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Archive for June, 2009

You never know who you’ll end up riding with on the way out to a race at Prospect Park.  Sayid and I have a standing date to meet on the Hudson River bike path, but it’s a rolling date, so it’s hit or miss.  And truth be told, I often enjoy a ride out by myself.  It’s sort of the quiet before the storm.  Well, yesterday, there was no Sayid and there was no quiet ride.

As I hit the path, I noticed a large group with a few guys in our kit coming up behind me.  I soft pedaled, expecting to see Sayid.  Instead, it was the Dominican cavalry, some really nice guys who also happen to be really strong and who always ride together.  I found a couple of teammates and joined in.  The ride out was a little brisk, anything but quiet and a little chaotic, all things that apparently lend themselves well to racing.

It was fairly easy to pick el gringo out of the group for which I blame my mother (isn’t everything your parents’ fault?)  She’s from Old San Juan, PR, but my Spanish is nonexistent, and I burn if I go out in the sun for one minute.  

The conversation on the ride never ended, not that I understood any of it.  It reminded me of my first months in Italy.  There was whole world of discussion going on around me, but not getting much of it, I was pretty much always in my own little universe.  Yesterday was no different despite the similarities in languages, so in some ways it was quiet ride out.

We pretty much took up the whole road which actually felt quite safe.  We didn’t so much go over the Brooklyn Bridge so much as we consumed the Brooklyn Bridge – both lanes, swarming on both sides of pedestrians, diving into little gaps.  A great bike handling warm up.

As for the quick pace, I guess that was to warm up the legs.  And these guys obviously know what they’re doing.  Yesterday’s winner and second place finisher, who were in a break from lap 3 or 4 (hard to be sure when your brain wasn’t getting any oxygen,) came from the cavalry.

I’m hoping we’ll see a return of el gringo fairly soon – maybe the winning ways can rub off.

As for the race, with a 103 starters it was fairly fast (44 miles covered in 1 hr 36 mins), and I quickly found myself hanging on for dear life.  As always though, I had a great view from the back.

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Better Think Twice

Better Think Twice

Bicycle Harassment Passed
This week the City Council in Columbia, MO passed a Bicycle Harassment ordinance which makes, as you might expect from the ordinance’s name, harassing cyclists a misdemeanor.   According to the Missourian, the ordinance makes throwing an object at or in the direction of a cyclist, threatening a cyclist to frighten or disturb the cyclist, sounding a horn with the intention to frighten or disturb a cyclist, knowingly placing a cyclist in the path of physical injury, or knowingly engaging in conduct that creates a risk of death or serious physical injury for a cyclist against the law.

It’s great to see this law pass, especially if you live in Columbia, and more cities need to follow suit.  My only question is weren’t these things against the law in the first place?  It seems the cyclist vs. motorist road war has devolved to the point where it’s necessary to remind people that harming others really isn’t ok, yet another lesson first learned in kindergarten.

The law does serve a purpose in that it puts the issue at the forefront of every future confrontation, and hopefully that will serve to keep some those incidents from boiling over.  Every cyclist has a story of at least one confrontation with a motorist.  Given that cyclists are at far great risk of injury and death, anything that reduces the risk of incident is a good thing. 

While I’ll be the first to say, that 98% of those cyclist-motorist confrontations are initiated by the motorist (I may be a little biased here), there’s a flip side to this coin.  Isn’t there always?  Cyclists can’t live in a vacuum.  As a gross generalization, we don’t follow the rules of the road, break laws and often have as much rage as the motorists, all  of which increases the likelihood of confrontation.  Don’t we have a responsibility to not create situations that will inevitably lead to a confrontation (i.e., riding nine abreast on a single lane road which we’ve all done at some point)?

George Washington Bridge Remains Closed
The south side path on the George Washington Bridge has been closed for what seems like an eternity leaving cyclists with the dreaded north side path and its four sets of stairs you need to hump your bike up and down.  The south side will remain closed during the week for the foreseeable future because it is being painted.  By hand.  By one guy.  Using a ¼ inch brush. 

Longo (c)F2

Longo (c)F2

Surprise, Surprise: French TT Champ is Longo
Move over Energizer Bunny.  At the age of 50, Jeannie Longo won her 56 national title taking the women’s time trial crown.  Simply amazing and a great inspiration given that any riding I am do is part of my 35 year training plan for the 75+ road race at the 2044 Masters National Championships.  That’s why I am not too concerned with my lack of results this year.  I’m still in my base training period which runs for 12 years.

Horillo Out of Hospital
This sport of ours is dangerous, and every so often we’re reminded of just how dangerous it is.  Last week, our race at Prospect Park was stopped before the finish because of a bad crash in the Cat 4 field.  One of the victims was taking up one lane of the road about 1km from the finish and had we been allowed to go through, there’ s no doubt guys would have ran over him in the sprint if they thought there was a lane.  Pro races don’t stop.

Ravine Where Horrillo Fell

Ravine Where Horrillo Fell (c) EPA

Pedro Horrillo Munoz of Rabobank, who crashed during stage 8 of the Giro, has been released from the hospital after a month-long stay.  You may remember that Horrillo fell 80 meters into a ravine, was placed into a medically induced coma for 5 days, and suffered two collapsed lungs, a broken femur and spinal injuries.   After all that, the 34-year old wants to race again.  That’s either passion or craziness or most likely a little bit of both.

Horrillo Being Airlifted (c) Sirotti

Horrillo Being Airlifted (c) Sirotti

Armstrong Wins Nevada City Classic
Lance Armstrong beat up on some domestic pros at the 49th Nevada City Classic to record his first win of the year.  While a circuit race in the US isn’t the Tour de France, I’ll say it again, the only one who can beat Armstrong at the Tour this year is Alberto Contador.  While Contador will win barring unforeseen circumstances, anything can happen on the road…

We’re finally back to consistent racing here in New York City.  This Sunday is the 4th leg of the Cadence Cup Prospect Park series in Brooklyn.  If you happen to be out there, you know where to find me.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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What’s all the fuss about being unemployed? Does anyone really want to work unless they must? I’ve heard it described as the worst thing ever and a fate worse than death. My experience has been different. I’ve found it enjoyable and invigorating, although it has had one significant drawback. It’s destroyed my season.

If only there was a place to bike to . . .

If only there was a place to bike to...

A perfect storm of events led to my being laid off. I can’t say I was too disappointed. Don’t get me wrong. I look back very fondly and proudly at the time I spent with the company. It was a great place to work, I learned a lot, accomplished a lot, met some great people and had the opportunity to do a stretch in Italy, so, really, how bad could it have been?

That said, I looked at the layoff as an opportunity I probably wouldn’t get again. So I’ve made sure to enjoy the ensuing months. Sure we live in a society that defines you by what you do (Case in point, the other night I was at a party where someone simply couldn’t rest until they knew “what I did.” A response of “I spend time with my kids, I ride my bike, I search for a job, I’ve helped a friend launch a start-up, and I’ve done a little consulting here and there” didn’t resonate. “No, I mean, are you a product development guy, a finance guy, a lawyer?” Once I was neatly tucked into a category, the party could move forward.) And while it’s annoying, it just doesn’t bother me. I’m out of work because my company downsized and that’s that. It doesn’t really say anything about me or who I am or the work I did. So I’ve made the most of it, and I’ve really enjoyed it, except for the nagging issue that I’ve having a terrible season.

What constitutes a terrible season for a guy who likes the view from the back of the peloton is up for debate. All I know is I haven’t been able to find my form this year, and it has been a struggle to get up for races. It’s a bit of paradox really. One would think with nothing but time on my hands, I should be ripping it up. I have plenty of hours to ride – you can only job search for so many hours during the day. And yet, the opposite seems to be happening.

(c) Kate O'Kelley and Jim Joyce

(c) Kate O'Kelley and Jim Joyce

Theories abound. I’m stressed out because I do need to find a job sooner than later, except I don’t feel any stress other than figuring out what my next post will be. I’m depressed because contrary to my bravado, I do define myself by what I do and what people think of me – I’ll let my wife handle that one, but it’s not that. In the end, I think it’s much simpler than that. I’m out of my normal routine, a routine I’ve had for the past ten years, and it’s got me completely out of whack.

I need routine, I crave routine and I don’t have it (that and a little sleep wouldn’t hurt). So I really am looking forward to landing my next gig having to go to the office every day. You can keep all that free time. Give me a long day at the office as part of my training any day. 

That’s today’s view from the back.

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About the last thing you want to do at 4:30 is eat, but eat you must on race day.  The term shoveling must have been coined by some poor cyclist during the first days of the bike as he prepped for a race.  As bad as the morning chow down is, you can be content knowing a post-race ambrosia awaits – the second breakfast.

Given the short nature of most of the local races (40-50 miles), a bowl of cereal and a banana usually with a shot of cold espresso made the night before (the macchina di caffe is a little too loud to be run first thing in the morning) usually prove sufficient.  It might not sound too bad, well the espresso might, but my body’s just not willing to eat at 4:30 am.  No combination of cereal, milk and fruit seems to make it any easier to get down, especially the last few spoonfuls which take all the willpower and strength I can muster.  The herculean struggle is zapping me of vital energy which might be otherwise used during the actual race, which is why, alas, I did not win again this past Saturday.

At least these races only require a bowl of cereal.  The week before my wedding, Sayid and CG came over to Italy so that we could race Nove Colli, a gran fondo in Cesanatico, home of Marco Pantani.  We were doing the 130 km route which had four marked climbs including the Barbotto, a 5.5 km climb which has an average gradient of 7% and whose last km is 18%.  The pre-race breakfast, at the leisurely hour of 5 am, consisted of a big bowl of pasta, a bowl of cereal, some bread with a little prosciutto and a couple of bananas which I had to choke down.  On the other hand, Sayid and CG must have thought we were riding all 21 stages of the Giro.  They ate everything in sight to the point that I kept moving around so I wouldn’t be mistaken for food.  We had to ask the hotel to make more pasta just for the two of them.

In Italy, every gran fondo ends with a pasta party.  In New York, every race ends with a nutrition bar and a ride home.  At least the ride is joyfully filled with thoughts of the second breakfast.   There are all sorts of recipes for the second breakfast or post-race meal.  I remember reading an article by Jonathan Vaughters describing his exact post-race ritual which involved certain types of foods with the exact time they needed to be eaten, although I think I remember the article because Vaughters said the first thing he ate was a piece of chocolate cake.  Others will tell you that immediately after the race, you need a protein-carbohydrate drink, followed by a meal of carbs and lean protein within two hours.

All that’s well and good and undoubtedly the right thing to do.  And I certainly do not disagree the importance of a recovery regime.   In fact, it’s a necessity.  Without it, I’d be comatose with drool running down my chin on a park bench as I “look after” my kids, which is also part of my regime.  But, my second breakfast is simple.  It’s a stop at Frank’s Deli for an egg on a roll and some chocolate milk, all of which is to go so that we can get to the park that much quicker.  It might not sound like much, but nothing tastes as good as that egg on a roll.  Nothing ever has, nothing ever will.  It might also not be the best recovery regime, but it’s my beloved second breakfast.   As Crash Davis said in Bull Durham, “If you believe you’re playing well because . . .  you wear women’s underwear then you are!”

And that’s today’s view from the back.

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Collapsible Wheel Redux 

Mavic's Reponse on VeloNews.com

Mavic's Reponse on VeloNews.com

If you’ve been following the story VeloNews.com ran about editor/race Ben Delaney’s crash following a Mavic R-SYS front wheel failure, you know that Mavic responded by saying that while no determination had been made, Mavic believes there are “several key facts which indicate that the cause of the accident was not failure of the Mavic wheel.” They then go on to explain each of the facts (e.g., the hub shows no impact abrasions which you might expect from a complete wheel failure) and why it indicates something other than the wheel collapsing.

You can’t blame Mavic for doing anything possible not to have to admit blame (Having said that, you actually can – how many things would have turned out better if the guilty party simply admitted fault and apologized? Exhibit 1: George Bush.)  And while we’ll probably never know what really happened, the letter is troubling.

If it looks like a duck, it smells like a duck and the previous version of the duck was recalled because of failure problems, it is almost assuredly a duck.  The first generation Mavic R-SYS had been recalled for the exact same reason. Delaney was riding the second generation wheel.  Not surprisingly, Mavic is putting dollars and staving off a PR fiasco ahead of rider safety.  Not the first to ever do this, but just how many failures will be necessary before the inevitable recall happens.

This seems to be a trend with Mavic. I ride nothing but Mavic.  I train on Open Pros, I race on Cosmic Carbones, and I have a pair for Ksyriums for racing/training as needed.  A while back on a training ride, the rear Ksyrium started making a noise so loud that I was sure I had a small animal big stuck in the cassette. Since the noise only came when I freewheeled, I kept pedaling the rest of the way.  At Master Bike, Imbert, the best mechanic in New York City, determined a flange in the hub had caused the problem.  A simple fix, but we’ve had to do it three more times since (happily, the problem hasn’t recurred since the last fix, but I don’t ride the Ksyriums that often).  Anyway, we called Mavic, and their response was, in essence, there’s no danger to the rider so there’s nothing we need to do.  Seems to me if you buy an $800-plus pair of wheels, they ought to not make that kind of noise.  More importantly, if the flange is repeatedly failing, there is some sort of design issue which, again, for $800+ you shouldn’t have to deal with.

I can’t say my next wheelset will be from Mavic, and they certainly would be the Mavic R-SYS.

Completely Non-Cycling Related Note
The Italians lost to Egypt 1-0 in the FIFA Confederations Cup.  Are you kidding me?

Astana To Keep Going
Astana announced that they’ve reached an agreement with their sponsors regarding the funding that threatened the teams Pro Tour standing.  Lucky for us.  Who wanted to see the Mellow Johnny’s jersey plastered all over the place for three weeks in July?  And worse, how soon before everyone in Central Park would be kitted out in Mellow Johnny’s?

No doping talk this week.  Too much to talk about, and I want to wait until the next 30 guys are banned from the tour which means I’ll probably be back at it next week.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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I made it out to Floyd Bennett Field last night for the weekly Cadence Tuesday Night Twilight Series race.  I had been trying to get out there for four weeks, but invariably something came up, rain, kid’s doctor’s appointments, interviews…  The great thing about racing at FBF is that the race, while ridiculously fast and furious, is the easy part.  It’s getting out there and, even more so, getting home that will kill you.

FBF was New York City’s first municipal airport, although its location and distance from Manhattan makes a rather dubious choice.  The airport had two large concrete runways over one mile long originally put down in 1929, and judging from the state of the tarmac on the race course, we’re still racing on the original concrete.  Located at the southern tip of Brooklyn, FBF actually sits on what was Barren Island which was eventually connected to mainland Brooklyn via landfill.  Given its proximity to the water, you can always count on heavy winds which means you are always on the rivet whether you are hammering along at over 30 mph with the wind at your back or struggling to stay above 20 mph into a ferocious head wind.  The races start at 7pm, and with no artificial lights on the course, they’re short – 27 miles for the P/1/2/3.  Short races mean you’re at it from the whistle.

Navigating The Brooklyn Bridge

Navigating The Brooklyn Bridge

I like to ride my bike out to the race, it is 20 miles from my apartment, and that gives me a 67 mile night.  The ride out is half the battle (the other half is the ride home – I told you, the race is the easy part).  The first hurdle is the Hudson River bike path (of which I’ve gone on at length.)  After that, if you can successfully navigate the Chambers Street potholes and kamikaze livery cabs, you are confronted with the Brooklyn Bridge.  At 5 am the bridge presents no problem; at 5 pm, you take your life into your own hands given the foot traffic and tourists snapping pictures in the bike lane.  Once in Brooklyn, you’ve got a relatively relaxing 2 miles before you are on Flatbush Avenue.

Down the middle is the safest path on Flatbush

Down the middle is the safest path on Flatbush

Flatbush is a world unto itself.  Given its main thoroughfare status, the traffic is intense and insane (and remember, I lived in Rome, so I know my traffic.)  They’ve recently paved a good chunk of it which is a double-edged sword.  You don’t have to circumvent meteor-strike sized potholes, but the smooth surface and lack of traffic lanes (I guess the city ran out of money for the paint) has the drivers believing they’re auditioning for NASCAR.  The number one offenders are the dollar vans, illegal livery vans that offer rides for $1, hence the clever name.  They have no formal stops, they simple ride up and down Flatbush and pull over whenever they spot a fare.  The problem is their focus is the potential fare, so they pull in and out, across two lanes if necessary, regardless of whether you are there or not.  This goes on for a good seven miles before you finally reach FBF.

Who needs traffic lanes?

Who needs traffic lanes?

After the race, Flatbush Round #2 ensues, made all the more interesting because you eventually end up riding in the dark.  The traffic is a little bit lighter, it is 8 pm after all, but much more daring.  Add the fact they can’t see you to the fact they didn’t care in the first place, and you consider yourself lucky if you come away unscathed.  Here’s a smattering of what we encountered on the ride home (I didn’t take pictures until the Brooklyn Bridge because there was no way I was riding without two hands firmly attached to the handlebars):

The dreaded dollar van

The dreaded dollar van

  • Coming to a red light, a speeding car cuts the left turn too tight and at almost runs head on into one of my teammates.  Of course, the driver screams at us.
  • A little further on, same teammate is riding on the right next to the parked cars when a livery cab moves over from the left lane and just misses pinning my teammate to a parked car.  Instead of stopping, the cab keeps moving forward, closer to the parked car, until we yell at him loudly enough that he stops so my teammate can get out of the way.
  • We go through a red light – the only car at the intersection hasn’t moved in two minutes.  Of course, it’s an unmarked police car and the cop proceeds to dress us down for the next two blocks.
  • My other teammate, Chris, almost gets doored (i.e., someone in a parked car opens the driver side door just as we are approaching.)  We’re riding two-wide, so luckily, I noticed it and moved left, and Chris is an incredible bike handler and avoids the door.
  • We hit what we think is a safe zone near prospect park, when a oncoming car decides to make a left turn while we’re in the middle of the intersection.  Instead of stopping to let us through, he yells at us as he keeps going (and yes, we had the light and the right of way).  The cop behind him just looks at us – thanks for the support.
  • Coming over the bridge, a tourist who has just had a picture taken of herself with the NYC skyline as a backdrop, steps out in front of me, oblivious to everything around her.

All in all, a farily typical ride back from a Tuesday night race at Floyd Bennett Field.

Almost home.  Well at least almost in Manhattan.

Almost home. Well at least almost in Manhattan.

As for the race itself, fast and relentless as promised.  I had a great view from the back.

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Sayid had a boss who liked to say “Let’s be hard on the facts, and let’s be open to the reasons” whenever a problem arose.  Forget that facts, let’s just be very open to the reasons Saturday’s Tour of New York in Prospect Park wasn’t my day.

Training isn’t racing.  Unless you’re Lance Armstrong, that is.  I’m not. 

Small field meant I had to actually spend some time at the front of the chase group.  There was no place to hide and I had to stick my neck out in the wind.  Didn’t like that.

I thought we had ten guys in the split and a guy on every chase attempt.  My confusion stems from the pervasion of black kit in the local peloton.  We were the first team to have black kit which the team has had for the 17 years it’s been in existence.  Now you’d be hard press to find a team without black in their kit.

The climb up the Brooklyn Bridge did me in and that was on the way to the race.  I hate knowing I’m shot before I even get to the race.

New (expletive deleted) socks.  I told you, I’m very superstitious.  And yet, there I was with new team socks instead of one of my standard pairs of race socks.  That said, the socks are very cool, a nice hi-sock with the team name running down the back.  Of course, the team name is printed sideways, so if you’re behind me you need to tilt your head 90 degrees to the left to read it.  I’ve been told when your anaerobic, they actually look correct.

Speaking of anaerobic, a lack of oxygen made me think I was in the winning move.  At one point, after I managed to get 99% of a GU gel on my hand instead of my mouth, I tried to wash it off with Gatorade.  The only thing that would have made it better would have been a little sand thrown in.

I just stunk.  Well, there it is.

All that said, it was nice to push a big gear again, and it went pretty much as I expected.  I had a nice view from the back, my preferred vantage point.  I once had a boss who came up with a brilliant  model for Customer Satisfaction in which CS = Performance / Customer Expectation.  I’ll give my performance a 0, but since I had 0 expectations, I’d say it was a very satisfying day. 

That’s today’s view from the back.

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