Friday’s Bell Lap on a Saturday, and a Saturday night no less. Yesterday was Day 1 at the new gig, which left little time to write. Honestly, most of the past couple of weeks has been either getting things in place for the Day 1 or doing things I somehow never got around to doing the past year. All of which has left my training in complete disarray. At least we’re four months away from the start of the season, so with a little focused effort, I should be in enough shape to use the Spring Series to get into shape. Now I just need a little discipline (at the dinner table and in my training.)

In Search Of Base Miles
The one thing I know is that I will somehow, some way have to lay down a good base. It’s by far the most important part of training as it lays the foundation everything that comes. Any doubts that I might have had were laid to rest in Italy. In 2003, I had spent weekends in January, February and March going on long rides (5-6 hours) talking all sorts of terrain (it’s hard not to climb on the roads around Rome) all of which were done at a comfortable pace. Weekdays, I was traveling 4 days a week first to London and then to Spain. In London, I was able to ride as I had brought a bike over with me which I left in the hotel. In Spain, I got some riding in, but I was working long hours. April was a so-so training month and May was a disaster as I didn’t so much as work out in the three weeks leading up to the GF Citta’ di Lucca the first weekend in June. I lined up with no idea of what to expect. It was ballistic from the start until we finally hit the climbs which I managed to hit with the second group on the road. My lack of training leading up to the race reared its ugly head on the third of five climbs, and I started to slip back. Still I managed to finish the 147 kms and the five climbs in 237th out of some 800. I was pleased given how little I was able to train leading up to the race. The only reason I was able to finish at all was because of all those long rides early in the year.

Echelon Gran Fondo Series
Speaking of granfondo, we’re definitely getting closer to them in the States. The Echelon Gran Fondo is the latest attempt to bring the Italian cycling staple to America – actually the latest two attempts. And it’s a step in the right direction, though it’s hard to tell what’s actually in store for anyone who chooses to participate. It would be nice to have some information on what the actual courses will be, as well as what kind of support and prizes are on hand. That said, these two events will be actual races which is what at the heart of the Italian granfondo. I’m not sure what to make of the charity portion of the events, although I’m guessing making donations to charity went a long way towards helping the organizers obtain permits and road closings. It will be interesting to see what’s actually under the hood as more information comes available, but so far so good.

The next couple of weeks will be a transition period as I try to adjust to working again, find time for training and find time to continue to update A View From The Back.  I’ll apologize in advance for what will undoubtedly be a random posting schedule until I settle into a routine. 

That’s today’s view from the back of the airplane (where I’ll be tomorrow for my first business trip with the new company.)

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Blaupunkt Addendum

Suitcare Of Courage twitted this you tube video which seems the perfect footnote to Tuesday’s post.

No offense to Spooky Bikes or anyone who rides them.

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Over the holiday break I caught up on some TV which included watching the Tour du Faso.  Not exactly a Grand Tour by any stretch and yet the Tour du Faso seems to be cycling in as simple a form as you can have at the professional level – “You have a bike.  I have a bike.  Let’s race.”  Okay, I’m overstating it a bit.  Sure the bigger teams win a lot, but where else do you see guys racing bikes with downtube shifters and six-speed gears.  They race with what they have, end of story, which is such a contrast to the local scene.

I’ve got nothing against tricked out bikes or the guys who have the wherewithal to buy a new bike every year.  I do have a problem with the idea that you can buy your way to speed.  I have written this before, but there really is no secret to this sport.  If you want to ride better, you need to ride your bike.  To quote Crash Davis in that epic of epics Bull Durham, “You don’t need a quadraphonic Blaupunkt.  What you need is a curveball.”

The issues with all the techno-geeks, gadget guys and new-bike-every-week guys are several (well not so much with the people themselves as with their practices.)  First is definitely this idea that you can buy your way to winning.  I know guys that will buy a new set of wheels every year because they’re a half-gram lighter when all they do is race in the local park races.  The differentiating factor in a Central Park race is not Harlem Hill or at least is shouldn’t be, and if you’re struggling to get up Harlem Hill, it’s not because your bike is too heavy, it’s because you’re in crappy shape.  The solution to going up the hill better is to ride more hills, and in the particular case of Harlem Hill, to attack the hill in different ways during your training.

Second, and this is directed more at power meter nerds, is that you need gadgets or you just can’t ride.  The power-meter and the like can definitely be useful aids in your training.  They’re helpful in making sure you are following the tried and true adage of training: make your hard days harder than you think you can; make your easy days easier than you think you need to.  That said, you can train just as effectively without being a slave to data.  You need to know your body and you need to know, in Joe Friel speak, your rating of perceived effort (i.e., you ought to be able to tell when you’re going hard and how hard you are going), which by the way, you get a feel for by, you guessed it, riding your bike more.  Unless you are in a solo break or doing a timetrial, there isn’t a heck of lot that your power meter is going to do for you.  How hard you need to go is dictated by the conditions of the race, and you either have the engine to compete or you don’t.  Now, where the power-meter can be useful is in helping you gauge progress from period to period, but even here you need only a standard test course, a HR monitor and the combined weight of you and your bike.  I use the climb at the end of River Road to the Alpine ranger station as my test, which I ride at a steady, below threshold HR.  Based on my time to complete the climb, I can calculate my average wattage and thus my power-to-weight ratio.  Pretty simple – if you want the calculation, let me know.  (By the way, I’m sure, if any power meter junkie reads this, I’ll get an earful about my ignorance and how important the power-meter is, and the truth be told, they will probably be right.  They’re just not $700 right.)

Third is that the skyrocketing cost of bikes and components these days is due in part to the fact that there are people who will buy anything because they have to have the latest and greatest.  $2500+ for a gruppo is obnoxious.  And yet you can expect the prices to keep going in one direction – up, up and up.  It makes it harder and harder for people to get into riding/racing because the entry cost is astronomical.  At least people have the perception that it has to be astronomical.

A reader asked me what I thought about the mixed componentry that comes on racing bikes at the lower end of the price spectrum.  Works for me.  I think the most important things if you’re looking to buy a bike are a) getting a bike that fits you well, b) getting the most bike for the money you are going to spend, and b) ensuring that your components work well enough to shift the gears when you want them to shift and stop the bike when your want to stop.  Over time you can upgrade the components which you can do piece-mail on an as needed basis which will reduce the sticker shock (and alwys remember, last year’s Record is this year’s Chorus, so do you really need the absolute top of the line?)  All of my bikes have some form of mix-and-match components, be it a different headset, different cranks, a lower level chain/cassette (because spending $300 for a cassette is insane.)  I haven’t bought a gruppo in almost six years, and I’m hard pressed to see doing it again anytime soon.  That’s not the reason I’m not winning races.  Sure I’ll update things are parts wear out, and I suppose with the advent of 11-speed at some point I’m going to have to make the dreaded transition which will require a small fortune, but until then, what I need to focus on is making the most efficient use of the time available for training. 

In the end, I’m all for new cycling technology and gear.  I’d love a new set of wheels to race on, but honestly my 2000 Cosmic Carbones fit my racing needs perfectly.  I’ll be using them for as long as they last.  If you have the means for all of the latest gadgets and components, then knock yourself out.  Just don’t believe that you’re going to go any faster or start winning races because of what you are riding.  A professional on a Schwinn Varsity would still crush most of us.

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Friday’s Bell Lap

A very quick Bell Lap today and also a note that I’ll be taking off until after Thanksgiving.

My Trainer
For such a useful piece of equipment, dear trainer, you suck.  A lot.  I despise you and everything about you.  The very thought of pulling you out of my storage room is enough to make me want to crawl into bed and sleep until May.  And yet, dear old friend, it appears as we will be seeing quite a lot of each other over the coming months.

With my new commute looking like a bear, I’ve been pondering quite a bit about what my training options will be going forward.  It looks like I’ll be hitting the trainer far more than I care to.  Please shoot me now.  I know it’s an important part of training, especially to do specific workouts in a controlled environment – no wind, no variations in the road, nothing to hinder you from intervals, spin-ups or even a true recover ride, except death inspiring boredom.  Pick a cliché, insert it here and it really is more interesting than riding on the trainer.  And I’ve got an ideal set-up, right in front of a 55in flat panel with 100+ HD channels and control of the radio in the gym.  It’s still awful.   Looks like it’s going to be a long winter.

More On Why I Hate The West Side Bike Path
My friend Cal was heading out for a training ride last week when he was hit be another cyclist heading the wrong way in the wrong lane.  Cal’s ended up with a broken hand (needed surgery) and a broken bike.  He was doing 15mph when it happened.  Gaursci presto Cal.

Ever wonder how your steed came to be.  This video (which wordpress won’t let me embed) provides a history lesson, although the ending is a wee-bit understated.

Trying to buy a car is soaking up all my time, but that should be over right after Thanksgiving.  Hopefully, we’ll all come out unscathed, me, the dealer and the car.  Not betting on it.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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Sunday morning was the ride from hell.  Well, it could have been, if I had actually gotten anywhere.  It had rained the night before and the ground was still wet and slick with grime, so you knew there would be a flat or two along the way.  I just didn’t realize that it would happen to me 15 minutes into the ride and then again 10 minutes later.

Worse than the flats, I came unprepared.  I had swapped out wheels, forgot, and brought short-stemmed tubes along which made it next to impossible to get my mini-pump attached to the valve.  After the second flat, I borrowed a longer-stem tube from MtJ (thanks, MtJ) and rather than chance messing up everyone’s ride any more than I already had, I rode back home.  I’d guess it was about a whopping eight miles for the day.

More than anything else, I hate screwing up a ride because of my stupidity.  Flats happen and that’s no big deal, but not having the necessary stuff is a big deal and very, very fredesque.  The world’s simplest thing is to be prepared – you know, think it through the night before, get all your stuff either ready to go or have a mental checklist so that when something does go awry, you’re ready for it.

A couple of years ago, Omar and I took some of our sponsors (and some of their friends) on a ride.  It was also a wet day, and one of our sponsors flatted on the bridge.  Omar and I changed the tube mostly because it would be quicker if we did it.  Somewhere on 9W, one of the friends flatted.  He hadn’t brought anything with him – no tubes, no pump, no money, absolutely nothing – so I had to cough up a tube.  I didn’t mind giving him the tube, I’ve been there myself and someone was kind enough to give me one, but I did mind the brashness of the flatter who more or less proudly proclaimed he didn’t bring anything with him, hinting that he expected we would take care of it all because it was a sponsor ride.  What a pompous [expletive deleted].  He wasn’t even affiliated with the team, and we don’t exactly come complete with a full complement of soigneurs.  If you really want to make sure people never ride with you, show up unprepared and then boast about it.

The flip side of course is sometimes even being prepared doesn’t make a difference.  The summer I first got back from Italy, we had a standing Wednesday night 50+ mile ride over the bridge, and it was fantastic training.  One night, five or six of us including Todd – strong as an ox, Olympic rower – were heading out.  Five seconds after we start to roll the Todd flats.  He changes it – we teach newbies by not helping them – and we’re off for all of five minutes when he gets another flat.  He changes it again, and we roll for literally 45 seconds when Todd gets his third flat which one of us now decides to fix.  Much to his embarrassment, flat number three was caused by user error – Todd inserted the tube from his first flat instead of a new tube.  We make it to the end of the bike path at the sewerage plant when Todd gets flat number four.  Eyes are rolling into the backs of heads, everyone is snickering, and we’re all checking out everything – tubes, tires, rims.  Miraculously, we made it over the bridge and back before, yes indeed, Todd gets flat number five as were headed back on the West Side bike path.  It was an incredible string of bad luck, and a ride Todd is still trying to live down.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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YourLogoHereNot so long ago, doing laps around the park, we came upon some guy from a new team consisting primarily of Cat IVs (the team was advertised as such which is why we knew.)  The jersey was decked out with sponsor logos.  Someone questioned how the heck a Cat IV team could have so much sponsorship.  Simple, sponsorship is a myth.

Sponsorship at our level comes in two forms: the benefactor and the discount deal.  That’s not to say that some teams get true sponsorship money (i.e., advertising dollars spent to associate a product or company with a team) – some local teams do get that kind of money and a lot of it.  They’re just the exception rather than the rule.

The benefactor is straight forward.  Someone knows someone who a) has in interest in the team for whatever reason (e.g., relative of a rider, a person who loves cycling and what’s to be associated with a team in some way, etc.) and b) has the wherewithal to provide the money.  Over the years, we’ve had the parent of a rider who gave us money under the “guise” of having the logo of the company he worked for on our jersey.  We’ve had the doctor of a rider give money because he was into cycling and it allowed him to be closer to the team.  We’ve had the owner of a company who wanted some kit also give money.   What none of those “sponsors” expected was to get anything back for their investment other than the kit we promised them.

The discount deal is probably the most common form of sponsorship.  A business will offer the team members a discounted price on their products in exchange for their logo placement on the kit.  The most common of these is the bike shop sponsor, followed quickly by the cycling-related business (for several years we had Gu give us an athlete-deal.)  Sometimes it’s not even a cycling related company – we once had a new local brewer offer to give us beer in exchange for a logo on our jersey – but it always a product that local riders might have an interest in.  The “investment” here makes sense because a) the company is getting money for their product, and if I had to guess, still making a profit on it and b) these products are typically geared at amateur cyclists, who not only see the brand name on the jersey, but generally get to see the product in use at the same time.

The reason that local teams don’t get true sponsorship or a lot of it, anyway, is simple.  They don’t have anything to offer.  They’re not on TV, they’re not in the press, they don’t generate interest – it’s not like a million people are tuning in around the globe to see who’s winning the Spring Series in Central Park.  Sure cycling continues to grow as a sport in the US, but  how many people outside of the handful of cyclists (and we are a relative handful compared to the masses) even see other jerseys let alone take the time to see who is “sponsoring” the team.  There’s nothing in it for the sponsor.  Zero, nada, niente, zilch.  So the next time you see a jersey covered in logos on some local amateur, don’t believe the hype. 

For years, I put together a sponsorship proposal and sent it out diligently.  We had some successes, but by and large mostly discount deals were on offer.  Finally, a couple years back after thinking about, the core of our team came to the decision that we wouldn’t seek any more sponsorship.  Sure we’d love to not to have to pay for our kit, but in the end we enjoy not having anyone tell us what races to do or when to race or the number of races we have to do even more.

That said, anyone want to sponsor us for the upcoming season?  I’d still like some free kit.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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Today’s post has only tangential ties to cycling and is a bit all over the place, so be forewarned.  Sure I went out and rode my training rides over the weekend and early this week, although I’d be hard press to tell you a single detail about any ride since last week.   Hence the mid-week Bell Lap.

I’m not saying last week’s Bell Lap had anything to do with it, but it seems I was only a day or two off.  It’s not a done deal yet, so I haven’t exactly popped the cork on the prosecco, but my job search appears to be coming to an end.  That’s a good thing, although starting a religion would have been a kick. 

It’s also a good thing because both my training and caloric intake were getting whammed in the last couple of weeks as this played out – neither in a positive way.  A while back I mentioned how much my training was suffering from the lack of a routine that accompanies being unemployed.  Now the question will be how big a hit is my training going to take?  The commute is too far to ride; far enough that I’ll need to get a car.  I’ll have to come up with some training solution but is a 4:30am training ride meeting time out of the question?  Seriously, once you’re getting up at 4:20am, what’s the big deal if you take away another 20 minutes of sleep?  I’m sure I won’t be the only one in the park on a bike at that hour.  Ok, I’m not so sure about that, but I’m pretty sure I can convince one or two others to join me . . .  eventually.

I guess I should focus on closing the deal before I worry about how my riding is going to be affected.  It’d be nice to get that two-ton weight of my back.

You’ve Just Won A Stage Of The Tour
This video was floating around twitterland.  Thanks to David Gardiner where I first heard about it.  I reposted it to Facebook but it’s too funny to share with such a limited group (such as my facebook fan group is.)


Burgers and Fries, Oh My
FritesnmeatsSpeaking of two-ton weights, yesterday I had a burger and fries at the Frites ‘n Meats truck, parked at Chambers and Greenwich St.  The food’s not dead weight, it just sure isn’t going to help me drop any pounds.   Now, I don’t eat a lot of burgers (not with the training diet and all), and I sure as heck don’t do street food (not counting the NYC Pretzel which isn’t so much street food as an institution), but the scuttlebutt on this was too good not to give it a go, especially on the last day of nice weather for six months.  So I hopped on my commuter and next thing I knew I’m chowing down on a burger and fries (actually, not exactly the next thing – there was a sizable line which meant the food had to be good.  The line moved quickly because there are about ten guys in the truck.)

The truck is the first thing you notice because it’s not so much street food as it is a mobile restaurant, and a good one at that.  The line moves so quickly because it’s run professionally – one guy takes your order, two guys are cooking the food and one guy is packing the order.  They even have the little order holder thingamajig that restaurants have in the kitchen so the chef knows what’s up next.


Hard To Miss Truck

Anyway, I didn’t ride down there to see the truck (which you can’t miss from 3 miles away).   I’m not sure which was better.  The burger was quite simply awesome and cheap (where else can you get a quality burger for under $6 these days).  Plus they add the condiments for you so it’s a no fuss burger.  The burger is ordinarily where I’d stop.  After all, fries are fries.  But these fries coupled with the spicy mayonnaise were so good it reminded me of my last trip to Belgian (I should clarify, I don’t eat Gotham street food; European street food is a whole other thing). 

Now the problem is fitting Frites ‘n Meat into the training diet?  What are the chances Merckx, Museeuw and Boonen ate/eat this stuff?  Maybe that’s the Belgian secret.  It’s conveniently located on the way to the races (I cut across Chambers to get to the Brooklyn Bridge) so if I can convince them to open up a little earlier (like 5:45am) it could become my race-morning first and second breakfasts.  Based on yesterday’s lunch, I’m more than willing to give it a go.

That’s today’s view from the back (or bottom of a cone of double fried belgian frites.)

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