If, during a conversation of eating and drinking while riding far or riding hard, somebody tells you about their favorite food and drink strategy by saying “There’s no way to keep the man with the hammer away like using…” then you can cut them off right there.
Because, if he comes for you, there’s no way to keep the man in the hammer away.
Yesterday, at the Pawling Mountain Road Race, one crucial teammate had to drop out early on with a mechanical, and for a great many miles in the middle of the race I had to do double duty as our team leader’s chaperone and as a break-chaser, attack-sucker, and general mark-the-frontsman. I had a reprieve when another teammate came to the front and counterattacked a move that I reeled in; unfortunately, the large climb came shortly thereafter. I made it up but slipped backwards in the group, got gapped, and had to fight my way back. We descended, I moved up, avoiding the brakes, and made sure to eat and drink. The second climb – long, shallow, and, when fresh, a big ring climb – was considerably harder this time around. We took the left hander after it, and began the Hurtenberg, the Muur de Pain, the steep, rough third climb of the circuit. I was at the back – panting, bobbing from side to side, adrift in a sea of lycra.
At this point, I heard somebody say to me, “Hot enough for you?” I looked over and behind me and saw a rider in a kit that I didn’t recognize. I grunted something and went back to concentrating on my pedal stroke, turning it over, turning it over, praying to the 25-tooth cog. “Hey buddy, I’m talking to you,” the rider said. I looked back again and saw that he wearing an antique three-piece suit. He had a waxed mustache and a salacious grin. He fiddled with a pocketwatch for a moment, eyeing me, watching my cadence, and then he produced a large hammer and, rearing back in his saddle, swung a cruel blow at me.
I watched the riders in front of me pull away. My legs were leaden and there were chills throughout my body. A brick was in my gut. I thought maybe when we crested I could chase back on during the descent, if there was anybody else around. I looked around. The man in the suit – the man with the hammer – had disappeared. Off hunting for his next victim, I suppose.
Were you outside this weekend? The rain, the wind.
Let’s backtrack. The racing season is started. Training camp opened last weekend with a few pals coming up to my neck of the woods for one day of racing and one day of long, hard riding. The racing went well: we put our boy into the winner’s pants (though, in a headsmack moment, he was DQ’ed for having failed to pin on his number), and honed our team tactics. We went for a long, fitness-building and fatiguing ride. We felt the sun on our skin. And so we came to this past weekend lean, mean, and hungry, knowing our strengths and weaknesses, wavering only when we clicked on weather.com’s forecast. 40 degrees. Rainy. Windy. Stormy. We rode to Grant’s Tomb with spare wheels in our hands, wondering how many people would show in the wet. The wind gusts knocked us from one curb to the next, and looking at each other with wild eyes we took off our race wheels and put our training wheels on. Our plans immediately went from “field sprint” to “survive.” I thought about the importance of flahute training and thought, “Well, the racing might actually be safer and better suited to us.”
After a delayed start during which we tried in vain to warm up and stay dry, the race began. Everyone was already soaked and shivering. The course was shortened. Two long straightaways and two hard 180 degree turns. One downhill into a brutal headwind with an alternating crosswind when we passed 122nd st. One long uphill with a tailwind.
The attacks came immediately. We had to sprint out of the corner to stay with the rapidly dwindling field. After five laps of sprinting painfully out of Turn 1 into the headwind, trying desperately to grab a wheel as riders were flung side to side by the wind, I latched on squarely and watched with glee as a race favorite went backwards fast and was dropped.
We settled in for some difficult racing. The gusting wind slashed across the course. Everyone was wet and quaking. The wind was unpredictable, lashing out. We were in a fifteen rider clump, the front of the race, drilling it in hopes of continuing to shed riders. I tried to talk to a teammate about our plans but all of my words were slurred and incomprehensible. At some point I remember hollering to those around me, “Good racing!”
With four to go I launched an attack. I rolled to the front, rolled off of it, and started pounding the beef. I turned into the headwind and slowed to a crawl, trying to claw out a second or two. I had a nice gap. Somebody yelled encouragement from the curb – “Make it to the corner and you’ll have a headwind.” I would, and I did, and stayed away for another lap until I was caught. I summoned the energy to go with the counter. Ridiculous but at least my quads weren’t cramping. We were dragged in. A teammate attacked, a big power-pedal-stomp acceleration up the inside. He was caught and a counter rolled off the front. One to go. They had a few seconds but looked weak. It would be a field sprint. A wrecked, disheveled field sprint. I was near the front and according to plan I turned up the pace as best as I could. Two people sprinted – a favorite and my teammate. They took first and second and the rest of us rolled across the line.
What followed fascinated me.
The breakaway and accelerations, followed by my attempt to sprint, had hurt me. But the weather had hurt me more. I was aware that I was uncomfortable, but my awareness was far curled up inside my body; the inside and the outside were well separated. I stepped off the bike and found myself sobbing. I threw my bike down and dryheaved on the church steps. My sweetheart came running, her face a mask of worry, but I staggered away to hug my close friend for his second place finish. I was shivvering, sobbing, confused, stumbling. A teammate tried to find my jacket but I was too confused to answer him. I knew that my jacket was further in the bag through which he rummaged, but didn’t know how to say it. I looked to my sweetheart for help. She found mine and helped me through my sleeves. Later, at the house – thankfully only five minutes away – I crawled into the shower with my socks still on and started laughing hysterically as she looked on with concern.
The next day, in Central Park, an organizational snafu (only one of four required motorcycles showed up) caused the fields to be mixed but to finish on separate laps. After some fun wet racing, it came down to a sprint with one person from the 3/4 field off the front. Our teammate was beaten by the same guy who powered away from him the previous day – good enough for third in the morning – and we had two others in the top ten.
And unlike the previous day there was no hypothermic incoherence – just the need to take off wet clothes and get into the shower, with much less emergency.
We ended the weekend confident in our emerging fitness and growing team cohesion. And I ended it knowing that I’m a lot less scared of bad conditions than I have been in the past. I know more about how my brakes, tires, and whole body respond to the conditions, and I know that I can relish conditions where I can step to the line and think, “Okay – most of these guys have already given up.”
Call it a classic case that calls for thanking your teammates profusely by sharing prize money. Andy Hampsten’s one-second lead in the 1987 Tour of Switzerland is threatened by a ten-second time bonus for an intermediate sprint.
Gabe is a big, tall, smiling bundle of friendliness and subtle, simmering humor. Since a collision with a car while he was on vacation in San Francisco in August, he’s been working his way out of a coma, recovering from some fairly serious brain damage. Medical updates have been posted on Get Better Gabe by loving family members and his incredibly supportive and strong girlfriend, and they report so much progress.
I was incredibly proud to be a part of a benefit party in August that raised money to send to them, to help support them while they subletted, staying in a city far away from home to care for him. I posted some information on this blog and on twitter, and some of my readers, several of whom I’ve never met, had contributed to this get-well-soon, we’re-thinking-of-you, we’d-like-to-help-somehow fund. That generosity touched me.
A crucial next step is getting Gabe home, and an Air Ambulance is incredibly expensive. There is a raffle to raise money to bring him home where he can continue his recovery. The top prize? An all-expenses-paid custom frame from Maietta Cycles, built by Tony Maietta, a childhood friend of Gabe’s. I met Tony this past weekend at the Cycle-Smart Invitational, complimented him on his frames, admired his support of Gabe’s recovery, and drooled over the ‘cross bike that he was racing.
If you don’t know Gabe, and don’t know Maietta’s bikes, take it from me: you want Gabe back home, and you want a Maietta.
The full sized flier for the raffle is here, and there is plenty of information at Get Better Gabe and Tony’s blog. A ticket is $20, which is a small price to pay for either getting Gabe back east, or a shot at riding a Maietta. I’ve bought my ticket. Have you?
Nigh on two years ago, NYTimes’ City Room blog published a piece on our local cycling community’s heroic stolen-bike-recovery network. The mover and shaker behind the recovery that the Times profiled was Jack Crank, an all-around ne’er-do-well of No Gods, No Vegetables, and he’s done it again.
This time it was Dan Bones’s Waterford, a lovely bike that I hadn’t even had a chance to drool over before it was nicked from his office. He had a run of particularly evil luck:
so! this brings the total over the past five months up to 2 broken collarbones [separate incidents], one stolen front wheel, one fucked up fork, one broken set of road bars, one stolen rear light, one broken rear wheel, one completely destroyed bike and one complete stolen bike.
But Jack saw the bike in a shop almost a year after it was stolen, made a few phone calls, and it was recovered – with the help and cooperation of the shop and the gracious new owner, who had apparently bought it for a song.
The amazing thing is that in the past few years, this has happened over and over again. Kelsey’s ‘cross bike was recovered when the new owner (who had bought it for way too cheap) brought it to a shop; Julie’s workbike was recovered at McCarren Park the same day it was stolen while she was working; Ric’s KHS was recovered almost a year after it was lifted after being spotted around town several times; Graham’s Fuji had been seen around Canal St and was eventually recovered; Continuum assisted in several East Village recoveries. That’s what recent memory uncovers.
From what I’ve seen, the following are crucial to bike recoveries.
1. Publicizing, posting pictures on the local cycling message board
2. Contacting friendly workers at bike shops who will keep their eyes out
3. Mass text messages to the people you know.
4. Knowing hotspots where a bike may be taken for a quick resale in the neighborhood where it was stolen.
Something to keep in mind; hopefully you won’t ever have to use the info.
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.