Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Pesticide prologue

Wednesday, 31 May

Our 3-mile prologue at the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic started at a fruit warehouse and rolled along, ultimately more up than down, through orchards (newly sprayed, from the pervasive smell) on the hills above the Columbia River. Mt. Hood was a sentinel in the distance, gazing down at us across foothills and more orchards.

The thing I learned today is not to believe what everyone tells you about a course. That may be a very good thing to keep in mind through the stages ahead at this race, because nobody has said a kind word about a single one of them—except perhaps about the always-great views of Hood. The race organizer added a half-mile to previous years’ prologue, giving us an uphill start, a quick downhill, and then on to the rollers.

The course had been described to me by many people as being downhill, then uphill, with a little kicker to the finish. My description of the course is rollers with a short little hill at the finish. True enough, you couldn’t ride the whole thing in your big ring, but the “hill” before the kicker wasn’t much.

What no one had mentioned but was significant for me was the really rough pavement. Combined with a cross-headwind, it made for a little more thrilling bike ride than I hope for. I was flying along at 25? mph, hanging on for dear life and wondering what would happen if I encountered a big bump and a big gust at the same time. The Shimano neutral support guys knew where to be—about 200 meters past the end of the worst rough section.

My ride was okay. It probably would’ve been 10-15 seconds faster if I’d been able to preride the course. I got caught behind a car that dawdled along the course, riding its brake lights. I didn’t know what it was going to do, and I didn’t what to slam into it if it stopped abruptly. And then the marshalls at the last turn up to the finish thought their job was to yell encouraging things rather than direct riders to turn. It is kind of a cool finish: the gradient doesn’t get steeper but the diameter of the curve as you go up the hill gets tighter and tighter so you don’t see the finish line until you’re about 20 feet from it.

We had a few spits of rain while we were sitting on trainers (but everyone here seems to be like Dave H. and wouldn’t even let me observe out loud that there were wet specks on my bars), and a little more of a sprinkle on the way back, but nothing that affected the race or even really hastened our packing up afterward.

I just HAVE to mention what a great sponsor today's stage had: The Fruit Company. I guess it was their warehouse and parking lot that we used for staging. They had a table set up in front of their building and gave out beautiful apples and pears and fresh pineapple juice. You could take the enormous Anjou pears, or they would slice them up for you. I am really looking forward to my smoothie tomorrow morning!

TRIA had a couple of top 10 finishers today, and I managed 22nd in a field of 72. Tomorrow we will ride on much of the course from the Wasco Wild West 75, except that there’s an added section with a left turn, a sketchy descent, a really sharp (“acute”) right turn, and then hairpins down a 1% descent to the finish. I remember that both Martin and I were thankful that we weren’t on our single bikes in the wind on that course, but I guess I’ll get to find out what that experience will be like.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Mix it up

Sunday, 28 May

Ski to Sea is always about the most fun I have on my single bike all year, and it's not even a bike race. Well, it is, but it isn't. Ski to Sea is a 7-sport, 8-athletes-to-a-team relay race from the Mt. Baker ski area to Bellingham Bay. The road bike leg (leg #4) is a 36-mile TT with some climbing but a net elevation loss. If you've never experienced it, you cannot imagine the buzz in Bellingham leading up to the race as everyone tries to compare teams, who's going well, who that unknown cross-country skier is, etc. etc. And I am quite sure the next few days in that town are spent memorizing and dissecting the results for discussion all summer long and into the planning for next year's dream team, which begins...well, maybe today.

This was my fifth year racing at the event, all five of them with the Boundary Bay Brewing Co. team. Our captain/manager Janet goes out of her way to recruit amazing female athletes from the U.S. and Canada--national champions, national team members, inspiring women all the way around. Boundary Bay has a winning tradition at Ski to Sea, finishing first in the women's division since before I started on the team. But every year is a new challenge. Janet still dreams of a top-10 overall finish. Unfortunately, as more men's teams get tougher and tougher, that goal slips out of reach. That's not to say that some of our women aren't right up there stunning the male competition with amazingly fast times.

The bike leg of Ski to Sea starts at the DOT station about 8 miles below the Mt. Baker ski area on the Mt. Baker highway. The first half? of the race goes down the highway, there's a right turn at Kendall, then a left turn onto South Pass Road, which takes you all the way to the finish in Everson. There's some fairly technical descending, a few hard little hills, and lots of power-along-in-your-biggest-gear downhill.

In the other legs of this race, it's all about how fast you can go, how strong you are. It's not too hard to predict which team(s) will have the best times. But there's another element to the road bike leg: drafting is legal. Depending on how teammates (cross-country and downhill skiers, plus a runner) do up the mountain, you might ride the whole 36 miles solo, or you might have a traveling companion right from the very beginning. Or, if you're really lucky, a stronger cyclist will start behind you, catch you, and give you a nice draft for at least part of your ride. I've experienced all of these over the years, although it's pretty tough to stay with stronger guys in the hilly parts of this course.

Participating in this race requires almost as much logistical coordination as training. I am thankful for having been completely taken care of in this department by Brian and E'Lana; all I do is show up, and they get me and my stuff up the mountain, arrange to get it down the mountain (we finish 36 miles from where we start), and then find me with warm clothes at the finish and get me and my bike back to Bellingham. Consider that these logistics are played out over 7 legs of this race, and you begin to see the scope of the logistical operation. To add to the challenge, the Mt. Baker highway closes to all traffic a half-hour before the race starts. Athletes who race at the top sometimes don't get back to Bellingham until at least noon--after competing at 8:30 a.m.!

A typical feature of this race is persistent drizzle on Mt. Baker, and this year was no exception. So we were delighted that we had our own tent (thanks, for warming up on our trainers. Since you have to get there so long before you start, there's plenty of time to check out who really showed up to race, who's substituting for whom, and who has what new gear. Race officials announce when the race starts, when the first hand-off is made between the ski legs, and when the first runners hit the road. Then, the tension really escalates as they call out the number of the first runner approaching the run-bike transition. All of us who expect to go out sooner rather than later swarm the start area, not caring so much about the drizzle any more. I was disappointed yesterday to watch just about all the male racing cyclists go out ahead of me; that meant no chance to draft them when they passed. There were a few strong combinations starting just about together, and I knew they'd be fast to the finish.

There's an element that complicates drafting here: what division riders' respective teams are in. Since I'm on an all-women's team, I'm no threat to any guy out there (no comments, please), and some have been extremely helpful in working with me in the past. In return, I don't much care what guys I tow around because I know they're not on a team that can challenge mine. But when guys start drafting each other, they'll pay attention to their individual divisions.

Because I was the first female starter on an all-women's team, I got my very own escort of two motorcycle cops all the way to the finish. At first I thought they were just patrolling the road and would soon go away; then I got annoyed because I felt like a suspected felon on a very short leash (I did not cross the center line, I promise, even though the road was closed); but then I decided to be flattered. I didn't get the draft that Glenn B. did from his pair, but I guess it was nice to have company.

I caught two guys fairly quickly, but then had to completely stop for a minor mechanical issue and they went right by. I passed them again, but then was caught by a group that these two had latched on to. At first I had high hopes for this group, but it was quickly very clear that one guy was doing all the work, and he was not super smooth or consistent. I sat in a little, drove the group a lot, and then the fastest guy and I dropped the others going up the hill into Maple Falls. We worked together for a ways, but then on the gradual downhill to Kendall, he pulled away. I was pedaling as hard as I could in my 55x11, but he probably weighed 80-100 pounds more than me and I just couldn't hold his wheel. Gravity at work. Before the turn at Kendall, I spied another group up the road and vowed to catch them before South Pass. And I did. They didn't even try to get on my wheel, so it was just me and my moto guys all the way to the finish.

Every year I am "challenged" by a few of the bends coming down off the Powerhouse climb and can't quite summon up the nerve to stay in my aero bars. I did better this year. But then in the last few miles as South Pass descends to the flats before Everson, there was such a swirling wind that I had to get out of the aero bars in every bend. I just had no control over the front wheel. I was dreading those 3? 4? 5? miles across the open, exposed valley to Everson with a strong crosswind, but I just put the bike in the middle of the lane (so that I had some road to blow across before I hit the ditch, if a strong gust came along). It was really fast, and bike control wasn't too bad. It had stopped raining for a few miles in the middle of the course, but it was raining again for the finish.

I was pretty happy with my ride this year. Not my fastest time ever, but not my slowest either, and considering that I had to stop by the side of the road, that's okay. I got another TV interview after my finish (same questions as last year, I think), and I remembered to find and thank the moto cops for their attentiveness. I moved my team from 30th to 26th overall, and we moved up to 23rd overall by the finish and won the women's open division for the sixth year in a row.

I suppose one reason this event is so fun for me is because it's an enormous time trial. But it is so much fun to work with athletes from other sports, to see them comparing their times to men and women they know in their sport (just like I do in mine), to hear what made their race fun or hard or both, and just to see the collective excitement of the whole team and our sponsors. And then there's the enthusiasm amassed by 400 teams of 8 athletes each. The "rec" category is huge, a few teams get DQed because they don't make the time cut-offs at particular points, and you wonder how some people can even ride 36 miles on the bikes or in the clothes they show up with. But EVERYBODY seems to have fun, and 3200 competitors having fun is a great thing to share.

All the results are here.

Saturday, May 20, 2006 a Stetson

Saturday, 20 May

"Is the rider able to exit the vehicle without assistance?" So began our prerace technical inspection at the Wasco Wild West 75 tandem and recumbent road race. Having never heard such a thing at an OBRA, USAC, or UCI race, I thought, "we're not in Kansas anymore, Martin...."

The WWW75 is an unsanctioned race on a beautiful 18.75-mile circuit about 4 miles outside of The Dalles, Oregon. It features riders and bikes from all walks of cycling life, eager to take on a tough race, hoping to finish, improve on last year's time, and/or win. The event had been on our tandem race calendar for months, and we had no idea what to expect in the way of competition. The promoter told us in advance that we were the "prerace favorites"--pressure like that is hard to live up to. We just hoped it wasn't the equivalent of the Sports Illustrated jinx.

I can't say enough about the course. There were fewer than 20 houses on the entire route, and we saw fewer than 20 cars during the entire race. The topography is typical north central Oregon stuff: close rolling hills, little valleys, range land, sagebrush, wheat fields. And, with the Columbia River Gorge close by, wind is omnipresent. The first 10 miles are rolling, mostly tailwind today; then (into the headwind) there's about a one-mile climb, a little descending, a shorter climb, a lot of descending, and some flats back to the start/finish. And the road is entirely that oh-so-slow Oregon chipseal.

Tandems and recumbents raced separately and, since there was no lead car, the tandems went first because we were "bigger and more visible." Our field featured 6 mixed tandems and one male/male bike. Last year's winners were there, along with a super strong couple we've raced with before. We figured we knew who to watch. Sure enough, that strong couple took off within a half mile from the start (and I was reminded why it would've been a good thing to warm up before the race). A couple of us knew not to let them get away, so we went after them and pretty soon our group was down to just 4 bikes.

I think we set tempo on the climb (I think we did on every lap), and it was a pretty mellow in my legs didn't hurt and I knew I wasn't going hard. Still, we were later accused of "turning on the afterburners." At the top, we were down to 2 bikes. Not relishing the thought of 2 bikes rotating for 60+ miles, we more or less waited for that energizer bunny couple, and sure enough they caught us after the descent. But they had trouble hanging with us on the second lap, and they quickly dropped off the next time up the climb.

So now Martin and I were checking out the two boys we were riding with. We had found out that this was their second ride together, that they were from Portland but didn't ride with a team or club, and that the stoker usually rode tandem with his wife. But they seemed strong and knew what they were doing. They were especially good at keeping stats. Martin and I ride without watches or cycling computer; these guys, on the other hand, reported our average speed and lap time every lap. And they seemed to consume a huge amount of food and water. In turn, they were checking us out. "So you guys did Co-Motion last year? You must have done well?" "Yeah, we did okay." "What category do you race in on your single bikes?" "Uh, 2." We found out later that they thought the answer to that second question was their tip that they were in trouble.

After weighing whether we should "go" the third or last time up the climb, Martin opted to wait for the last lap. And it worked (I don't mean to sound surprised--I agreed that it was the best plan). At the bottom of the climb, I thought we were in such a low gear, spinning like mad, that we couldn't possibly drop anybody. But we soon had a gap, and the gear felt much better (i.e., the hill felt much harder), and we worked harder than we had any of the three previous times up the hill. At the top of the second hill, we could see them at the bottom behind us. We pedaled as hard as we could down the descent (into the headwind, mind you) and time trialed along the flats. We had about 2 minutes on them by the finish. At least we didn't have to worry about testing our unpracticed sprinting skills.

To the winners of this tandem race went hats, suitable for winners of a "Wild West" race. I'm not sure how I ended up with the black one (isn't the guy with the white hat the good guy?!), except that I guess my head had swelled less and the black one was a smaller size.

The recumbent race was dominated by a team of Bacchetta guys. Four of them rode together off the front of their race and then split up the last time up the climb. They started just 5 minutes behind us, and we were surprised they didn't catch us. We lapped one poor recumbent rider not once but twice, so their field was really spread out. We had lots of opportunities after the race to ask questions about recumbents, and Martin went for a test drive.

Special kudos go to the race promoter, Clay Smith, and his many volunteers. I was apprehensive about having no lead or follow vehicles (the one sag pickup drove behind that rider we lapped twice), but it was an incredibly safe course. Marshalls were promised at all the intersections, but we got to the first one so quickly that there was not one there on lap 1--and they had gone home by lap 4. There was neutral water at the top of the second climb and at the start/finish line. And (another tip that this wasn't Kansas) there were two porta-potties for our use on the course. The volunteers were just as excited about the event as the racers, and it was just a cool race all the way around. And it was sunny!

Whatever I am going to do with a cowboy hat??

The view from the front of the tandem is here.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Thursday, 18 May

Some places are aptly named, and today I visited one: Paradise. Coincidentally, it involved visiting a volcano on the anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

Really, all I need to say is that I rode from Elbe to Paradise and back, on a tandem, in absolutely glorious weather, on roads almost totally devoid of cars. It was too perfect for (very many) words.

We saw a thousand shades of green and wildflowers just beginning to blossom. We rode within eight feet of two deer standing by the side of the road; they didn't freeze, and they didn't bolt. We saw zillions of waterfalls because there were still 8? 10? feet of snow in the parking lot at Paradise and lots of run-off everywhere. We visited (by going the wrong way on a one-way road) a viewpoint that neither of us had ever been to and had our picture taken by a visitor whose husband "rides all over Europe."

Adjectives fail me. It was, well, paradise.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Two out of three ain't bad?

Monday, 15 May

Racing this Mothers Day weekend was in Wenatchee, apple capital of the world. [My heart was at the 40K tandem TT on the beautiful course at Peoria, Oregon, but being there just didn't work out.] Two of the three stages started and finished at the Alcoa plant east of the "town" of Malaga. The drives to and from the race were beautiful (there's still snow under the bottom of the chairlift at Stevens Pass), the weather was sunny and not unbearably windy, Saturday's race schedule left time for snoozing and shopping--what more could you want? Oh yeah...results. I tried for some of those, too.

Our first stage was a 9.x mile TT. Reports from the first riders off were that it was hard on the way back because of the wind. Impossibly hard. Even my masters buddies who got back just before I started said it was ridiculous. But the wind while I was warming up didn't seem that bad, and certainly nothing like at the Ice Breaker TT back in March. Fortunately, there was one voice of reason among all the last-minute reports that confirmed what I was thinking, so I wasn't in a complete state of panic when I started.

It's a pretty uneventful TT course, except for the last 750 meters before the turnaround, which are up a fairly steep little hill. I stupidly stayed in my aero bars and should've sat up for a little more power; I was dragging pretty slow at the top. Straight out of the turnaround you got the full-on headwind. It was strong, but it didn't affect my ability to keep the bike in a straight line. And pretty soon I realized that it was hard mostly because it was mostly uphill. This was a combination I could cope with. In the end, I was just 8 seconds off the fastest women's time overall, and I beat all the other masters women.

I'll skip a description of the crit because I pretty much skipped that stage of the race. Let's just say that the highlights of the afternoon and evening were accomplishing my (shopping) goal for Wenatchee and watching friends race well. And breaking the law on the sidewalk in downtown Wenatchee....with law enforcement by my side....

Sunday's road race featured about 2 miles of more or less flat road, 10 miles of climbing broken up by a one-mile (oh-so-sweet) descent, a 2-part (more technical then not technical) descent, and a 9-mile flat road back to the finish. Apart from the pain and oxygen deprivation, the climb is spectacular. There is only one protracted section steep enough to make me cry, and that comes just before the feed zone so you know that help is literally just around the corner.

At the risk of sounding like Glenn B, who can talk himself into prerace fears no matter who is or is not at a race, I was not expecting a repeat of my 2005 performance on this course because the field included several cat 4s (masters women and cat 4s raced together) known for their stellar climbing skills as well as stronger masters women than last year.

Not wanting to have to work my way to the front on the climb, I rode at the front of the group from the start during the 2-mile headwind section to the climb. And nobody seemed particularly interested in coming around me. The climb starts with a short (200m?) pitch, then a few hundred meters of flat, then another short pitch, then a left turn onto the cutest little one-lane (uphill) road through orchards. After a half-kilometer or so, you have a beautiful view of the valley, and this is where I was riding by myself last year. But this year there were still some women on my wheel. Hmmm. Should I get worried yet? No, as it turned out. They didn't blow up, but the gap behind my wheel very gradually got bigger. At about mile 2 of this piddly little road (there are milepost markers), there was a good view back down through a sort of canyon, and I could see the field completely strung out as each rider tried to find her own rhythm.

I have one trick that consistently works for me for plugging along at a seemingly impossible and endless effort, and yesterday I found two more: I just imagined I was trying desperately to stay on Leah G's wheel (as I tried to do at Willamette), and I tried to close the gap to the lead car (I succeeded once!). I got through the hardest section without crying, I found my feeder in the feed zone and got a flawless hand-off (thanks, Tom!), and then had to mentally (physically, too, I guess) deal with all the climbing still ahead. The second part of the climb moves into pine forest, and the sunflowers were profuse. This climbing is not relentless, and there's that mile of luscious descending in the middle. This is really a fun, beautiful climb.

I knew I had to see the radio tower before I was at the top, but I had forgotten about the two tight bends in the very first part of the descent. This was the part of the course I knew I had to work at especially hard because a good descender could make up time on me. But (I think) everybody has to brake in the tightest corners, and the rest of the descending is pretty much straight, so that even I was bombing down the hill. It's hard to keep your heart rate up when you're zooming downhill at 35+ mph. Those 50 women in pursuit were a constant reminder, though, that that's exactly what I had to do.

I got no time checks on the road this year, so I just had to keep motoring along once I got to the flat highway and hope there wasn't a big, organized group about to overtake me. At about a mile to go, I started looking over my shoulder but I couldn't see anyone. I kept checking all the way to the last bend and with no one out there, at least I didn't have to sprint up this finish hill. I was almost expecting to get passed by Dave Z of the masters D field who had started not far behind us, but I was able to hold him off too.

During the afternoon, I drove up the climb twice more behind the men's cat 1-2 race, and I saw so much more scenery than that narrow little window you have when you're riding hard allows. Not only were the sunflowers profuse under the pines, but you could see them spread across meadows a half-mile away. The vistas to Mission Ridge and the surrounding Cascades were spectacular. And there are some pretty cool houses nestled on hilltops up there (along with less impressive doublewide trailers). And watching even the best cat 1 men suffer on that climb was reassurance that they're mortal too. Congrats to Andrew McD for an amazing attack the second time up the hill (he had 3 minutes by the feed zone--and only increased it before his finish) and to rider 808 from Boise who flatted on the highway and chased all the way up the climb to get back into the lead group.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

When is climbing NOT training?

Wednesday, 10 May

When you choose a beautiful, sunny spring day and ride your bike on (arguably) the most beautiful road in the entire state, you hardly notice 5000 feet of elevation gain. Until you walk up the stairs at work the next day.

In exchange for having to work last Saturday (and therefore missing the state road race at Elma), I got to take Wednesday off and chose to ride from Newhalem to Washington Pass on SR20. While the cooling towers of the unfinished nuclear plant at Elma are, well, cool, I'll take the North Cascades any day. The round trip was 85 miles, 40 miles of climbing more or less, and an average of less than one car/RV/motorcycle per mile passed going our direction.

This is such a stunning ride that it's hard to say what was best about it. Just the privilege and pleasure of being there is overwhelming. The peaks around Diablo Lake are still covered in snow and made for beautiful reflections at Colonial Creek. There was a nice little tailwind when the climbing started after the descent to Panther Creek; I have no complaints about going uphill at 18 mph when it's wind-assisted. There was some tough headwind in the 6 or 8 miles before Rainy Pass, and where the ground was completely covered in snow, the wind across the snow was pretty cold. Just when I was feeling tired and slow, I passed a couple on a Co-Motion tandem with a fully loaded trailer; they had stopped to stretch and were clearly taking their time. (Mick found out when he passed that they had taken 3 days to get from Anacortes to Rainy Pass!) At Rainy Pass, there is probably still 4 feet of snow along the road. The DOT crews cut the cutest little parking indentations into the snow bank for folks who want to head into the back country. There's a little less snow at Washington Pass--maybe 3 feet.

The return was uneventful, not super windy (which it often is), so that the descent down to Colonial Creek was screaming fun. Goretex jacket, knee warmers, and gloves were a must for the first 20 miles of descending. At this time of year, there are waterfalls down every rock face, and the surrounding air temperature drops 20 or 30 degrees because the runoff from the snowfields above is so cold. It was like riding through refrigerators.

Flowering currant, ravens, deer, the smell of the forest, and of course all the snowy peaks made all that climbing hardly seem like going uphill at all--and certainly not in the least like training!

Monday, May 08, 2006

I won a WHAT? (redux)

Sunday, 7 May

Last year there was a concerted effort to get me to “do” crits. It was somewhat successful: I didn’t get pulled from the Enumclaw crit until two laps to go (a record for me!), I can almost say I had a lot of fun in the tandem crit at Co-Motion, and I even hung in to get pack time for two almost-crits in El Salvador. But I can still think of lots of better things to do with $20 or $25 than to sign up for a criterium.

This year the plan seems to be to make me sprint. I'm pleasantly surprised that I have apparently learned the mechanics of sprinting by osmosis over the years, because my brain tells me “now you need to do this.” Okay, I’m not delusional and I know I’m not “a sprinter,” but twice now this year I have won a road race in something somewhat resembling a sprint.

This weekend’s sprint came at the end of the master A women’s state road race championship at Longbranch. The race is on a 10.5-mile circuit with one really hard (steep) climb and another steep-enough, stairstep hill. We were combined with the master B women (cat 4s). Not only was it raining steadily at our start, but the wind was blowing too--my favorite.

Everyone knows this race comes down to the hill, so we just rode the first few miles, for once hating the really smooth county road because it throws up so much spray. A straight, fast descent rolls into the base of the climb, and I made sure I was at the front. Given my ineptitude at Willamette at shifting onto the small chain ring, I put the chain somewhere in the middle of the cassette before I tried to shift over. But the chain wouldn’t shift off the big ring. Panic. I cannot ride up this hill on my big ring. After about 5 pedal strokes and shifting back and forth, it finally dropped onto the small ring. I’m sure the women behind me were cursing me for blocking the road while I flailed helplessly for a gear. It’s false flat for the longest time at the top, which is where chasing and regrouping happen. I think there ended up being about 8 in our group here, but I couldn’t get off the front (I’m supposed to be flattered that they all think it’s my job to tow them around all day?) so I never drifted far enough back to count.

After the false flat and some rollers, there are some little descents, a crosswind section where the wind pushed me sideways, and then a tricky little bend over a poorly surfaced bridge over some tide flats. I was happy enough to stay at the front. Besides, now I knew it would take some time to shift onto the small ring for the next hill, which starts right after the bridge, so better to be at the front (and slow everyone else down!). I don’t know if we dropped anyone on this hill. (This is strange: I’m usually the gatekeeper at the back on climbs and know exactly who’s left in a race. Hmmmm.) Then there’s another gradual descent, a sweeping turn where folks sometimes go off the road, and a stretch of bad pavement at 1K to go that’s lots worse than announced at the start line.

This is a race of attrition, and some more folks attrited [wow! that really is a word!] on the second and third times up the hill(s). We tried to organize a paceline after the second time up the hill, but there were women in the group who had no clue what this was or how to do it. So Gina and I sat at the back until we got too scared and then we were back at the front. We were finally down to a gang of four: Gina, her teammate Julie, Karen, and me. Julie and Karen are Bs. Karen seemed very happy to ride at the front--except that she was always looking over her shoulder, which was disconcerting because I wanted her eyes on the road ahead--and I hardly ever saw Julie because she was seeking as much shelter as she could find.

Weather note: at the start of lap three, it was absolutely pouring rain. El Salvador quantities of rain (just about 20 degrees colder). We were lucky it was a short race. On the second time up the lesser hill, you could literally see the water cascading down the hill as we were trying to ride up it. After the third time up the big hill, it seemed to let up, and then it got brighter and you could see farther up the road. That was temporary, though, and it poured again right up until the afternoon session of men’s races started. Then the sun came out and there was beautiful blue sky for the rest of the afternoon.

With any other group of women, it would’ve come down to two separate races: Gina and me, and Julie and Karen. But Gina, who is a far better tactician and sprinter than I, is also a self-sacrificing teammate and wanted to be sure that Julie won her race. She attacked at about 300 meters to go to lead Julie out for the finishing sprint. I knew she was going to attack (just not that early), I thought “there she goes,” and then the little voice in my head that has learned sprinting by osmosis said “and now you get on her wheel.” That took some work. Fortunately, that same little voice did not say “that’s Julie’s wheel,” and Julie wasn’t in sight (peripherally--turns out she was on my wheel). Just when I was thinking there was no way I was going to get around Gina, much less pass her, her sprint started to fade. I waited until well after we passed the 200m sign to go around her. It was still a very long (uphill) way to the finish line and I wasn’t exactly accelerating, but I beat her to the line of duct tape across the road, with Julie on my wheel.

Three hundred meters isn’t very far, but it’s amazing to me how much thinking can go on in that distance. When someone accelerates on a hard climb, I am usually so oxygen deprived that there are no verbal cues in my brain, just the certainty that I have to get on that wheel. But in both this sprint and the one at Kings Valley (the sum total of my vast successful sprinting experience), the thoughts just seem to fly. Do this, do that. It’s as if my brain has been trained to tell me what to do…but it hasn’t been, which is why I think I’ve learned this by osmosis. Okay, there’s not that much involved in sprinting but there seems to be tons of time to think. In years past, my thinking at this point has mostly consisted of "and there they go."

Another observation is about how different people climb differently. Some like to go super hard at the bottom so that it’s a crap shoot whether they’ll be able to maintain enough effort to get over the top. Some just keep a steady tempo. And I know a couple of deviants who like to accelerate (i.e., turn the screws) near the top!

I hope Julie recognizes the sacrifice that Gina made for her yesterday and also learned some things about what teamwork can do for you. Not only did Gina help her at the finish, but I know she was “protecting” Julie and working for her during the race, and there were strategic chats at various points. Gina knows how I race and what I can and can’t do (or will and won’t do). She had at least as good a shot as I did at that gold medal with 1K to go. And yet it was more important to her to make sure that her teammate won her race. And--since she was the number one advocate for making me ride crits last year--maybe she wanted to give me the opportunity to work on sprinting.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Learning from spam

Friday, Cinco de Mayo

Like most of us, I get rather too much email that I don't want and didn't sign up for. But one today from Predator: Cycling's Journal of Mental Conditioning hits one of my pet peeves squarely on the head. Plus, the pithy words come from Davis Phinney, whom I was lucky enough to meet when he was here in February. Take heed, all ye who live by your heart rate monitors and power meters and hour-by-hour, mile-by-mile training programs:

"I think there is so much information and focus and attention paid to physical work in sport and training, and somewhat technique, but ultimately what has really been bypassed to a large extent is the mental part in the process and the preparation to be successful. It’s been touched on by a lot of people but people go for the salient bullet points and then say “ok, but tell me what to do. I gotta go out and train so tell me how high my heart rate should be, etc. etc.” People just want to be told what to do. They sort of want to click off their brain and just be programmed and then hey, I’ll be successful. I’ll be a good cyclist or runner or what have you. I see that and I’m like, you don’t get it. You actually have to start with your thought process and everything comes from that, everything originates from the power that you have in your mind.

"The most important tool I had was my brain."