Every activity has milestones for its participants. Rites of passage. In my racing season, I’ve ticked off a handful: going from pack fodder to being a contender; my first crash in a race; first mechanical that took me out of contention; and so forth.
This weekend I had one more: the first time a saddle sore made riding on my bike absolute and abject torture. It was the Cadence Cup and I couldn’t cancel, not while trying to defend my teammate’s green jersey. But there was this angry boil protruding from my nether regions, a nodule of fury and pain, growing worse by the minute to the point where I was pretty sure it was about to sprout fire-red eyes and a mouth, to spit profane invectives at me and the notion that I would innocently and without the expectation of pain straddle a saddle and attempt to ride.
Maybe that’s why, other than two leadout attempts and a sprint, I spent the race cowering at the back of the field, content to catch a snippet of conversation from a teammate to be assured that yes, our team was represented in the break. Good. I wouldn’t have to get up to bridge or chase. That might anger the sore.
It is with thanks to Gui that I can share a somewhat successful strategy for dealing with inflamed saddle sores. Dissolve plenty of epsom salts in very hot water, to which I also added a generous shake of Tea Tree oil. Soak a washcloth in this concoction, press against the offending infection, and do your best to avoid letting your very patient housemate overhear you yelling “Oh the humanity!” as the mean old lump withers and begins to leak blood and pus.
Battle waged, I had achieved enough victory to head out to the velodrome that afternoon for VeloCity, Cyclehawk/Squid’s excellent introduction to competitive track racing. Mike Mahesh has some video of track director and all-around All-Star John Campo talking about the event. Two years ago, VeloCity gave me the confidence to take those first tentative pedal strokes on the banking, and since I’m returning to the track after a frighteningly long midseason hiatus, I took the opportunity to race, brushing up some of my form for the ongoing Twilight Series. And John Prolly got a photo of me warming up.
It was a good day.
“I’m fascinated by the sprinters. They suffer so much during the race just to get to the finish, they hang on for dear life in the climbs, but then in the final kilometers they are transformed and do amazing things. It’s not their force per se that impresses me, but rather the renaissance they experience. Seeing them suffer throughout the race only to be reborn in the final is something for fascination.”
Last night was my first time back at the velodrome in nearly two months. Rain-outs, scheduling, and work conflicts have gotten in the way, and I’ve missed it. I’d heard that the field had changed a little bit, that some new, strong riders have been coming out, and that the races have gotten faster. I thought back to an 8 lap scratch race from a few months ago. Our team, with five riders on the track, pushed the pace relentlessly and William set me up for a sprint win. Afterward Dan C looked at his cyclocomputer and announced that the average speed had been between 27 and 28mph. And then I thought about the races getting faster since then, and I quaked and wondered if I’d be up for it.
During one of our three races last night, a 3 lap tempo (I called it a “mass start kilo.” A regrettably short race, but the official had to cram a lot of races into one short evening), we managed to average 30mph. And for the duration of the race I was gasping on the back.
But the other two races went well. In the win-and-out I was able to bridge up to a three-man break that took off after the first sprint. Two were teammates, and the third was a Cat 2 road racer who can ride away and stay away. Outgunned, he led out the sprint and I came around him for 2nd (he stayed away for the rest of the race to get 3rd). In the scratch race, teammates attacked at the gun and towed the Cat 2 and a big, strong sprinter around, and four or five them launched repeated attacks and chases while I, once again, spent most of the race gasping at the back. But with 2 to go, I was able to move up to 6th or 7th wheel, drew up another few wheels at the bell, and picked the right wheel to follow. At 200m I was second wheel, well-sheltered, and suddenly, for the first time all evening, felt fresh and ready to go.
I jumped, sprinted, won, and remembered what Indurain said.
Bike racing gets tiring. I love racing but a heavy season clutters a schedule and gets fatiguing. That said, it was great to return to the track. The road season is winding down for me, but there’s still a month or so left of track racing and I’m looking forward to riding it out.
Filed under: Recycled Content
I’ve been steadily clicking refresh on a few blogs that I ought to share.
6 Years in a Rain Cape is Joe Parkin’s blog. Parkin wrote A Dog In A Hat, a remarkable account of scrabbling his way to a pro career as an American racing in Belgium. He answers questions, tells anecdotes, and keeps finding a way to mention that he loves biking in the rain.
Red Kite Prayer – you know, that arrogant and fearful look glance skyward as the solo breakaway rider, after having attacked the break a few kilometers before, offers up to the “1K to go” banner – is written by one of the contributors to Belgium Knee Warmers, and I look forward to this new site.
In accordance with cycling tradition, the author of Cyclocosm loves professional cycling and is exasperated with its participants. Intelligent commentary, occasional high levels of snark, and a good bit called How The Race Was Won, featuring three-minute long video edits and commentary.
Tour Fever provides brief commentary, Snark-Lite, and a look at some of the media coverage you may have missed… by the author of “Tour Fever: An Armchair Cyclist’s Guide to the Tour de France.”
Enjoy the rest of the tour.
Last Sunday was the Union Vale Road Race, which featured a big finishing climb. I was on domestique duty for my buddy Al, so I’ll let his race report tell the story. As you’ll see, the team was successful. Three of us were in the top 10 and we put Al on the podium.
I’ll try to keep this short and sweet. This was my best result so far and I can attribute it to a few things. 1. I have been training with William and Mattio in the hills near Union Vale in the past two weeks. 2. I was able to pre ride the course a week ago. And 3, I have been eating substantially better in the past 3 weeks. With all these factors coming together, I was coming into this race feeling very strong and confident in my abilities.
The race kicked off at 9:07 on a beautiful Sunday morning. Mattio, David, Brian, Todd, Dan and myself were immediately in the top 20 and stayed there almost the entire time. As with the 35+ field, Kissena was the major player in the Cat 4/5 field throughout the entire race. Not too much happened on the flats of the first stage, including the first climb, but once the second climb came, I took 2nd wheel and then half way up the climb I moved into the lead and pushed the pace a bit, stringing out the field and making short work of the climb. Hitting the top, I continued to set the pace until I heard Mattio yell to me to get back into the draft. Mattio was correct since we had decided prior to the race that I was to shoot for a strong final finish and he would work for me to soften up the field.
Once the third and final climb of the 14 mile circuit came into view I was feeling thoroughly warmed up and feeling that the pace was not being pushed enough. I was also concerned about the approaching descent and wanted to be at the front of the peloton when we took the 50+ mph downhill that would kick off the second lap. I positioned myself 4 wheels back and waited until I was halfway up the climb and then moved to the front and turned up the pace. Arriving at the top, I could hear no one else and looked back. Inadvertently I had opened up a good gap. “Why not make them work?” I thought, and started hammering it on the flat approaching the downhill. I took the down hill solo, commencing the 2nd lap with a rather large gap. After a bit of hard effort I accumulated approx a 20 second gap but decided a solo break was not the way to go. I soft pedaled and waited for the peloton to pick me up.
As I was pulled in, Mattio looked at me, smiled and did what all good teammates do: he counterattacked hard, drawing out a single racer and quickly going up the road. At this point I decided to block for mattio and have the other teams do a bit of work. Mattio and his breakaway companion were eventually reeled in. Brian D broke next at the base of the second climb and brought another rider with him. He disappeared up the road rather quickly. After the climb, Mattio and another rider jumped with the intention of bridging up to Brian. They successfully got away as well.
On the 3rd climb of the second lap, I started thinking about bridging up as well, while also again avoiding a possibly dangerous pack descent. As with the end of the first lap, I jumped on the 3rd climb, opened up a gap, took the descent solo and eventually bridged up to Mattio and his break companion. We worked for a bit attempting to catch the lead breakaway, but then I decided to pull off and move back into the peloton, which at this point was about 15 seconds back.
Fast forwarding to the final 4 miles of the race, everything had been pulled back together and I was feeling confident about the final climb. I had been listening to the breath of my fellow racers on the second climb of the last lap and could tell a lot of them were hurting. I, on the other hand was feeling relatively good.
Finally, the peloton hit the final 1.2 mile killer climb, a climb which had been in the back of everyone’s head all race. At the base, I was 10 wheels back. A good pace was set and immediately riders around me began falling back. Within in a minute or two there were only two riders right in front of me and I could hear the sound of riders behind me shifting and searching for that right climbing gear.
Here is where things got a bit harder. The pace was hard yet managable and I moved up along the side of the NYVelocity rider on second wheel; blocking his possible attack while also watching the front rider who was setting the pace. We climbed like this for minutes and minutes but it actually felt a lot shorter. Here is where I made my critical mistake that cost me the race. Looking up the road, I saw what I thought was the finish; a bunch of racers and spectators sitting on either side of he road. It was about 250 meters away. I waited a few more seconds. “Did the other two not see the finish? Were they too blinded by the pain to look uphill and see the finish?”.
I jumped…….or more accurately, increased my cadence in my 23 tooth and began to confidently spin away from them. They didn’t respond and I put my head down, grabbed the hoods and spun and spun and spun. I could no longer hear them and I began to actually think I was going to win this. The finish was less than 100 meters away and I had it….
I was wrong. It wasn’t the finish, it was just a bunch of spectators. The finish was at least another 500 meters ahead. Realizing this I pushed on, bordering on a total blow up. I could hear the two gaining and eventually one came around and then the other at the 200 meter mark. I was able to hold off another racer charging hard for my 3rd place.
All in all this was a spectacular race on the part of Kissena. We were without a doubt the most aggressive team while also producing big results, placing three racers in the top ten. Todd took 5th and Mattio took 10th.
Stage 14 of the Tour was incredible to watch – well, the last 20k, which I caught after coffee and muffins – and provides plenty of fodder for us armchair jerks. Everybody’s favorite hardworking nice guy pro, George Hincapie, was the virtual yellow jersey being the best-placed rider in a break of 12. He needed to finish a little over five minutes ahead of the peloton to grab the yellow. The break of 12, with a big gap on the peloton, started attacking each other around 14k to go, and Sergie Ivanov counterattacked the son of Stephen Roche (who provides one of my favorite Tour stories) and opened a gap on the other members of the break, who looked at each other wondering who would chase. Ivanov won after a spectacular ride, and Hincapie rolled in several seconds afterward.
Garmin, the team that Hincapie’s teammate Cavendish has repeatedly badmouthed, took over pacemaking at the front from a tired yellow-defending AG2R. There was the fuss during the Giro d’Italia about how Cav thought Garmin’s focus on the TTT was disrespectful to the race. Interesting, coming from somebody who’s a part of a team that doesn’t have GC contenders for major stage races and instead seeks to just win individual stages. Isn’t that the same thing?
So, with Garmin at the front driving a pace, the peloton is brought under the red kite and after a messy little low-speed sprint, with Cavendish trying to win but trying to do so as late as possible, Hincapie winds up five seconds outside of the yellow jersey. Cavendish, meanwhile, is relegated for his sprint tactics against Thor Hushovd. From the video, he half puts Thor into the barrier; the barrier line also moves inward and Cavendish doesn’t really chop over very far.
Practically before any reporter can jam a microphone into anybody’s face, Twitter lights up about all of this. The most interesting was from Robbie McEwen, who said that sprinting tactically walks a very fine line, and “if Cav hadn’t [looked over his shoulder at Thor], he wouldn’t been DQ’d.” He also points out that it’s easy to armchair quarterback like this, but I’d lean toward saying that he knows what he’s talking about, having won the Green jersey a few times as well as lost it due to a relegation.
Meanwhile on Twitter, Lance says that Astana didn’t close the gap, Vaughters says his team wasn’t denying Hinc the yellow in retaliation for this feud between two American cycling teams (with Columbia usually coming out on top; Garmins wins in this years Grand Tours have been limited), Bruyneel raises his eyebrows at Vaughter’s defense, and Vaughters’ rider Wiggins feels sorry for Hincapie while defending himself, saying that he doesn’t make the decisions on the road.
Both buzz-inducing moves – Garmin taking the necessary seconds from Hinc and denying him the yellow and Cavendish’s half-chop of Hushovd – could go either way, in my opinion. Cavendish’s move was far from flagrant, and yeah, Garmin’s nibbling at the seconds is all part of racing, petty as it may appear to be.
But the real question is, when the hell did Twitter become the gossip-y medium of choice for the pro peloton?
And now it’s time for the mountains.
Yesterday, during my day of avoiding any Stage 3 spoilers on the internet (and before I headed down to Lakeside Lounge to watch the two-hour replay during happy hour), I started drafting a post with a list of things I want to see during this year’s Tour de France. It’s a list of things I’ll be watching out for and pulling for, in the name of an exciting tour. I had no idea that I’d see some of it on Stage 3.
That evening, with a crispy Hoegaarden in my hand and a Neighburrito in my belly, I watched Columbia split the field in a stunning manner and with eight of their nine racers represented, drive a huge, late breakaway, and set up Cavendish for the win. The exciting part, however, is that Lance Armstrong was in it and Contador was stuck napping in the peloton forty seconds back. Everybody is speculating about Astana team dynamics and drawing comparisons to La Vie Clair in 1987. Will Armstrong and Contador be riding against each other? For this to happen, Armstrong needs to be a credible GC threat.
The most boring scenario, of course, would be that Armstrong winds up not being a GC threat by the time the race gets particularly difficult, Contador is the only Astana contendor, and the race plods along with a handful of climbers marking each other, racing conservatively, riding up some mountains and then into Paris. Yawn.
But if Armstrong could win the Tour, what would happen then?
Which brings us to yesterday’s stage – too early in the Tour to draw any conclusions, but ripe for questioning. Why did Columbia drive the pace from 30k out when they’ve got the fastest sprinter setting up? Did Armstrong know to be at the front, perhaps thanks to a word from his former faithful domestique and New York City our-boy Big George Hincapie? Rumor has it that Contador let the initial gap open up. Here’s a new angle – Armstrong is a master of confounding doubletalk (Belgium Knee Warmers had a great bit on this a while back, but I can’t find it now), and Bruyneel is a master tactician. What if all this stuff about it being Contador’s year is just smoke? What if Contador let that gap open to give Lance a boost in the GC prior to today’s TTT? What if other GC riders mark Contador later in the race only to have Lance fire off on an attack?
Now, as you’ll see on the list below, I’m also hoping that thie Tour de France will also feature somebody who’s not Lance Armstrong. I can’t stand the constant Lance check-ins, I can’t stand his faux-nice-guy demeanor. Maybe I’d be able to if they didn’t happen every ten minutes, if every other article were somehow about him. There are 179 other people in the race, after all. And here I am departing from my own wishes, but for a good reason: Lance Armstrong, throw down or shut up. You said you were coming back to win the Tour de France. All this nonsense is for naught if you don’t make a good show of it.
And so, here’s my list of hopes and dreams for this year’s Tour:
1: An exciting, dynamic bunch of shaking-up of the General Classification, since there are enough people who can compete with each other. Hopefully this will be assisted by,
2: Lance Armstrong doing pretty well. I mean, for all his fake-humble words, he did say he was going to come back and win the Tour de France. If he challenges it, it could lead to,
3: Interesting Astana intra-team dynamics, with Armstrong and Contador both potential GC threats. Maximum drama probably won’t ensue, but you never know!
But more importantly,
4: Occasional TV and news coverage of somebody who’s not Lance Armstrong.
5. Lots of George Hincapie leading out Mark Cavendish, but also,
6. That Cavendish gets soundly beaten in a few sprints.
7. That the two radio-free stages go so well that maybe everybody thinks that going radio-free would be a decent idea. Cyclocosm has a good bit on why people who clamor for radio-free racing are missing the point, and Sprinter Della Casa has a good bit on both sides, but coming down against race radios.
Your thoughts on the whole affair?
See you at Lakeside…