Spreading the creed of suffering

19 Aug

Two recent items caught my eye, both noting cyclists’ embrace of a certain form of discomfort:

And he has something else they say all great cyclists must have: the ability to suffer — a lot.

“If you can’t suffer,” Johan says, “what good are you?”

–From “Colombian Cyclists Dream Of Racing Out Of Poverty,” on NPR News.

Then this, from the outstanding blog Red Kite Prayer:

To Suffer Is To Learn.”  T-shirts available here.


Why you should donate money on behalf of Ryan Kelly.

20 Jul

I thought about titling this post “Supporting Stupidity,” but that didn’t seem like it would work as well.

I don’t know Ryan.  But he writes funny race reports, often about getting in the break, getting dropped from the break, and seeing the break go on to win the race.  And about heckling pro cyclocrossers.  He’s also on the Twitters.

He pledged to ride 200 miles if he got $2000 in donations for this charity ride.

He didn’t get $2000.  So he did the 200 miles anyway.

Then he did it again, no charity ride or anything, three days later.

At this point, you’re thinking, “why donate?  He’s clearly indicated he’ll ride all day, every day, with no money from me at all.”  But really, this is America.  We reward stupidity all the time.  (For examples, see: Sisters, Kardashian; Fear Factor, most reality TV.)

Donate.  It’s a good cause (children’s cancer research and treatment), and besides, we should keep encouraging Ryan to do dumb things and then entertain us with blog posts about them.

Giro di Coppi: Get ya head right.

19 Jul

I went too early.

This thought entered my head with about 200 meters to go in the race, as the first two riders came by me on the left shortly after the DC Velo guy in front of me came to a near halt.

What was the tactical plan here again?

To be honest, I’d sort of meant it as a leadout.  I was shocked to be up near the front with 1k to go, delighted with the idea that I might somehow have a role to play after going way, way into the red to catch back on after a break attempt halfway through the lap.  Saw Jason sitting pretty, saw a hole opening in the front row, then closing as the aforementioned DC Velo guy jumped with a little over 500m to go, and before I knew it I’d motioned to Jason to follow (if he saw, he was smart enough to ignore me) and I was through and on the wheel.

We were going, we were launching; I glanced back under my arm and saw daylight.

Ugh, Jason didn’t get through.


Holy $#&*, we’ve got a gap.

I hit it as hard as I could, thought for a second as DC Velo started to fade and I tried to jump again to come off his wheel that I had a shot at holding the field off, that maybe I’d caught them napping by going so early.

Then the finish hill really started at 200m to go, and I was suddenly pedaling on legs of wet concrete.  Two came by.  Then another, then four, then before I knew it I was slogging through a crowd to the line — or more accurately, they were slogging past me, because I was hardly moving.

Another anonymous pack finish, though Jason shrewdly waited much later, timed his jump and took a strong second place.  Some comfort in a teammate’s success.

Jason makes his move while I've already become a bit of blue & white road furniture on the left. Image courtesy Jay Westcott, http://www.jaywestcott.net

Started to feel a bit better on the cooldown ride back to the school, realizing that as we’d been approaching the turn on to Barnesville Rd for the last four miles of the race, I’d been almost certain I was cooked and off the back.  I went in a two-up move halfway through the last 12-mile lap, following a (much more impressive) move by teammate Jordan and two others.  Unfortunately, my breakaway partner was unattached, so every other team in the race had reason to see us come back.  We still drove it, me hoping someone else would come across as much for the firepower as for the tactical help.

We had the fleeting pleasure of a lead big enough for the moto ref to move between us and the field, but it was short-lived.  And then the real suffering started, as I tried to recover up one of the tougher rolling sections of the course.  Spat out the back, clinging to other wheels as they came by.  We closed to 25m behind the field, but the gap went out again.  Then 20m, but again popped off as the pack accelerated down a roller.  The whole time, going what felt like just as hard as when I’d been off the front, even though I knew I was thrashing and flailing and generally not getting much power to the pedals at all.  Finally, got to 10m back, and I was able to make one last surge to get back in the field.

So yeah, I was a bit giddy to have moved up on the penultimate climb, to be advancing position again.  Seeing the front of the race once more was so unexpected that any sense went out the window.  “Jump on the wheel going way too soon on an uphill sprint notorious for eviscerating the early attacker?  Yeah, I can do that.”

So.  The engine is revved, the legs were well better than I expected.  But next time?

Get ya head right, son.

Update:  Apparently I missed another key detail; that after Jordan came back there was still one more rider left out front.  Oops.  Would have been helpful to bridge up to him, since he won the race in 2010.  Ah, not like I could have gone any harder in that move as it was.

Reston Town Center Grand Prix

7 Jul

Fast, fast, fast.  Jason’s got the highlights here.  Amazing how much more of the race you can see when you’re up at the front.

Reston is a great technical crit that rewards both raw speed and, with eight corners in 1.2k, bike handling.  It’s always in late June, and always a showcase crit, so guys show up flying.  This year it was even faster, coming a week after most of the field had been through three hard days of racing at the Tour of Washington County.  You can hope that the field will have tired legs after a big stage race, but a lot of the time it’s the opposite as guys are feeling the training effect of repeated hard days on the bike.  This was an amped-up field for sure.

My plans of a great start to ease the early fight for position were quashed by realizing on the line that I had a slow leak in the rear tire.  So sprint back to the car, quick wheel change from a helpful teammate, and get back to the rear of the group just in time for the last 30 seconds of the chief referee’s spiel.

The pattern was set by five minutes into the race: sprint hard to keep the gap manageable on the last two corners and uphill home stretch, then be super-aggro to close up gaps or move up through the corners on the rest of the course.  I wasn’t deliberately tail-gunning it, but I definitely heard the follow moto ref more than I had wanted.

Photo copyright Jay Westcott. http://www.jaywestcott.net

At one point, I noticed my tongue wasn’t dragging on the ground quite as much as before, and saw that the field had sat up with about 10 to go.  Amazing, I might actually make it through this thing.  Then a guy put in a short attack, and we were strung out again for a few laps, until six to go when the whole field just stopped pedaling.  Thanks to Joe Jefferson’s enthusiastic commentary I knew there was still a guy up the road, but everyone was just looking at each other.  One of the corner marshals said he had 20 seconds, which could well do it if we were all going to stare at each other.

We still had two sprinters and a late-break specialist in the field, so it seemed like a good time to light that last match and close this down.  I got to the front for the only time all day, and pulled for a lap or so.  The Bike Doctor guy off the front came back, the counter from Whole Wheel went immediately, and I was cooked.  I started looking for a wheel to grab but couldn’t hang on to anything.

As I spent a lap trying to cling to the field and finally being ejected from the rear, Jason was launching to get on what looked like the winning move.  I saw the three of them heading towards me as I came around the next-to-last turn, where the two parts of the course face each other.  The speed at which I was going to be lapped was as exhilarating as it was depressing: Jason’s move might just do it.  Those guys were flying.

I got yanked on the bell lap in order to ensure a clean finish, but the refs were kind enough to place me.  Unfortunately, Jason’s move was caught, and the guy from Carytown (who had just been in the previous move with Jason) won the sprint by lengths and lengths.

All in all, a hard, fun day on the bike.  And my teammate Jay was there with his camera making us all look like rockstars, so we’ve got that going for us.

Speed. Suffering. And Italian Food! (Giro di Coppi presented by Vapiano)

6 Jul

So there’s this little bike race my team puts on every year:

The Giro di Coppi has rightly earned its regard as a classic on the mid-Atlantic summer calendar.  Sharp, steep climbs over a gorgeous course in Montgomery County, Maryland.  The weather is always a factor, whether it’s the heat or summertime torrential rains.

This year, there’s even more excitement: Italian restaurant Vapiano has signed on as our title sponsor for the race!  Combining fresh, top-quality ingredients with fast, make-it-in-front-of-you service, Vapiano has been a huge hit with the team in the year since we started having our monthly team dinners there.

As part of their sponsorship, Vapiano is hosting a gift card giveaway on their Facebook page this week, and a number pickup happy hour on July 15, the night before the race.  (Yes, come, come, have a beer the night before the race.  Or several.  Carbo-loading is very important.)

So, what should you do after reading this?

1.  Go to Vapiano USA on Facebook and win yourself some stuff.

2.  Go register for the Giro di Coppi presented by Vapiano.  (No day-of registration, so this is your only way to sign up.)

3.  Come to Vapiano in Ballston on July 15 to pick up your race number.  Save yourself some stress on race day morning.

4.  Come race your brains out at the Giro on July 16, and refuel with a delicious dinner at Vapiano afterwards.

That is all.


5 Jul

That’s been the feeling for much of the spring.  A great January led into a less-than-awesome February.

Patellar tendinitis, apparently, caused by weak, stiff, and inflexible hips.  Yes, I am officially a middle-aged cyclist.  I’ll leave it to you, Dear Reader, to determine which parts of the Fat Angry Master qualification I need to work on the most.

The upside?  Learned just how awesome a good physical therapist can be.  It becomes almost a luxury, having someone work on fixing you and coaching you through your healing and recovery.  Ted King, pro cyclist and all around nice guy, hurt his knee somewhere around the same time.  He immediately embarked on a week or two with multiple PT and treatment sessions each day, and it did not escape me that this is one of the true differences between being a top-level pro and an enthusiastic amateur: it’s Ted’s job to get healthy as soon as possible, so he can get back to riding his bike.  For joe schmoe me, it’s an indulgence to get to the PT once a week.

For the record, if you need a physical therapist, go see Jolene Walsh at Core Wellness & Physical Therapy.  Core Wellness is a team sponsor this year, and they are excellent.

About the time I had fully put the knee pain behind me, I threw myself on the ground at high speed was taken out in a crash at the Bunny Hop criterium.  I realize Bunny Hop is something of an institution on the local scene — it’s on the calendar every year, without fail, often with its summer counterpart, the Hunny Bop.  I’m glad to say I’ve done it, so I don’t ever have to again.  Broken helmet, both butt cheeks covered in road rash, and a broken (or very bruised) tailbone, all thanks to a course with corners wide enough for a field to go through five abreast and a guy who dove the inside, chopped the guy next to him, and then slid out.

This led to the odd experience of watching Twitter blow up with advance word of bin Laden’s death while I was laying on my stomach trying not to move.  The other weird experience was realizing that a bicycle saddle was the most comfortable thing for me to sit on for a while, so I placed one on top of my desk chair at work.

I traipsed back to Jolene for about a month to get everything back in alignment.  Now into the heart of summer, things are mostly healed, and the form is coming along.  So, with the last stretch of big road races and cyclocross just over the horizon, it’s time to really rev the throttle.  Let’s see what this thing can do…

Reunion Ride

3 Jul

“His twenty-two was still clean as a whistle.”

Image courtesy of Dartmouth Cycling Team

R. and I were riding up Kinsman’s Notch, quoting lines from Krabbé’s The Rider to each other like we were old friends. Which we were, though neither of us had read Krabbé when we used to ride together. No matter; scores of hours and hundreds of miles spent in the saddle together over these same roads made for an easy comfort when we met up again for the first time in 13 years. We could share a reference and be confident the other guy would get the joke. Neither of us had a clean 22 cog at that point in the day.

I smiled to myself in the first ten miles of the ride (and, for a moment before I could break free of the tar of self-awareness and arched eyebrow irony that drenches modern life, smiled at myself smiling at myself), heading out on the familiar rollers of Route 5 across the river and north from the College. I could glance up the paceline and see two others in jerseys like my own, lime green slightly faded from being over a decade old but still in good shape and, cushion to the ego, still the right size.  Even more comforting, I could have picked them both out by pedaling style.  Both of my old teammates claimed they hadn’t really been riding at all, much less in a big group, but both were clearly right at home.  Smooth, steady.  You could tell they were racers.  Others in the group looked strong (and would prove to be such) but they weren’t riders whose wheels I would comfortably follow.

Three old guys

You can start to take it for granted after a while of riding only with other racers, but a mixed group will quickly remind you of the difference.  It’s a joy to ride with experienced racers, and on this cool morning heading north through Vermont and New Hampshire, I was practically gleeful. Riding with old friends, on familiar roads through gorgeous country:  I just couldn’t stop smiling.

We cruised over some of the smaller climbs early on, swooping down through the covered bridge at Thetford, around Lake Fairlee and crossing back into New Hampshire at Orford.  Our new friends from the Strava.com team had turned back around Fairlee, and the group riding the 100-mile route was down to six as we headed up Mt. Cube.  This was where things started to split up a bit, former teammates M. and R. and I having to deliberately throttle back to avoid rudely dumping the rest of our small group.  There were still over sixty miles to go, after all.  R’s flat tire partway up gave a convenient regrouping point.

Magic as we came off the descent from Cube and turned north to Warren: the first sight of Mt. Moosilauke.  Poking up baldly among the other wooded hills, waiting there.  It felt like it was asking me if I wasn’t really a bit overdue in coming back, hm?

Into the wind

The sun was warm as we headed north towards Haverhill and Woodsville, but a growing breeze kept the air cool.  The three of us (with occasional help from one or two others in the group) switched off pulling into the headwind, with R’s familiar low, forward-leaning posture on the bike seeming to tear a hole in the air for the rest of us to follow.  We caught up on kids, careers, home buying decisions.  I was already delirious from the sweet, clean air and the nostalgia; hearing R. talk about moving to a small town in New Hampshire as everything he and his wife ever hoped for was almost too much to bear.  I wondered for days and weeks afterwards if I could or should do the same.

Kinsman’s Notch was our penultimate climb of the day, and we slipped the leash a little bit, finding a hard rhythm that still allowed for literary references and noticing the waterfall on the side of the road.  The descent is a speed freak’s joy, ramrod straight and wide open sight lines.  It dropped us off at the foot of the eastern climb up to the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, and I decided to just punch it.  Thirty minutes and a short regroup later, we dropped down the last descent to the access road turn and two miles of mostly uphill dirt to the Lodge.

The College could guarantee record rates of alumni giving by getting every graduate to the Lodge once a year.  I have no doubt the return on investment would be worth it.  I wanted to kiss the building timbers, I was so in love with that rustic old place.

Dinnertime at the Lodge

No white-tented event with nametags and caterers could come anywhere close to this for reminding me what I took with me from college, but even more, The College, and hell, all of New England itself.

Everything I adored about the College — the outdoors, the sense of independence, bicycle racing, the dizzying feeling of limitless possibility — all of it merged in that moment as I sat there admiring the strip of sunburnt skin on my thigh and drinking a cup from the keg of Switchback Ale the cycling team students had procured.

Image courtesy of Dartmouth Cycling Team

It won’t be another decade before my next trip back.

Image courtesy of Dartmouth Cycling Team