the racing is, it almost makes you want to check the birth dates on drivers’ licenses.

***
Day 4 update:
Racine criterium: 8 turns with a long stretch of rough pavement. They patched the main craters, but it was still rough enough to launch a half dozen water bottles the first lap. Add some light rain in the opening laps and it was enough to have guys pulling out of the race.

After the usual series of attack-chase-attack, once again I found myself off the front solo. After a couple laps another rider joined me and we were holding a 15 second lead. A few laps later and another rider made it across and we grew the lead until we had the tail of the field in sight in the closing laps. Always a good feeling, but better still is to be able to finish the race with a win. Unfortunately my sprint wasn’t up to it, and I had to settle for third.

***
Day5 update:
Kenosha criterium: 4 corner, fast, 1km course. With some tired legs, I figured I had probably 2 or 3 good efforts so tried to make the best use of them. Was in a couple of promising moves, but as often happens the winning move went as I was caught.

Actually the field was putting in a good chase until a rider — right in front of me — rode over the legs of the barriers in the S/F section. He went down hard. Both he and his bike were tumbling end-over-end. I still don’t know how I managed to avoid going down also.

The crash took the momentum out of the chase. The break of 3 stayed away. I tried several more attacks but everything was chased. Right idea … just not the best timing. More than anything I was just happy to have avoided the crash.

One race left: the race against the traffic through Illinois until it magically opens up when you hit the Indiana turnpike.

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Acting your age

There’s a little bit of the Tour de France at Superweek. And not just racing every day.

The racers at the Tour de France occasionally find reasons to stage protests: over unsafe road conditions, treatment by police during the doping scandals several years ago. To protest, they will sit at the start line when the race is supposed to begin.

It’s hard to imagine a group of 40+ Masters racers at Superweek doing this because they are unhappy with late starting times.

This is what happened at the Lakefront Road Race. Upset because of the 40 minute delay, a couple of the local riders decided to stage a ‘protest’. The whistle blew, and no one on the front row started. Well one guy who apparently was not informed (or who did not want to go along) did take off.

After about 40 seconds and some shouts of “Go!” from the back rows, we started. I could see protesting dangerous conditions, but to do it because of late starting times just seems embarrassing to all of us.

The Lakefront course is on the waterfront in Milwaukee, and requires a significant amount of logistics to close the 4.2 mile course to traffic. It is completely closed to cars. The races on this course, in my experience, have always started late (both the ‘long’ and ‘short’ courses). So you show up 30 minutes later than normal and expect that you won’t start on time.

The race hasn’t been held the last few years, due in part to construction, and probably due in part to the hassles with closing the course. How often do you get to race on a road course, closed to traffic, in a downtown setting?

Aren’t we old guys supposed to have gotten beyond the phase of taking yourself too seriously? Guess Masters racers can be ‘young at heart’ in more ways than one.

***
PS. Over the next couple days, all of the half-dozen guys I talked to thought this was embarrassing also. So not all of us are whiners.

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Day 3 Update:

The Lakefront course is one of my favorites, but I was not excited to do it in the rain. It was pouring at the hotel, but dry at the course only 12 miles away, and the sun was out. But shortly after the race started, it began to rain. On only half of the course. The other half was dry. Unfortunately the wet part included the twisting downhill plunge to the lakefront.

Guys were crashing in the sharp curve at the top of the descent, even though (it seemed) we were barely moving. I stayed near the front and made it through the first few times just fine. Then at the bottom, on the left turn onto the lakefront road, someone went down, the guy in front of me went down, and his bike took my wheels out. Fortunately for me, I mostly fell on him, and had only some minor road rash (and the next day a sore body).

After chasing back to the group, then recovering a bit, I went with several attacks. One looked promising but was caught with 2 laps to go. It was looking like a field sprint but 2 guys got away in the closing couple of miles. Not in a position to go, I missed the move and rolled in just out of the money (but with most of my skin).

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The worst drivers live in …

My money would be “Illinois” based on yet another experience driving up to Superweek.

Even on the Ohio and Indiana turnpikes, when someone would pass on the right at 85+ mph, or suddenly speed up as I was passing, I would look at the license plate: Illinois.

Driving through the construction zones outside of Chicago, where the posted speed limit is 45mph, the average speed of traffic seemed to be about 80. The going fast isn’t really a problem, but the going fast when the lanes are narrowed and cars are weaving in and out of lanes at random is … a bit frightening.

So I was thinking, I wonder if anyone has actually tried to quantify who are the worst drivers. And came across this:
http://usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/cars-trucks/daily-news/080523-The-Worst-Drivers-in-the-U-S-Live-in-/

Illinois isn’t even close to the worst, according to this list

But I’m thinking their methodology is flawed. I think it would be better to take a randomly-selected group of drivers, and make them drive in the different areas and then record their ‘terrified to drive here’ responses. Or let them drive for a whole year and have them tally every stupid-driver-trick they witness, along with the state on the offender’s license plate.

My money would still be on Illinois.

***

Superweek update:

Going by the first race, the number of racers is down this year: only 40 in the Masters field vs. approximately 60 last year, so I’d say the current economic climate is having an impact.

Coming here and racing without teammates is always a little disorienting at first. Racing against guys and teams you don’t normally race against, it’s hard to get a feel for how the races are likely to play out. I told myself to be patient. Easy to say, but then the legs do otherwise.

In the end I used too much unnecessary energy going with or starting moves that didn’t work. Off the front solo a couple of times. Then missed the critical 2 man move in the closing laps.

But now that Tris has offered to open a bottle of D’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz if I bring home a win, now I’m “super-motivated” (as the US Posties were known to say).

***
Day 2 Update:

Well the promise of good wine was strong, but just wasn’t quite enough to get the job done. It was close though.

Ended up spending most of the race off the front, either solo or in any number of attacks (I have lost count now). The final move went with 2 laps to go (about 2 miles). I managed to go with it. Three of us came to the line for the win. After being off the front for so long, didn’t have all that much in the sprint, but managed to grab a 2nd place finish.

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Prep (?) for Superweek

Another race, another taper. Well, sort of.

Superweek starts (for me) on Monday. Last year I said this:
>> Next year, I drive back either late at night or early morning.

That was in reference to the insane Friday afternoon traffic from the Wisconsin border through Chicago and all the way to Gary, IN. So what do I do this year? Arrange to race Mon-Fri and leave for home Friday afternoon.

I also said I would get an EZ-Pass so I could just blow through the toll booths just like those other drivers I so envied last year. I waited too long to order a transponder. Damn.

I registered for the race just a few hours before the late-fee deadline. Made a hotel reservation just 4 days before leaving.

Now just I hope my fitness is a little more reliable than my planning. It’s tough to fit two peak fitness periods in a 3 week window (the last one was for nationals). After the inevitable let-down after the first peak, how do you make yourself sharp again for another big race a couple of weeks later?

I’m hoping our 3-day Tour of the Valley race will be enough to kick my fitness up to where I can get some decent results.

And maybe I’m secretly wishing — just a little — that the economy will keep some of those fast guys from California away this year. But then again, that is one of the things that makes the race worth going to.

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I’m starting to dislike the Tour de France

And LANCE.

One guy at work just calls me “LANCE” now. Every time he sees me.

The other day five different people asked me if I’m following “The Tour” and if I think LANCE will win.

Three times in the last 2 weeks people have asked why I’m not riding in it. (There’s that small matter of having a pro contract with a Pro Tour team).

Those who know a little more ask how long I *could* last in the race. (depends: flat stage with no wind? windy stage? mountain stage?)

I know they mean well, and are actually showing a little interest in a fringe sport that not too many care about, except for LANCE.

The thing is though … I like being anonymous. So on those days when I sneak out for a long ride nobody at work is thinking that I’m out riding. Now they do. Damn you LANCE!

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Quitting is an option

I know triathletes who would sooner collapse than quit in a race. One guy broke his collarbone (he didn’t know at the time) when he crashed 15 miles into the 112-mile bike leg of a race.  He still finished on the bike.  Then ran the marathon. It took him something like 17 hours and a lot of pain but he finished.

People say bike racers aren’t the smartest creatures out on the road, but at least we know that sometimes the smart thing is to quit.  If you’ve gone past the limit of what you can do, your legs are cramping, and the field would have to ride off-course for you to finish in the money, does it make sense to finish just to say “I finished”?  Even though it leaves you wrecked for the race you have the next day or next week?

Sometimes it’s not your choice.  If you’re about to get lapped in a criterium there’s a good chance the officials will pull you from the race. That can, depending on your perspective, be an insult or an act of mercy.

Bike racing is odd in this way.  You can make yourself go so hard trying to stay with the field until you can’t do anything more than just soft-pedal around.  Nobody wants to do that in a race.   Unless you have to. 

I remember having to finish a stage of the Killington Stage Race, going up the climbs with a broken derailleur cable, if I wanted to be able to race the next 3 days.  That time the heroic effort was necessary (the worst part was riding another 10 miles back to the start afterward to retrieve my car).

At the recent Friday evening Tour of the Valley criterium, after an hour of racing, I could tell I was working harder than normal just to hang on. We had raced the TT that morning, and had 2 more hard days to follow.   It seemed that the smart move was to quit at that point and save something for the road race the next morning.

Even though it might make sense, it still doesn’t feel good to quit.  We’ve all been drilled from childhood with sayings  like “winners never quit”. So there’s always a part that doesn’t want to do it.  But the way I look at it, it’s a matter of interpretation.  Are you quitting or are you maximizing your chances in the next race?  Are you quitting or are you putting an end to something that is already over?

Better to use your intelligence than to follow a slogan.

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