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Friday’s Bell Lap

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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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

Humility
From time to time I’ve mentioned that I find the local cycling scene, or more accurately local cyclists annoying (we’ll, maybe I’ve implied it more than directly written in).  Here’s an example of why.

Rider X was lamenting the fact that his kit was slightly different from the kit of his two teammates, each of whose kit, coincidently, was also slightly different.  This was on the start line of a cross race, where I’ve been told an eerie quiet descends before the gun.  Rider X was then heard to say something to the effect that he’d call his the state track champion’s skinsuit.  Reportedly loud enough for everyone to hear, of course.

Why is that at the lower levels of our sport, and let’s face it, apart from the odd occurrence, e.g., George Hincapie, the very best cyclist in New York is still a pimple on the derriere of cycling in the grand scheme of things, the backs are always arched and the attitude always rides high?  As a bunch, and I know it’s a gross generalization, but in all the years I’ve been riding and racing, I’ve found it to be a fairly accurate one, the local peloton is brash, unwelcoming and unfriendly.  Newbies suck, that guy’s not as good as me, I did that hill in this time, look at that Fred, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  Gus have so narrowly defined themselves that their self-esteem seems wrapped up in being a “cyclist” and towards that end, they have to stand up and shout their accomplishments, lest someone not know and think any less of them because of a poor showing.

I debated about writing about Rider X (and in fact called him Rider X) because I heard everything secondhand.  But I have had enough firsthand experience with him to believe that there isn’t any embellishment.  It’s always all about him.  This is the same guy who shows up to a 9W training ride with tubulars (borrowed tubulars no less).  This is the same guy whose teammates buy him breakfast when they’re on training rides.  No big deal in-of-itself until you decide to publically note the fact and lament that your teammates weren’t around on particular ride so you didn’t know where your snack iscoming from.  Maybe I’m picking on Rider X because I personally find him annoying and yet he’s managed to infiltrate my riding circle.  But, he’s not alone, especially not in the local peloton.

I’ve had the luck and good fortune to ride with some of the best the sport has to offer, all of whose names I’ve invariably dropped at some point (and am happy to do so again) in the course of writing A View From The Back – Fondriest, Tafi, Moser, Cassani, Motta, Clerici, Scinto, Sorensen, O’Neill, Fornaciari, Biasci, Magrini.  Holding aside Moser and Sorensen (exceptions that prove the rule perhaps), they were all incredibly approachable, friendly and modest.  While their fortunes are tied up in the fact that they are pros or ex-pros, they never give you the impression that they define themselves in terms of their cycling.  Sure it’s easier for them in some respects.  They’ve got nothing to prove to anyone.  Their accomplishments on the bike speak for themselves, and for the most part, they are still able to ride you into the ground.  But they’ve also got to listen to every cockamamie cycling story and inane question and they do so with grace. 

Not the local rider though.  They scoff at everyone and everything because they’re racers.  More than anything else though it’s the insecurity that baffles me.  I’ve no doubt Rider X’s comments were made because he knew he was not going to do well in that cross race.  In his insecurity, he had to let everyone know that he is a great, amateur track racer.  So insecure that he judges himself and therefore believes everyone else does so as well, on his performance at any given race.  Why else would anyone have the need to proclaim their championship to the masses in a completely different discipline?   How sad.

Of course, you should take racing seriously and do everything you can to do as well as you can, just as you should thoroughly enjoy the results you might reap.  And yes, I get that you do need to have some of that ubiquitous killer attitude to do well.  And that’s fine.  But at the end of the day it’s just a bike race and amateur one at that.  There’s so much more to life.  A little perspective goes a long way, especially once you figure out that there’s more to life than how you raced yesterday.  Heck, might even make you a little happier too.  That would bode well for the rest of us.

Random Pic
Thanks to No One Line who tweeted this rather funny cartoon.

Recumbents

Especially for MtJ
Get your umbrella out because you’re going to need it.  See you Tuesday.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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Why Do I Bother
I’m a firm believer that you will get better following a plan, no matter what plan you’re following.   So every fall, I sit down and create my training plan for the upcoming season.  I just finished mine for 2010.  It’s got all the prerequisites for a training plan, base periods, build periods, peak periods and racing periods, plus rest weeks built in.  I leave it at that level because the plan is for me to figure out the actual workouts at the beginning of each week of the plan.  I enjoy putting the plan together (makes me happy to think about the possibilities for the next year and to leave behind the disappointments of the past season), and I like having my plan finished.

Of course, the problem is I never stick to the plan.  Never.  Not Once.  It simply can’t be done.  And it’s not for lack of trying.  I’ve made it as far as 12 weeks into the plan once, but then it all goes awry – not enough time to actually go out and ride, everyone else seems to be going so fast, going to hard during the rest week.  Invariably, something derails then plan.

 So truth be told, I have no idea why I bother putting the thing together when I already know there’s no chance I’ll actually follow through on it.  Pretty stupid, and yet, I can promise you this time next year, I’ll be writing about my new, spiffy training plan for the 2011 season.

Technology, Technology, Technology
Speaking of stupid, in addition to banning radios, the UCI also voted to phase out cyclists in all levels of the sport.   The UCI apparently felt with today’s sophisticated training methods, diet regimens and athletic specialization, the riders themselves were too far technically advanced to allow them to continue racing.

Worlds
With the World Championship Road Race on Sunday, here’s my favorite two shots from when I went to the 2004 Worlds in Verona. It’s Cristian Moreni’s wife or girlfriend as they came around on the first lap. 

La ragazza di Moreni

La ragazza di Moreni

It reminds of the one and only time my wife came to watch me race (we were still dating then).  She sat and read a magazine.  Not that I blame her at all.  Watching cycling is a lot like watching baseball, unless you really know what’s going on, it’s a tad bit boring.

Moreni when he spots his lady friend

Moreni when he spots his lady friend

 

Moreni e la ragazza

Moreni e la ragazza

I do have several shots of the actual race, but a) I’m no Graham Watson and b) you can go online and see a zillion photos and probably some videos of it.  I just always found this series of photos compelling for some reason.

Parting Shot
It took me four years of trying, but I’ve finally made a passable cuore.  Reports from Italy, of course I sent the photo around to my friends back in the motherland, are all positive.  Maybe I can land a job as a barista.  Then again, they’re probably not hiring either.

Un cappucio

Un cappuccio

That’s today’s view from the back.

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I have lots of neurosis when it comes to cycling.  Above all is my weather neurosis – it’s easy to pick me out at any of the Spring Series races when it’s cold, I’m the one with his whole closet stuffed in his backpack – but running a close second is my night before a race dinner routine.   Dinner has got to feature pasta, no ifs, ands or buts.

In 2003 when I did my first bike race in Italy, I was living alone (my then girlfriend/now wife still hadn’t made the trip over), and I still thought a pasta dinner meant opening a jar of Ragu, and given my cyclist’s arms that wasn’t always a guaranteed outcome.  These days I do all of the cooking at home, but back then I made it through the first four months without the wife on pizza and crashing dinner at my future sister-in-law’s home. 

That’s not entirely true as there was one dish I could make well, a pasta with a tuna sauce, and I made it often.  I did pretty well in that race and so pasta al tonno has become a staple of the pre-race routine.  Certainly not the only pasta, but it’s a got an open invitation to the pre-race dinner table.

The beauty of this dish is that whole thing can be done in the time it takes to boil water and cook the pasta.  Now while I won’t vouch for its caloric or nutritional value, – I have no idea, but it’s pasta so how bad for you can it be – I will vouch for its economic value both in terms of the preparation and cost of the ingredients.  And it’s downright one of the tastiest pastas you can make.

Pasta al Tonno

Pasta al Tonno

Pasta al Tonno
Prep Time:  5 minutes
Total Time:  20 minutes (depending on the pasta you choose)
Servings:  Kind of depends on how much you eat or how long the race is

Ingredients
A note about the amounts, they’re all of the more or less variety, e.g., if you like more tuna, put more tuna in, it won’t hurt.

  • 1 clove garlic, chopped or minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 anchovies (key ingredient which really gives a burst of flavor to the sauce)
  • 7 oz tuna, drained
  • 12 oz passata di pomodoro (tomato puree) – this is a staple to have in your kitchen.  I like the La Valle Passata di Pomodoro although in a pinch I’ll also use Pomi
  • 12-15 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1 ½ tablespoons capers
  • ½ vegetable bouillon cube
  • White wine (optional)
  • Peperoncini (red pepper flakes, optional)
  • 1 box pasta – for this dish I particularly like farfalle as the butterflies capture bits of tuna, olive and capers

Directions

  1. Set water for the pasta to boil on the stove.   While waiting for the water to boil begin making the sauce.  At some point during this process the water will boil.  Put the pasta in the water then.  If you buy Barilla or De Ceccho pasta, the box tells you how long to cook it.  They’re always right
  2. Chop the garlic
  3. Pit and chop the olives
  4. In a large sauce pan (large enough to fit the pasta once it is cooked – I like to use a cast iron pot) add olive oil, garlic and anchovies.  Set heat to medium-low and stir until anchovies are mostly dissolved.  Stirring will also keep the garlic from burning
  5. Add the tuna to the sauce pan.  Break up the chunks as you continue to stir – you want to break it up to the point that it is similar to chop meat
  6. Add white wine and stir for 2-3 minutes (this is optional, but gives the sauce more flavor)
  7. Add the passata di pomodoro and turn the heat to the low.  Continue stirring while the sauce simmers
  8. Add the bouillon cube and stir until dissolved
  9. Add the olives and stir for 1-2 minutes
  10. Add the capers with a touch of the brine from container the capers came in and stir
  11. Add salt to taste, although I find this unnecessary – that’s what the anchovies and the bouillon cube were for
Il Sugo - The Sauce

Il Sugo - The Sauce

At this point the sauce is pretty much complete although the longer you can simmer it the better it will be.  The most important part of this or any pasta dish comes when the pasta is cooked.  Do not put the pasta in a serving bowl and pour the sauce over it.  It’s imperative that you “cook” the sauce onto the pasta.   After you’ve drained the pasta throw it into the sauce pan with the heat on simmer and stir it around until the sauce and pasta are completely mixed.  I can’t stress how important this step is to bringing out the flavor and truly integrating the dish.

That’s it.  Simple.  It can’t take you more than 20 minutes and it can’t cost you more than $20 even if you are buying all the ingredients for the first time. 

Buon appetito.

That’s today’s view from the back (of the kitchen).

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VueltaEnough with the once-a-minute twitter updates on what’s happening in the Vuelta.  Who cares?  It’s enought to make one swear off the internet.

Except for the Spanish or and the Basque (apparently there is a difference) does anyone actually care about the Vuelta a Espana?  Apart from the Spanish riders, unless a guy missed or had a poor showing at the Tour de France, thinks he’s in contention for the Worlds or happens to be unfortunate enough to ride for Team Saxo Bank, he’s not racing the Vuelta.  That leaves a slew of anonymous racers and who wants to see that?  There’s a reason OLN/Versus dropped its coverage many years ago – no one wants to watch it.  The Vuelta has long been the Cooper Manning of Grand Tours.

It’s positioning on the calendar does it no favors.  This late in the season, it’s hard to focus on riding a bike let along watching twenty-one races over three weeks.  Finding out whether Alejandro Valverde can beat up on Cadel Evans, Ivan Basso and Tom Danielson, well what’s to find out?  If Valverde can’t beat up on that cast he ought to voluntarily submit to the two-year ban he’s fighting.  While the climbs of the Tour are legendary, the climbs of the Vuelta are legendary if you happen to know what subida means.   Toss in the fact that winning the Vuelta doesn’t exactly ensure a hall-of-face career (Aitor Gonzalez ring a bell?) and sorry if I am a little less than motivated.

About the only thing the Vuelta has going for it is that it’s not the Tour of California which now that it is moving to May will include a junior team from Pongibonsi – the only Italians willing to miss the Giro.  The only thing that that made that race somewhat appealing race in the first place was the presence of the Europeans.  Although, I’m sure this is just another part of Levi Leipheimer’s plan to ensure he wins in California.

Anyway, if those twitter tweets are anything to go by, I am apparently in the minority in regards to the Vuelta (although I have noticed that even the most gung-ho Vuelta tweeters are hitting a wall in the third week.)  Same is true of the banter one over hears while riding around for the six-millionth lap in Central Park.

I guess in the end, it’s nice that we have full TV coverage of all three grand tours here in the States for the first time in years, although I’m worried about whether Universal Sports will still be around after what’s sure to be abysmal ratings for the Vuelta.  Without Universal Sports, where else can will I get to watch something truly riveting, the professional ski jumping circuit?

That’s today’s view from the back.

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Il Campione del Mondo
In the spring of 2004, I was in Faenza, Italy for Granfondo Davide Cassani where my team was part of the lista rossa (the folks that get to start at the front).  From the outset the pace was very fast, and we got strung out with groups splitting off all over the place.  Along the way, I caught up to Fabrizio Macchi, one of my teammates.  I pulled Fabrizio along for a good chunk, until we overcame a group and he took over. Then I pulled for him a little more until the first climb where he dropped me like a bad habit.  None of this is very interesting except that Fabrizio has only one leg.  He lost his left leg to cancer.

Two weeks later, I was at the GF della Sardegna in Cala Ginepro, Sardegna, Italy.  Again the pace was insane from the start, and I was intent on doing the long course in preparation for Nove Colli which was to be my final race as a single person.  Once again, Fabrizio and I rode together, only this time we crested the climb together (see the picture as proof).  This was where the long cong course deviated from the short.  The night before Fabrizio had told me I would be much happier doing the short course and that I was crazy having only ridden 100 kms twice that year to try to do the long.  His last words as he took the deviation for the short were “come with me” or “you’re really an idiot”, I am not sure given the severe lack of oxygen getting to my brain rendering my Italian non-existent.

Racing With Fabrizio Macchi

Racing With Fabrizio Macchi

Why all the talk about Fabrizio?  Well, as you might have guessed from the title of this section, at the age of 39, Fabrizio won the Time Trial (LC3 Category) at the Para-Cycling Road World Championships.  It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person or a better athlete.   No self-pity at what could have been, just a simple determination to be the absolute best cyclist he can be.  Down to earth, always willing to talk and a pleasure to ride with.   It kind of puts riding a bike into perspective, at least it does for me.

World Champion Fabrizio Macchi

World Champion Fabrizio Macchi

Tanti auguri Fabrizio!

Last Rant
Speaking of one leg, just a thought, but perhaps it’s not the smartest idea for the CRCA Race Clinic weekly group instructor to have her group doing one-legged hill climbs at 6:30 am in Central Park.  Most of the group is new to racing if not cycling all together, and most have not had enough time in the saddle to build the length strength necessary for one-legged hill climbing.  Yes, I know the point of the exercise is to build leg strength, but when the park is excessively crowded, the last thing anyone needs is a bunch of people weaving all over the road because they’ve never ridden with one-leg before.  The people running the group should know a heck of a lot better.

Note to the NY Velocity guy – it really is exciting the first time you race at an event where they give you a number to put on your bike.  We’ve all been there.  What we haven’t all done, is leave the number on 5 days after the race has ended.  We get it you’re a racer, albeit not a particularly smart one.  Ending your interval where in the darkest section of the park (you know when where the lights go out on the west side around 90th street even though the sun is not up) and then weaving all the way to the left oblivious to oncoming cyclists is dumb.  Luckily, MtJ’s light shone brightly enough on your race number so that we could avoid your mess.

I apologize for the ranting.  I had a stressful two weeks, and yesterday was my first day back on the bike.  I promise no more until the next stupid thing happens.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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