Monday, April 27, 2009


Monday, 27 April

This weekend was the fun little Deschutes River Valley Time Trial stage race in charming Maupin, Oregon. Two days, three time trials, for a total of 82 miles of racing.

The weather was cool but sunny and dry. Conditions were made more, um, interesting by wind speeds in excess of 25 mph on Saturday. Since I don’t much like riding in the wind, I was positively delighted to be racing tandem.

Stage 1 is 26 or 27 miles—stokers don’t keep track of these things. I think the elevation gain is something like 1,600 feet, and most of that comes in the first 4 miles as you climb up from the Deschutes through Maupin proper. Then a nice descent, flat, rollers, a twistier descent, and then 8 miles of flat road (with cattle guards) along the Deschutes. There were savagely windy stretches around miles 4-6 and 24-27, making for especially good fun with a disc wheel. Tandems were the third category to start, and we were last in our category because we won the event last year. So lots of rabbits up the road. We knew we had some tough competition this year, and although we had caught all the other tandems by the top of the climb, we were highly motivated to do our best to hold them off on the descents and flat stretch. We did, and we had the fastest time overall for the stage. This never happens; we give credit (?) to all the wind. Having a leadweight anchor (me) on the back of your bike is helpful on rare occasion.

Stage 2 is about 8 miles of hillclimb. I was expecting this to be hatefully hard and that we would get blown sideways for 7.9 miles. As soon as we rounded the first hairpin and started climbing in earnest, there was a nice little tailwind boost. Big-ring climbing is my kind of climbing! Somewhere around mile 4 or 5 (the promoter sets out mile markers for every one of the stages), the road turned and was no longer as sheltered (i.e., we got up out of the river canyon). One gust sent the tandem three feet across the road. I was very happy to be leaving the driving to someone else and just kept pedaling. I could see that the road turned in a couple hundred meters, and we would have a tailwind again. But there were a more (and more frequent) crosswind stretches before the finish. We did not win this one and lost our spot at the top of GC.

Stage 3 is 23.x miles of mostly uphill on the way out and mostly downhill on the way back. The wind had mostly subsided for Sunday’s stage, but we did definitely have a tailwind on the way out and a headwind all the way back. Last year we utterly bogged down on the way out on this stage, mentally and physically. On the tandem, there’s not much opportunity to vary your position, and 23 miles of climbing is pretty static. We made an effort this year to stand more often, and I devised a little scheme to keep me mentally distracted. Stokers are tasked with providing more power than drag, so I have to keep my head down (i.e., quit looking around). Watching the captain’s bottom bracket is only interesting for so long. I could only see those mile markers when they flashed by in my peripheral vision, and there was never time to see the number (which is painted only on the front). But I started counting them off from the start, and after the really tough first 4 miles of switchback climbing subsided and we settled into a rhythm more or less, I started counting how many pedal strokes we did per mile. Okay, admittedly we are not climbers who spin our way up hills, but I was surprised at how few revolutions it took to travel a mile. The mile with the fewest had 190-some, and the mile with the mostest had 260-some. They were typically about 220.

While I was engaged in counting to 200 over and over, my captain was keeping his eye on our closest tandem competition up the road. At first it was pretty lonely out there, because all the single bikes ahead of us in GC flew past us on the steeper part of the climb and the undulations in the terrain were close together so that you couldn’t see too far ahead. The second-place tandem started 2.5 minutes in front of us on this stage, and after a while we could see them (but no one else) off in the distance. A few miles from the top, we started to catch the slower riders in other categories. By the Bakeoven summit (turnaround), we had the gap on tandem 2 down to about 20 seconds. And then we lost a chunk of time. After 23 miles of plodding uphill, we had to turn the bike around an orange cone in the middle of a narrow road with no paved shoulder. We didn’t pedal enough and the bike went 2 inches wide. I was watching the front wheel and when I saw it was going to go off the pavement, I figured it would be fine because the gravel shoulder was even with the pavement; there was no sharp lip to negotiate getting back onto the road. Ha. The gravel on the shoulder was soft as mush and our front wheel sank instantly. The bike tipped over and we both hit the ground. The poor official at the turn didn’t know what to do to help us; neither of us could get unclipped from our pedals and it took some time to get untangled. I feel sorry for the rider who came into the turn after us (but someone assured me later than he probably didn’t lose much time relatively speaking for a 47-mile TT). I honestly cannot remember hitting the ground, and I have nary a scratch or a bruise. Mick did not come out so easily and took scar tissue off old battle wounds on his left knee. He was oozing blood by the finish but I couldn’t see this from my “vantage point.”

So off we went, with maybe a little more adrenaline but also maybe a little more apprehension. I vividly remember that last year we didn’t pedal for the first 5-7 miles after the turn. Not so this year. The headwind meant we could just about spin our 55x11, although I think a few times our cadence was, like, 125 (which is brutal on a tandem, going downhill). About a third of the way down, I could feel misery setting in. My arms hurt, my legs hurt, and sitting on the saddle was none too fun. There were some blessed moments of not pedaling and also some short uphill stretches, which used different muscles. I cheered myself by looking up and counting Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Adams, a glorious who’s-who of Cascade peaks. Then I started looking for mile markers again, this time to see how much longer I had to suffer. When I finally saw one coming, I was sure it would tell me we had 5 miles to go. No, 9. Ouch. Of course, we were picking off single bikes on the descent like it was open hunting season, and I did have to be thankful that at least I was getting my suffering over with quicker on the tandem.

The last 4 miles of course are down the steep hairpins we climbed on the way out. These are a huge mental challenge for me because the bike is going far faster than I would ever choose to negotiate these turns, and we actually pedal on the straightaways between the hairpins. I did pretty well here this year, and I just about had fun on the righthanders. The left turns still freak me out, but I focused on breathing (as opposed to holding my breath and getting stiff) and not looking over the edge. Last year, we dove past other riders in some of the turns, but this year we were behind a guy who was taking a good line and traveling pretty fast, so we just followed him down to the finish. Although tandem 2 rode away from us after the turnaround, we managed to beat them by a few seconds on the stage.

This is always a fun race, and we knew it would be tough this year. Jim and Heather (tandem 2) are both riding well this season (which is especially great news for Heather), and I still remember being soundly beaten by them in an uphill sprint finish (with a different captain) a couple of years ago. Their “give it everything” competitive spirit helps to boost mine as well. They had the second fastest time on stage 1, and it was kind of fun to shake up other riders’ conception of tandems by having the fastest times on a hilly course. Thanks to Mick for a great race—and I’m sorry you got all the road rash. Thanks to George and Terri for putting on such fun (if diabolical) events, and to Greg for the ride back to the start after stage 2.

Our prize? Free entry into another time trial in Maupin in September. We made our hotel reservations before we left town!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why no Willamette?

Thursday, 23 April

Take a minute to mourn with me. The bad news came down on Tuesday: this year's (and probably any subsequent year's) Willamette Stage Race was cancelled due to apparent lack of interest on the part of the cycling community. How can this be?

Earlier incarnations of this race had bigger fields than the promoters were able to handle, or so it seemed. Those promoters' versions of Willamette failed because of problems on their end (sponsorship "issues", mainly). This time, the race failed because not enough people wanted to race their bikes.

Where are all those Northwest racers who love a good, epic challenge and know the roads around Eugene are some of the best we've got for riding and racing? The other races on the local calendar this weekend are hardly overpowering draws: a time trial stage race in Maupin (don't get me wrong--DRVTT is an awesome weekend of racing with fantastic promoters) and a road race in Washington on a somewhat unselective course (except for selection due to crashes because of fowl in the road and silt from winter floods on the road).

We keep losing more of the best races on the calendar. I am so sad to see Willamette go the way of Columbia Plateau and HP. You can't blame these Willamette promoters: Mike and Sal worked so hard to think through and provide for all the minutiae in race organization. You can't blame the weather: it can be 80 degrees and sunny this time of year in Eugene. You can't blame local agencies: it is tough (expensive) to get permits out of Lane County, and still Willamette was going to take in some exciting, beautiful road courses.

We can only blame ourselves for letting this one get away.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Number 400

Earth Day

My brother emailed to ask if I gave up blogging for Lent, so I guess it's time for an update. Turns out this is blog entry number 400 for me, so even if I've been quiet for a few weeks, that apparently is not a typical trait for moi.

For about 3-4 weeks (until yesterday), I was working three paying jobs, one of them my regular full-time "real" job. In this economic climate, one cannot complain too much about being paid from three sources, but together they did not leave much time for training and even less for blogging. But now I'm back to just the usual two--and hopefully they'll both continue. My real job is at the University of Washington, and all we don't know is how big the hammer is that will fall when the legislature makes its budget. Rumor has it that the staff cuts in my department will be in the double digits. "Grim" does not begin to describe the work atmosphere.

In the better news department, the peas are up in my garden, there should be rhubarb to harvest in a couple of weeks, more potatoes seeded themselves this year, the parsley is taking on science fiction proportions, the herbs that looked dead after three months of frigid winter have burst back to life, and the fruit bushes and trees are just about to leaf out. I started some sunflowers indoors and will transplant them outside soon.

Bike racing on the tandem this weekend, and plans for epic huge miles during the month of May. I hope I'm up to all of them. Stay tuned!