Thursday, July 31, 2008
It's basically impossible for me to stick to a decent diet or train properly, or stay awake at work, while increasing on-bike workload and sleeping less than 7 hours. Since wedging work and training and family into each day requires me to get up at 4:45 or so, that means I have to be in bed by... sorry, I'm a *&$%in' lawyer. We have math issues. Let's just say "9:30" and call it close enough for government work. (In reality, I'm not innumerate, I just like to live up to others' expectations of me).
So this puts the hurt on blogging time, hence the radio silence.
Yet in spite of being plagued with the usual feelings of rampant inadequacy, and the annual pre-season near-panic, the training has been going reasonably well. After recovering somewhat decently from the WUSS Liberty Jam, through verrah easy rides on Monday and Tuesday, I hit the Reston loop with Joe M on Wednesday. Between my ride up to Clarendon and ride back into town, I did about 38 miles of false flats with a couple hills mixed in. It's an "all zones" ride, and good for racking up a few efforts, some long tempo riding, and all sorts of trainy-goodness, a hard group ride lite if you will.
Still, I'm feeling really inadequate and looking to blast my training volume up into the stratosphere prior to 'cross season. Upping the volume helps me lose weight quickly, and builds the extremely important aerobic base. I find that if I don't keep my base fairly high, I don't recover well from races; two-race weekends are hell; and trying to boost fitness and performance mid-season becomes impossible. Got that? A big base is what lets you go hard and recover fast. You can have good VO2 capabilities without a huge base, and go hard one time, but then your recovery may be in doubt; it could be a while before you're capable of going hard again. So, to build base, I'm going pretty hard right now. Yeah, it's that build period of base training. In plain English: I'm gettin' buried.
For power training phreaks, I hit the road this AM with a -21 Training Stress Balance. For the non-power training phreaks, that means I was at least one day's good rest away from having decently functional legs, maybe not a good thing before a frickin' mountain ride. But what the hell.
I took advantage of some back leave recently credited to my leave & earnings statement, and spent 3.5 hours riding up in the mountains near Thurmont with a truncated crew from the LBS ride. For non-MABRAites, the smallish mountains up there are called "the Catoctins." Catoctin is an Indian word that means "place where white collar professionals punish themselves for unspecified reasons."
Jon, Trevor, Tom and I rolled out early, getting to Thurmont at around 7:15. We started with Catoctin Hollow, then hit up Tower road to Harp, some climbs off to the side, before heading north to Wolfesville, then up to High Rock, a ~1200 foot effort over two miles. Thence up and over the ridge, down 550 back into Thurmont. The total damage for me was 3500 kcal of work, 51 miles, ~250 TSS points, and it pushed the Chronic Training Load up into the hallowed ground of ~82, approaching the holy grail of 100 that tells me I'm as truly race fit as a fat mostly sedentary cyclist wannabe can get.
Mother of Pearl, my legs are destroyed. They feel like they've been out drinking for a week.
The climbs went pretty well for me. Yeah, I was perpetually slipping off the back every time the grade topped 5 or 6%, but I'd get to the top of each hill within a couple minutes of the other three guys, and to be fair, they were getting a little strung out too.
I say they went pretty well because something Trevor said after the ride hit home: compared to most people who ride, serious riders who are bad climbers climb really well.
There's nothing to be ashamed of in that fact, and it's smart and maybe necessary to look on the bright side once in a while.
Yeah, I stink as a climber, yet averaged around 9 MPH up to High Rock, a 14 minute climb where I settled in at about 90% of threshold. My legs were blown, I'm very fatigued, but I did alright.
Maybe what is necessary to train well and consistently, and with good cheer, is to keep in mind our progress, and where we are compared to armchair pilots and even mere weekend warriors everywhere else. We aren't doing bad, people. We aren't doing bad. It's not just about some guys who race being better on bikes than a bunch of rec riders; it's that we're all moving at our own pace, and moving at our own pace in life generally is just fine. Nothing wrong with that.
As tough as a lot of experiences can be to digest - for instance getting my ass royally kicked by a bunch of very solid MTB racers - prospects are good for improvement, and where I sit right now isn't a bad place. Maybe we shouldn't let our goals be the whips that we put to our own backs. Maybe the ride is more important than the destination, and we should just enjoy the damn ride more often.
Thanks for pointing this out, Trevor. It needed to be said, and I damn sure wouldn't have thought about it.
In the spirit of keeping things in perspective, we went into Frederick and had a nice post-ride refueling stop at Brewer's Alley, whacking some very good Mac & Cheese, and a beer that was well and truly earned. Mine was an excellent Kolsch, thanks; it is faithful to the vision of the Koelnisch brewmasters, and the taste is very authentic. Kolsch is a perfect summer beer and a great thirst-quencher after a tough ride.
All in all, it was a great day. You want perspective? Four guys who are lucky enough to be able to ride and race bikes got to hang out and ride themselves into the ground, and take a vacation from the daily grind. It doesn't get any better than that. The fact that it counts as quality training, and that we did "x" power number and maintained "y" heartrate is a nice bonus, but the main thing is we had a good ride. Nothing should be allowed to obscure that fact.
I hope you all have really good rides this weekend. More accurately, I hope you can see the real good in your rides, whether they meet your current goals or not.
Monday, July 28, 2008
And while I'm on the subject, I picked up my new Redline Team Conquest frame from Contes last week. It weighs next to nothing. I'm starting to build it up now - so it's like Christmas in July. And what goes better with Christmas, than "Twas the Night Before Christmas?" Nothing, of course.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Yeah, I was still pretty much DFL or close to it among the men's group on most of the events, but as difficult as the ride was, compared to my fitness, skill & MTB aptitude level, I wrung pretty much everything out of myself that was there. Plus I had tons of fun.
What can you say about this crew of single speed racers? Very good riders, very good company. And a great spread with requisite ice cold malt beverages afterwards. Words can't quite convey how nice it was, or how grateful I am to everybody who made it a great day.
And while I didn't leave it all out there on the trail, I very nearly did leave it all, in a chunky, acidic pile, especially on some of the more anaerobic climbs. Yeah, I got beat like a red-headed stepchild, but it didn't lower the fun quotient any. While I didn't bonk (thanks to fully using my talent of eating like a hog all day long and drinking over 150 ounces of water on the ride) I was completely fried at the end of the day, barely able to move for an hour after the ride. Without a doubt that was the hardest ride I've ever done, by an order of magnitude. Each stage was basically a 15 minute interval, and the easier stages were offset by a couple difficult transits. The Racer Gut didn't subside until after midnight.
What an amazing, epic ride. Thanks, all y'all.
[Update: BTW, SoFauxPro has really been hitting the right notes lately - acute, biting, funny, and just the right tone for MABRA's answer to Don Rickles. I was pissed at him earlier in the year when I thought he crossed the double yellow on Walter, but he's been well inside it for a while and putting out some top notch work. It's time I forgive, forget, click through and then have some laughs. Shit, I'm kind of hoping he rides 'cross so we can get the benefit of his coaching and commentary there too - after all it's going to get boring talking about who in the local peloton is getting fat and avoiding their base miles.]
Friday, July 25, 2008
What I do know about it is that a whole big bunch of people who have been unduly nice to me in my mountain biking novice-a-tude, people I like and respect, will be there. They are people I'd like to ride with even if we were all on road bikes tooling around Skyline or on fixies doing a bike & brew or the local shop ride. In fact, a few of the shop ride stalwarts, including LBS owner Jon, are dragging me into this. It should be a lot of fun.
What else I know is that most of the folks in this crowd, primarily single speed racers, are very strong sport-to-expert level racers who are going to beat the bejeezus out of me. This is going to be a serious beatdown. Oh, they won't try to hurt me, but I will hurt, and I imagine they'll hurt each other pretty good too. I'll go as hard as I can and try any damn thing they throw at me, as long as I don't break or break the bike. It's just suffering. Fun, sweet suffering in a nice location.
I'll let you know how it goes.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Burt friggin' Hoovis clues us in on this great, nearly-quite-safe-for-work blog, Take a Report. Basically, the guy says what you're probably thinking, only he says it in funnier ways.
Plus he's willing to post Scary Sarah Jessica Parker hand pictures.
Cripes, that's terrifying. You normally only see hands like that on The Cryptkeeper. Or perhaps reaching up out of the ground in zombie films. Sex in the City my ass - it's clear why she couldn't maintain a long term relationship, given those hands. They're like a Picture of Dorian Gray, except all the aging goes into the back of her hands, rather than her picture on the wall. Random SITC guy gets up, he's eating breakfast in her kitchen, notices those grippers wrapped around a cup of joe, and then blows orange juice right out of his nose, just before he runs screaming out of the room. Meanwhile, she calls her friend, the blonde trampy one, and wants to know why she is always stuck pulling guys who have this thing about blowing orange juice out their nose at breakfast and then running screaming from her apartment... Just like Julia Louise Dreyfuss' character on Seinfeld was insanely hot and the inside joke is that nobody noticed it, Sarah Jessica Parker was sociopathic and a bit scary looking, and nobody was supposed to notice that. I think she'd be pretty attractive if she put on 20 pounds (Renee Zellwegger... white courtesy phone) but I guess she prefers having starving zombie hands.
Speaking of - which of these two is the greatest Zombie flick of 2004 - Sean of the Dead, or the 2005 Zack Snyder remake of Dawn of the Dead?
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
If you could have any one — and only one — bike in the world, what would it be?
Stupid *%^in’ question. That's like starting a theological question with the premise, "Okay, first, let's assume the Pope isn't Catholic." Of course I'm not limited to one bike, and if I was, I'd start stealing other people's bikes until I had more than one.
Besides, as any serious roadie can tell you, it really doesn’t matter which frame you ride, as long as you start with a good wheelset. So my dream bike is a pair of Zipp 404 Clydesdales. I think I’ll opt for a front and rear wheel, rather than a pair of front wheels, for example.
The rest of the dream bike doesn’t matter much, because it's the wheel that matters. So I think I'll put the Zipps on a classic velocipede, which should score me huge points with Sheldon Brown's Ghost.
For a gruppo, I'll have to go with SRAM Red, of course, because it’s wicked light. It might be tough to find an integrated Front Wheel Hub / Crankset for that boneshaker, but I’m sure SRAM has one, and if they don’t maybe Truvativ does, or maybe Zipp would be willing to fabricate one up out of carbon fiber, which will work really, really well on the cast iron frame. Also, you'll notice in the picture the bike has some Ritchey Riser Bars on it. I'm going to ditch them and throw on some Jones H Bars, for sure. On the down side, the bike may be a bit heavy. On the upside, it will be pretty stout in crits.
Failing that I'd just get an Independent Fabrications Crown Jewel or a cross bike with extra wide stays and fork, so I could fit on fatter tires and still ride a little dirt on it.
Do you already have that coveted dream bike? If so, is it everything you hoped it would be? If not, are you working toward getting it? If you’re not working toward getting it, why not?
Hey, what the hell, where did you learn to ask questions in that disorderly fashion? Bad Television Lawyer Law School? Anyhow,
Yeah I’m working toward it. My wife is getting a new HVAC system, new floors, new windows, new bathrooms and a new kitchen. Plus I'm hardly ever drunk to the bejeezus and passed out on the bathroom floor any more. If that’s not working for it, I don’t know what is.
If you had to choose one — and only one — bike route to do every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?
I’d want to ride Scenic Route 40 between Hancock, MD and Cumberland. It’s hilly and doesn’t suit my style but would keep me in good shape, but more importantly the scenery is soul-nourishing. It has the most beautiful views this side of Monument Valley, but it’s much better riding. I haven’t ridden it yet but I’m going to before the end of the summer. Ever had actual lust to ride a road? Yeah, it’s weird.
Hey, anybody up for skipping work one day and knocking out around 100 miles, with about 12,000 feet of climbing, maybe on some Thursday in the next several weeks? Drop me a line, let me know.
What kind of sick person would force another person to ride one and only one bike ride to do for the rest of her / his life?
I don’t know. Marty Nothstein? Seems to me that's the very definition of track racing.
Henri Desgrange used to do that in the TdF, and riders would have to stop on the side of the road in blacksmiths’ shops to fix busted forks and frames, any deviation at all from the course was punishable by disqualification. That got him called “murderer!” and “assassin!” by some of the competitors. Rumor has it Desgrange had to hide between two cars to evade their rage. Or maybe it’s that diminutive prick Ricardo Ricco I’m thinking of.
Do you ride both road and mountain bikes? If both, which do you prefer and why? If only one or the other, why are you so narrowminded?
I love both. What the hell is wrong with you – what kind of mental defect permits you to see the cycling world as having “both kinds” of bike? It’s like when the Blues Brothers find out that Bob’s Country Bunker has both kinds of music – country and western.
“Both” kinds of riding are totally different, and inside of each ”type” of riding are dozens of different styles. That question is like asking a Frenchman, “which is better, wife, mistress, or an exquisite bottle of Chateauneuf de Pape?” There’s simply no way to choose. Plus, this question doesn't even take into account hard-to-quantify kinds of riding, like track racing, BMX, cyclocross and other neither-fish-nor-fowl types of riding.
Oh wait. You asked a question, didn't you?
I like mountain biking because the scenery is always good. Even if your workout sucks for some reason, you can have fun being distracted, going slow, trying little stunts and what not, and MTB racing is an awful lot of fun. It’s just bein’ out in the woods, only faster. I love cross country and think I like endurance racing, but can see how folks love downhill, progressive riding, or short track.
On the other hand road riding is an extremely distinctive pleasure. Training on the road has an amazing purity of purpose and suffering, it is the bike ride stripped down to bare essentials of turning the pedals and suffering, and feeling the speed. There are moments of pleasure but it's like the day you allow yourself an ice cold beer, mid-diet; the little pleasures are better only because the pain tends to be omnipresent. Roadracing is fun, sitting inside a psychotic dogpack running on a treadmill where you can’t get off and somebody keeps hitting the Speed + button over and over again ‘til you can’t take it has its own charm, in a Nurse Ratched sort of way. Then there are group rides where you make good friends, see character revealed and go so far beyond your limits that you don’t recognize the pre-ride self. There’s also charity rides and commuting, and my favorite, Bike & Brew rides.
Each has its place.
Have you ever ridden a recumbent? If so, why? If not, describe the circumstances under which you would ride a recumbent.
Dude, that question is so wrong it’s unbelievable. It’s like asking, “hey, you’re between girlfriends… ever think about banging guys until things pick up on the girl front?”
The answer of course is hells no. Not even once in college. "Not my bag, man," in the words of the immortal Austin Powers.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.
The other things preventing me from riding a recumbent are (1) My facial hair only grows about halfway up my cheek, not up to my lower eyelid, as is mandatory for the bent-ers (I see my brilliant, super-educated scientist friend Jon I eventually gravitating towards bents only because of this facial hair thing); (2) my glasses do not have thin wire rims; (3) I could never manage to smoke a pipe while I ride; (4) I don't have an advanced engineering degree; and, (5) I have a sense of humor about people who ride recumbents and their 'bikes.'
Have you ever raced a triathlon? If so, have you also ever tried strangling yourself with dental floss?
A) Yes, I used to do sprint tris including this one ‘adventure’ tri that featured a paddling section in lieu of the swim. B) No, but I hear it’s preferable to squeezing into a wet suit to swim in the Hudson / The River of a Million Stinging Jellyfish, as it's known to the Manhattan Indians.
Suppose you were forced to either give up ice cream or bicycles for the rest of your life. Which would you give up, and why?
I’d give up ice cream simply because if I gave up bikes I’d only put the bike budget money into ice cream, and do you have any idea how fat I’d be if I ate the ice cream equivalent of the Gross National Product of Liberia each year? Yeah, I’d be a gross national product alright.
So bikes are the better choice to hang onto for health reasons. That, and if I need ice cream, local ice cream junky Jon Seibold is sure to have some stashed in his freezer. He’s like a tweaker when it comes to Cherry Garcia, I hear.Plus it's frickin' hard to ride to work on two scoops of Cold Stone Creamery Vanilla Bean, unless you work very directly beneath your house, which is situated on a steep hill.
Please note that you only asked about giving up ice cream. Proper gelato - sometimes pejoratively described as Italian Ice Cream - is not ice cream in any meaningful sense of the term. I'd probably rather die than give up the gelato. If you doubt me, you've never had proper gelato. I wish I was joking about this. It's like heroin, but it makes you fat instead. Plus it tastes better.
What is a question you think this questionnaire should have asked, but has not? Also, answer it.
Q: Why is road cycling such a frickin’ hopeless sausage fest?
A: Because we’re oblivious to the fact that we’re hopelessly out of touch nerds, as evidenced by this most recent recycling of the “You’re Tagged” meme which, last time I checked, died in 2003. The coolest cyclist in the world is still just the alpha geek among all people in funny looking lycra. We worship Tom Boonen and Cipo, both of whom, without racing, would have trouble passing the coolness test an ordinary hipster can pass even after 21 PBRs and a fistful of X. I’m okay with that; freakish people like me with barely adequate social skills and mutant-level VO2 abilities need somewhere to go, and this is it.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.
You’re riding your bike in the wilderness (if you’re a roadie, you’re on a road, but otherwise the surroundings are quite wilderness-like) and you see a bear. The bear sees you. What do you do?
I throw him my two bottles bottles of Accellerade. I’ve found that among those who try it, 50% instantly love it and find that it makes them faster and stronger. The other 50% immediately get bad gas and debilitating stomach cramps from the gobs of protein in the stuff.
Assuming the bear gets the cramps and gas, I’ll be golden. He’ll be utterly immobilized, and afterwards he'll be telling the other bears that he's overtrained, shouldn't have done intervals yesterday, hasn't been able to shit in the woods properly lately, he's focusing on hibernation season this year, whatever...
If he likes the Accellerade, you’re probably thinking that it will only enhance his ability to run fast and catch me. That’s true, but you neglect the fact that I don’t have to be faster than the bear, I only need to be faster than at least one of the people I’m riding with.
Hey, wanna go riding with me in the Adirondacks next weekend? I hear you've put on a few pounds.
The other part of the tagged meme is to pass it on. I can't pass it to a gazillion people but I can find four people who would probably give entertaining answers: Kyle, Burt Friggin Hoovis, Fat Marc, and Gay Racer. Don't let me down, boys, and when you're done, pass it on to some other people.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Sunday, July 20, 2008
[Shot of shiny Colnago in the background as the screen fades 2 black].
Seriously, I buy car stuff occasionally at Autozone. Running an ad that is at best anti-bicycling every 14 minutes during the Tour de France coverage strikes me as bad business. Most people I know who ride, also drive cars. Seems to me insulting their hobby or preferred mode of transportation is kind of a silly business strategy, especially in light of the wave of new bike commuters we're seeing as a result of rising gas prices.
In an unrelated note, I turned 41 today. That means for a brief, shining two month period, my racing age and actual age are the same. Up to this point, during calendar year 2008, my racing age was 41, actual age was 40. It's a drag always being a full year older than you really are.
Of course this springtime of youthful bliss will come to a crashing end with cyclocross season. In 'cross, your racing age is the racing age you will be when the UCI holds the 'Cross Worlds. Unfortunately for me, Worlds occurs in early January every year. So just having turned 41, and not even having gotten used to formally being on the life's sharp, Savoldelli-esque descent - for Christ's sake I'm just pulling up my Over-the-Hill brand armwarmers and zipping up my Team Mr. Rogers cardigan - I'll be screaming down the hill as a 42 year-old.
As if every race doesn't make every 40+ racer feel quite old enough, thanks.
[Update: just in case you're curious, I celebrated by doing a quick-ish (+/- 55 min) lap at Rosaryville, eating a big breakfast, and watching a spectacular last two hours of today's TdF stage. Buying some home improvement stuff in a bit, hoping to eat some steaks and hit the sack early. A *great* birthday.]
Without getting into stage-spoiling details - how 'bout that Team Garmin/Chipotle/Slipstream/Vaughtersideburns? They're having a hell of a good TdF for a team that is seemingly dope free and largely comprised of good national-level pros (who can just about pass for BigBoy Tour domestiques). Maybe the NRC series is better than we've given it credit for.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Trevor axed me a question today: what cheese? For Trevor and I, the answer is simple. Cottage. He was needling me about 'cross season and my mouth wrote a check that my ass is going to have trouble cashing - I said I'd be kicking his ass come 'cross season. I'm sure he's saying "we'll see about that," and when he reads this, he's going to know it's in writing, so it's on. Challenges are good. As for you chirrets, I have no special cheese to recommend today. It's a somewhat hilly, rolling stage, akin to a good one day classic like La Primavera. A spicy stage, kind of like a good Roquefort, which has more ties to the central Pyrenees than today's stage, but oh well. If you must have cheese, I recommend a nice Roquefort with a peppery red wine, or a Belgian farmhouse or golden ale. Maybe Ryan has some beverage suggestions.
As for tomorrow, we're heading into the mountains, and traveling from Embrun to Prato Nevoso, Italy, which will give the rider's a chance to try some famous Raschera cheese. It's a semi-soft cow's milk cheese that can vary quite a bit in flavor, depending on the altitude at which the cows graze, or, I suppose, whether the cows sleep in an oxygen deprivation tent like some of our favorite riders. The cheese from the higher-grazing cows should be denoted by an alpine (d'alpeggio) designation. Raschera is a regional name, and under EU laws, like Parma ham and Roquefort cheese, if it's called Raschera and produced in Europe, it is from that region, which is in the Piedmont. It's generally a nutty, mild cheese with a touch of salt; it can be a little tangy if allowed to develop some blue spots - there's some variation depending on those wind-sucking cows and how long it's allowed to age. Heaven forfend, it would be wonderful at breakfast served atop some Vollkorn Brot - that dark, thin-sliced nutty German style bread, perhaps with a thin layer of Danish butter on the bread to really load up your palate with flavor, and your arteries with cholesterol. This is a good option if you're watching the TdF in the morning. If you're having the cheese on its own, in the evening, what to drink with it? I haven't a clue, but I'd consider some kind of fruity white Italian, maybe a Pinot Grigio, a Soave, or an Orvieto. Some white grapes and strawberries would go pretty well alongside it too.
Note: added to the blogroll - John P's The Long Ride.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Phil Liggett - suspected of doping early in a flat stage of the 2008 TdF when, for five straight minutes, he failed to say "reaching into his suitcase of courage," "oh, he's in a spot of bother now," or "sorry for the picture breakup." The doping accusations were quashed when Bob Roll noticed unemployed Al Trautwig rooting around the back of the Versus trailer, playing with the switch to Liggett's neverending voice tape loop.
Update: Leonardo Piepoli – first suspected of doping in the 2007 Giro d’Italia when he inexplicably hauled Ricardo Ricco up several mountains only to give him the wins. Confirmed
Cadel Evans - suspected of being on Xanax, Lithium, Quaaludes and other mood levelers and depressents. First suspected when he claimed to be "racing" for three straight weeks in July, 2007, but then never made any efforts to actually race for nearly three straight weeks.
Vaughters - LSD. More than you can imagine. It's not for nothing that he was known as "The Doctor Albert Hoffman of the Peloton." Probably Timothy Leary's love child.
George Hincapie - magic mushrooms. First suspected when he started waving his arms and reaching for things that were imaginary or forever just out of his grasp - like the big cobblestone trophy that Paris-Roubaix winners get or imaginary GC chances in the TdF.
Paul Sherwen - alleged to be doping when he said something amusing in 2002. Aware that he was under suspicion, he immediately ceased engaging in any amusing banter.
Al Trautwig - not doping, just clueless.
Christian Van de Velde - suspected of doping when lifelong high quality domestique in the peak of his career found himself in third in a TdF where none of the contenders bothered to attack. Additionally suspected due to membership on a team that regularly tests itself, now believed to be guilty under the theory that "methinks the argyle gentleman pre-testeth too much."
Dave Zabriskie - not suspected of doping. Just goofy.
Lars Ulrich - first evidence of doping came after "And Justice For All" made the Billboard LP Top Ten in 1987, which was a total sellout that early fans completely rejected. Still, Ulrich perservered and won the TdF in 1997 before retiring under a cloud in 2003, and testifying before Congress about what a kick in the balls Napster was to the band's profits. Not surprised by the doping allegations; Ulrich has long been known to live like a rock star.
Bernard Hinault - historically thought to be a clean rider until the 2008 Tour, when he kicked smelly hippy ass on the road, and even more smelly hippy ass when said smelly hippy attempted to occupy the podium. Definitely synthetic testosterone - gobs and gobs of it.
Frank VandenBroucke - first suspected of doping during his pre-gestational stages. Substance: everything. VandenBroucke's presence in Italy in 2005 resulted in Cocaine being placed on the Endangered Species List.
Tyler Hamilton - Oxycodone. First use - 2004. Only Hillbilly Heroin is strong enough to make anybody older than 5 years of age claim that their non-existent imaginary twin actually did it.
Tom Boonen - first suspected of doping in early 2008. Substance: Viagra, Thai Stick, and Thai 14 year olds. Hey, you just haven't lived until you've been pulled over in your Porsche, coked up to the gills, doing 180 MPH with an underage girl and a world championship jersey on the back seat and the radio playing a techno song talking about your greatness. Take my word on that.
Ivan Basso - not a doper. It's just that he's such an unpopular loser, he thought he could fit in with the cool kids if he said he took drugs. In reality, he's straighter than an arrow, and a great kid. But boy, is he ever paying for lying about his hobbies. Or am I thinking about an old ABC After School Special I saw on TVLand the other week?
Christophe Moreau - tested positive for using anabolic steroids in the late 90's. Reformed, but recently accused of doping when he switched from from
Me - I can't believe I give a shit about racing. Seriously. So many of these guys are just shitheads. There are enough cheaters, even knowing damn well that the French are going to go hog wild with testing, to totally call into question all results. Yet still I watch the race. What the hell... I don't remember taking anything... maybe my wife is slipping something into my Metamucil.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
It was a rest day at the TdF, with the riders napping and getting massages and maybe doing a 25 mile easy spin too, VandeVelde thanking his lucky stars, the Golden Crash Monkey stewing in his own juices and getting ready to unleash his General Offensive in the next few stages - that offensive being comprised primarily of boring his opponents to death with non-attacks. Today - the tape of today's stage to Foix is still on so no spoilers. Yeah, Bob Roll, I get the message - if I'm in a break with Allesandro Ballan, I need to get the hell out of there or he'll beat me in the sprint. Could you say it again? I think my speakers are actually starting to echo that sentiment even when you aren't talking.
No cheese, no booze today. Meanwhile, here's a really fascinating article on how a good quality farm was run around the turn of the last century. There's a lesson in it for you if you want better composting and a better garden. Amazing how sharp the author's grandfather was, what a bright man he must have been.
Which brings up a side point.
Back when I was a kid, my father used to take great joy in riding on very old roads which flowed nicely with the lay of the land, of which there were many in Upstate New York. I'm talking real Upstate, not the "Upstate" where stock brokers live when they aren't living at their office in Manhattan.
He used to say, "You see this grade, and the way the road goes over this hill? The old boys did this without calculators or even slide rules. They couldn't go through the hill, so they had to work with it. Those old timers knew a thing or two."
My father had a great admiration for the craftsmanship that "old timers" - the men who lived roughly from the period of the French & Indian War up to the 1930's, put into their work. Many of the technologies we enjoy today simply didn't exist, so they had to do things the hard way. For instance, hand-carved dovetail joints are a response to the fairly low quality natural glues of the day. Roads that follow the brow of a hill, instead of bypassing it by a long distance or cutting through the middle of the hill, are what resulted from a lack of dynamite and heavy movers that would have permitted a blast & build approach, or a highway-style bypass. Heavily overbuilt old bridges and planes used to make him chuckle; thirty years before I heard anybody else make the same point, he was saying that "the old boys just didn't know how light they could actually make something, so they overbuilt just about everything." Possibly his favorite engineering feat in the entire world was the Douglas DC-3, military version C-47, the most overbuilt, durable, survivable, and long-serving aircraft in the world. Many of them built 60+ years ago are still in service. The old man loved that.
I share some of the same fascination that he did, and the interesting thing I find is that it is cross-cutting. I love old roads and adore old tools - I have a woodplane that my grandfather used, and when I use it on a woodworking project, I admire its heft and durability, and the history that is in it. I have an even older set of tools that belonged to my wife's great-grandfather - we're talking handmade tools, planes with bodies made out of wood and shop-cut, improvised steel blades.
It hits me, sometimes, that we're in an era of things the common man can't possibly understand. Those old tools - a basically competent man or woman could figure them out, and learn to make one pretty easily. My grandfather's plane was harder to make, but he was a machinist and if push came to shove, he probably could have knocked one out. On the other hand a nice planer from the local woodworking shop is beyond the skill level of all but the most talented technicians, and even those would have to have experience in making this line of specialized tool to be able to manufacturer a planer.
So too our bikes. I was reading about the old pros in the TdF having to stop at local blacksmith's forges to fix the forks and frames on their bikes. How many of you think you could learn to weld and do very basic metal fabrication? Probably most of you. Blacksmithing is a bit of an art, but you could probably learn to do the same welding and fabrication in a smithy, given a bit of time. But could any of you repair a carbon fiber frame to the point where it was suitable to ride? That would be a much tougher gig, wouldn't it?
While specialization brings us great advantages, it brings great disadvantages too. If you need a legal issue resolve in a couple areas of law, I could hook you right up, providing it's the right area. But if you needed a will executed, or a DWI tried or pled out, it would be a huge stretch for me to try to do what the old school general practitioners could do for you without blinking. I may have some blingy-sounding things to say about what I can do, but my knowledge is an inch wide and a mile deep; broad general knowledge and horse sense may be more useful than what I know in the long run.
So what does this have to do with bikes? Well, maybe not a lot, or maybe some. I've been starting to get ready for 'cross season, and this means more focused training on the Powertap-equipped carbon bike. It's a lovely, lovely bike to ride, smooth and efficient, and most of all comfortable to ride. Yet I miss the hell out of my fixed gear, which I ride quite a bit over the winter. The fixie is a welded steel framed Surly Crosscheck which would look familiar to Charlie Gaul. It has a flip-flop hub and the rims are simple box section deals from Salsa, steel I believe. There's nothing fancy about it, in fact it rides a little bit raw compared to carbon with tubulars, but it's a damn good bike, and damned if the basic design isn't the same as what the TdF riders rode 80 years ago. You could fix the thing in a blacksmith's forge if it broke. Sure, it's got a modern stem, and the orange bar tape isn't exactly olde skoole, but everything else would be recognizable to Pellisier. Riding it is a bit different too; you're a bit closer to the truth about your skills as a rider on a fixie, and the truth about the essential nature of a bicycle is nearer within your grasp compared to a 15 pound carbon wunder-cycle, which may function wonderfully but which bears little resembles to a normal bicycle. My fixie is the one bike I really miss riding when I haven't hit it for a while, and it (along with my single speed MTB) is the only bike I ride through horrible conditions without a worry about whether it will hurt the bike.
So what does this talk about bikes have to do with my riff on life? Well, it's about the old timers. My father was right. They knew some things. A lot of people talk smack about how bad the old days were, and yes, there were some social problems and life was tough, but in some ways the old days were better. People weren't so specialized as to be useless outside of their narrow little corner of the world. Yes, the old timers wanted an easier life for future generations, and they would tell you. There ain't no glory in things being unnecessarily hard. We got the good life the old timers wanted for us, and we know it's easy, so one we know for sure is that the old timers were right about life being tough and how making life easier through technology would benefit us. If there's anything that market economics has taught us it's that specialization in economic endeavors creates greater profit. Old timer Adam Smith taught us that, for what it's worth. Greater profit equals greater standard of living, and you only get to that greater profit with greater specialization. So your inability to do your own indoor plumbing is connected, maybe ineluctably, to your narrow (and lucrative) expertise in your job. That the carbon bike is wonderful is a result of specialization in materials, design and manufacture; that I can't fabricate, design or build it due to its specialization is one consequence of its specialization. On the other hand, I could learn to make a Crosscheck pretty easily, could learn to fix it, and in fixie trim, by God, it isn't going to break or be hard to adjust. It is the stone ax of bicycles, and will hang in there long after the carbon bike gets terminally out of tune or cracks.
Steel bikes, fixed gears, wool jerseys and eating real food on the road. They may not be the easiest way to get things done, but like the roads designed by the old boys, they damn well get it done, and often under conditions that ultra-modern kit wouldn't hack.
Yep. Them old timers knew a thing or two.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Y'know. Because riders who use a Powertap are doing it just to cover up for their doping, right?
That Kimmage is so quick to point the finger at Lim, when Phonak had a history of riders with synthetic testosterone busts, tells you that his piece is a poorly-researched or poorly thought out hit job. That drug was a problem on Phonak long before Floyd got there; it didn't show up with Lim.
I used to think Kimmage deserved some respect for writing "Rough Road." I'd thought it was a principled rejection of drug culture, and that he isn't the asshole a lot of people seem to think he is.
Oh well. I guess I was mistaken. It happens.
This doesn't take away from the glory of today's stage, up and over Tourmalet, and later up Hautacam. Damn. That's more climbing in a day than most people do on a bicycle in their entire lives. The surprise of the day wasn't the great climber Piepoli winning it for Saunier Duval. The surprise was VandeVelde, hanging in with the G.C. contenders, keeping a grip on third place, and even initiating some accelerations on the final hill.
The Bethmale cheese was pretty nice, a subtle, tangy cheese, slightly soft, and very creamy on the palate. It was milder than a lot of goat cheeses, and tasted just a little salty. Accompanied by a robust red burgundy, it was just the ticket for watching the last hour or two of suffering.
Tomorrow is a rest day. The cheese for tomorrow is - Kraft American Slices, melted onto some nice grilled hamburgers. Mmmmmmm. The proper drink is an ice cold Miller High Life.
It's time to celebrate the unholy hell that the French Revolution, with its cry of "liberty, equality, and fraternity" unleashed on France. Like most revolutions, it sounded great, had some convincing reasoning behind it, caused a senseless bloodbath, and moved the country from a horrible, out-of-touch dictatorship into a much more enlightened form of government, which was a really horrible, out-of-touch dictatorship. It was superior to the old absolute monarchy, however, because it had really good slogans. Like "liberty, equality, fraternity." Unfortunately, the revolution triggered roughly 150 years of electoral instability. Whooooops...
We're going to celebrate it by watching a bunch of second tier French riders duke it out with the Tour de France contenders, and we're going to eat some cheese. The cheese we're going to eat is Bethmale, among the most famous of the Pyrenees (sometimes goat) cheeses. It boggles the mind to think about "famous goat cheeses," but we're talking about France here, so maybe it isn't so mind boggling at all.
You should enjoy the cheese, and stroking your chin like a philosopher, ponder the damage that dopers cause to our sport. No, I'm not talking about the arrest and scandals, I'm talking about articles like this one by Neal Rogers, raising questions about Riccardo Ricco's excellent (but not exactly super human) effort to put 1:17 into the peloton by crushing the final climb of the day, and then descending as fast as everybody else. According to Rogers,
Riccò’s ride had fans and journalists buzzing over a display of strength that bordered on the implausible at a Tour that is desperately trying to re-establish credibility after two years of scandal.
Really? Ricardo Ricco, the diminutive climber, having a really good performance on a 15% grade mountain? Seriously, where the hell has Neal Rogers been the last two years? Ricardo Rico can't do a lot of things on a bike - yet. He's not much of a time trialer, and he's a lousy rouleur. He's one of the guys who is likely to have a lot of trouble if he gets off the back on a windy day, as happened to Christophe Moreau last year.
But Ricco can climb very, very well, and has been an off-the-front climber since he moved into roadracing from cyclocross.
But this comes as a surprise to Neal Rogers. According to rogers, the fact that Ricco "admires Pantani is troubling to some." Let's see, a diminutive Italian neo-pro who is a climbing specialist admires a dead, diminutive climbing pro who was perhaps the most beloved racer in Italy since Fausto Coppi? Oh yeah, totally suspicious. I'd give him 20 years for that. What other evidence does Rogers have of doping?
Well, "rumors of suspicion circulated throughout the Tour after French newspaper Libération reported Saturday that the Italian had been tested four times by the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) since the race left Brest seven days earlier." Really? So I guess we should presume that Columbia and Garmin are doped to the frickin' gills, since they get tested *all* the time.
There's other damning evidence too. One of his support crew is a masseur who once was involved in doping. Okay, fine - everybody in pro cycling who hasn't been involved in doping, please raise your hands. Bueller? Bueller?
Okay, now that's all rumor. But Rogers goes past rumor mongerinng, and really turns the truth on its head, stating:
Riccò has a UCI certificate verifying that he has a naturally high hematocrit of 51 percent, one point higher than the UCI limit of 50 percent established at the 1997 Paris-Nice as indication, but not proof, of blood manipulation.
Okay, news flash. The UCI doesn't give certificates indicating that your blood has been manipulated. It gives certificates to riders who have unusual physical characteristics. It isn't unusual for pro-level riders to have a hematocrit over 50. 50 happens to be the magic number, above which riders are automatically suspended for two weeks for doping until an investigation may be completed. The problem is, there are people who have a natural hematocrit at or above 50. (Full disclosure: now that I actually pay attention when I get phsyicals and stuff, I've found that my natural hematocrit varies between 48 and 49 - if I trained a bit better, riding at altitude a bit - I'd be a doper in Rogers' book too.) Just because Ricco has this certificate does not mean he's a doper, or under suspicion of doping. It just means that he was able to substantiate the fact that he has naturally high hematocrit. Finding a pro rider with naturally high hematocrit is about as unusual as finding NBA players who are 6'10" - yeah, they're gifted, but there's no trickery involved.
As the final nail in the coffin, that last bit of 'proof' Ricco is doping, Rogers tells us that:
Riccò also finds himself repeatedly under the microscope due to his inclination towards unabashed trash talking. . .
What the hell? So a guy chews out the peloton for riding too much "piano," he should be under suspicion for doping?
If this is what passes for a story at Velo News today, they should change their name to something more apt, like the Velo Enquirerer, or perhaps the Weekly World Velo News. There's nothing wrong with anti-doping, you all know I'm strongly in favor of it, and there is nothing wrong with investigative reporting, but to report a collection of rumors that stop just short of alleging a leading young pro talent is doping, is pretty shameful. Doing it the way Rogers does, not with direct accusations but reporting rumors and attributing them to unidentified sources, is particularly gutless. That he tapdances just on this side of libel doesn't really make it any more noble.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Good! That's all I can say.
It's not a doping scandal. The sport is catching the rogues, and throwing them the f*** out.
You think the NFL is policing itself like this year after year? No, I don't think so.
Frequent commenter and Friend of the Rouleur (FOTR) Big Mike notes Beltran's forcible disappearance from the Tour below. It takes a special kind of stupid to be doping at this year's Tour, where the organizers signaled the games would be played under French rules, and the two best performing teams so far are the two most conspicuously anti-dope teams. Bob Roll notes that the French teams, which have sucked since France imposed heavy sanctions for doping, are having a good Tour as well. You know why that is? It's not because Sylvain Chavanel is suddenly a better rider. It's because everybody is somewhat cleaner. I'm sure it's not perfect, but it's obvious that it's better.
Yes, Beltran is a collosal asshat. France is a country that doesn't just take money and medals from dopers, it sends them to jail, with fairly minimal due process. And oh yeah, the French prison wardens don't take none of that crap about human rights laws requiring ESPN 8, The Ocho, HBO2, and Lifetime. A special, special kind of stupid.
Fortunately for web bloviators like myself, Beltran is that special kind of stupid. He gives us lots of material to fulminate over. Matter of fact, I'm so grateful, I'm going to change the blog header in honor of Beltran's jackassery.
For those familiar with the better rugby clubs of Her Majesty's Empire, upon which the sun only sets periodically, it is time to sing The Hymn in honor of Mr. Beltran.
I ask you all to rise, prepare to sing Gregorian chant in bass-baritone, and intone along with me:
HymmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmnThank you. Let us go in relative peace, this afternoon's races, townline sprints, and TdF-watching booze sessions notwithstanding.
Friday, July 11, 2008
As Ive said before- I want to believe that these gods among men are truly
capable of the achievements Ive watched completed with baited breath year
after year, but as every disgrace and scandal rears its head, and the he-
said-she-said finger pointing comes to a climax, Im increasingly unable to
invest the same passions I once was.
You know, except for the Roubaix. We all know how I feel about the
Roubaix... And as long as you're stuck here reading my words, Ill reiterate. I
think that all of the classics, but most especially 'The Hell of The North',
looks down its collective nose at all of the pissant controversy and chuckles as
it casually rolls up all of the doping alligations, the infighting, designer
sunglasses, posturing and the Rock and Republic jeans, and flicks it off
like a booger.
Yeah, that's about right. A race where winning it may cause you permanent nerve damage in your hands, where your steerer tube may just snap, where you may be covered in coal mud and pig shit by the time you win it, is the ultimate "Fuck YOU!" to the technologists, the dopers, the nerdy doctors in skinny glasses.
Every race shouldn't be like Roubaix. If it was, nobody would race. Nobody could take the pounding, the wear and tear, the spiritual beating.
But having one Roubaix is right to remind us of the extremely elemental nature of our sport - it is man plus machine against the elements, and the battle takes place in the squared circle called suffering. The competitor that can stay in the ring longest, wins. There are races where the competitors seem to beat the road into submission - the long, pan flat TdF stages are like that. A walk in the park for a pro. Yet at Roubaix, nobody beats the road. The road beats all, but the last man standing, hanging on by the fingernails of his numb hands, his skinned knees, muddy face, aching back - that's the guy who wins. They're *all* inadequate before that road, but the winner is the guy who is magnificently the least inadequate of the bunch.
In contrast, the TdF is wine and cheese. There are hard parts, none more so than riding mostly pretty hard for 20 days. It's some *long* days at the office for these guys, and the mountains are hell. But it's a carnival and a chess match as much as it is a race.
You don't have to reject one just because you love the 0ther. I remember the races I love and try to appreciate the other races for what they are. The racing in the TdF - it's not exactly hard core sometimes, and when it isn't, I make a point of sitting in front of the TV in a zen state, blissing out watching the scenery, and maybe being social. For Roubaix, I'm glued to the screen, on the edge of my seat and telling the kid and the dog to leave me alone. In the end, it's all good, it's just two very different things.
Like life, variety is what makes it interesting. It's good that the Tour and Roubaix only come around once a year. The variety of the racing scene, the scarcity of each particular race, is what makes it special. Even the best champagne wouldn't taste so good for a while if it it ran from every tap in the house.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Or how 'bout this. You're roller blading up the Capital Crescent Trail. You're looking smooth in those tiny white shorts that may you look really hot, and a slick little halter top. You're rocking the Flobots "Handlebars" on the I-Pod. Guys are checkin' you out. Life is sweet. Well, except for the fact that you seem to have wiped out earlier, torn the left side of the seat right out of the shorts, and your cute little perky left butt cheek is now covered, 100%, with a huge, fresh, bleeding road rash, and some fat guy on a bike just rode by laughing uncontrollably at you. Dammmmmit!
What about this - you're kickin' ass on the bike trail this morning, passing guys like nothing. Some fat dude is spinning at like a hundred miles an hour. What a f***stick! He's barely doing moving. He must be in complete ass bad shape, to have to spin like that on a downhill. What a 'tard, spinning like that! So you do a quick standing sprint to get past him. But oddly, you don't seem to be able to pull away. Clearly this requires the head bobbing, pulling on the handlebar mashing. That's not working? Oh, damn. Well, maybe another standing sprint? That guy is still there? Shit, what a loser, he has total derailer rub and you can hear him spinning like 130 RPM. Freddd! So you hammer like hell all the way down the hill, and the loser is still there, not sitting in but about three bike lengths back, and every couple hundred yards he starts free wheeling for like 20 seconds. What the hell... oh well, you'll drop him on the flat where it gets hard to pedal. So you hit the flat, and do a standing effort to really get some speed goin'. You're doin' 20, 21... it's hard so you have to do the handlebar pulling and head bobbing trick to really get hammering, but you're rockin' it like Lance Armstrong, the bicyclist... and then that fat f*** comes spinning by at like 75 RPM, in 53-11. Jeeeezus! What the hell... He must be doing close to 30, and there's a huuuge headwind...oh, God, this is so embarassing... I knew I should have driven to work or maybe taken Metro.
Or how 'bout this one. You missed your race, you're going to skip your race on the weekend, so you decide to just add an interval workout. What would be a good one? Hey, how 'bout 3 times 10 minutes low cadence big ring/tiny cog, aka Make The Bad Man Stop Muscular Endurance Intervals. You do like three straight personal best 10 minute power intervals, in severe pain, then meet a friend who is doing the same thing, basically, but in aero bars. So you hold his wheel for 7-8 minutes and try to be social. Nice, another huge >threshold effort. Then you go to the office, forget to take your towel to the shower, have to dry off with paper towels, go back to your desk, and have to put your head down on your desk because you feel so ill with lactic acid. As your forehead slumps to the desk you realize that your teeth hurt really bad because you were grinding them during the intervals, or perhaps in anticipation of the morning staff meeting, and you realize that your dental insurance has lapsed because you were too stupid to call the benefits coordinator, and oh by the way it feels like that molar is chipped. Yeah, your priorities are all in the right place.
So it was a really funny day today, just in very dark sorts of ways. Funny people on the bike trail, strong but stupid intervals, Stefan Shumacher takes himself out of the Maillot Jaune and nearly takes Kim Kirchen out of the race with a stupid half-wheeling mistake that a Cat 4 shouldn't make... at least I enjoyed the spectacle with some nice St. Agur cheese, and a fruity cabernet. Yes, it was boxed wine. Oh, the horror, the horror. And while you're cringing away from me, keep movin' there, Crispin, and don't stop until you're out on the doorstep. Spare the snobbery. Some box wines are pretty decent, not great wine but table quality+, and honestly, a lot of the time, I could just use a reasonably tasty drink. Yet opening a whole bottle would lead to it going to waste. So I hit up some wine-in-a-box tonight, savored the cheese (after some regionally appropriate pork chops with a cranberry vinaigrette spinach salad, and enjoyed watching the suffering. For its part, the cheese was almost buttery in texture, with an understated tang to it for a blue cheese. It had a little garlic tone, a lot of salt flavor, some carmel, and a fairly strong mushroom taste to it. For my part, while munching cheese and contemplating life, the universe, and the unbearable lightness of being Pat McQuaid, it occurred to me that the TdF is organized a lot more like the Giro this year - shorter stages, mixing the suffering into a lot of the early stages, less spectacular mountain suffering epics - well, shorter rides, anyhow, with shorter transits crammed in between the big mountains. That's making it more of anybody's race. Makes it interesting, a real racer's race. I notice it's also enticed a lot of the I-talians into riding as well. That is a wonderful development.
And whose race is it right now? Here's your top six:
1. Kim Kirchen (LUX), Team Columbia
2. Cadel Evans (AUS), Silence-Lotto at 0:06.
3. Stefan Schumacher (GER), Gerolsteiner at 0:16.
4. Christian Vande Velde (USA), Garmin-Chipotle at 0:44.
5. David Millar (GBR), Garmin-Chipotle at 0:47.
6. Thomas Lovkvist (SWE), Team Columbia at 0:54.
Notice something funny about that? The two U.S.-based teams, including the one built around guys who don't quite fit and domestic pros, are dominating the top six. Oh, they probably won't hold on here for long - there are too many insanely talented Italian and Spanish climbers who will come to the fore when they hit the mountains. But for now, they are having a dominant day in the sun. Best of all, I'm quite confident Garmin is clean, and reasonably confident that Columbia is. Hey, maybe you can do this sport clean if the organizers ease off just a touch on the race distances, and teams focus on transparency. Bob Roll made an interesting comment tonight - "the French teams are having a good Tour." He's a smart cookie, and I'm pretty sure he knows that French anti-doping efforts are quite serious, and the French riders all protest they get their asses kicked because they are clean. What happens when the whole pack is clean, or at least clean-er? Clean teams that train hard and ride smart come to the front.
As for tomorrow - we have a stage coming up that is bumpier than a Christie Brinkley marital relationship. It goes up and across part of the Massif Central, from Brioude to Aurillac, through the Cantal region. I'm looking forward to breaking into the Cantal cheese tomorrow night - it is an exceptionally hearty, tasteful cheese. Interestingly, it is the cheese that all other french cheeses are named for. Cantal cheese is immensely ancient, and it is formed into a wheel in a round wooden bucket, a frommade. From that ancient word describing a bucket comes the French word for cheese, frommage. That word is totally unrelated to frottage, a French word believed to be a transliteration of "Charlie Sheen." Joking aside, Cantal is one of the most amazing, delightful, rewarding cheeses I've ever eaten.
Sure, you people can call me a Frenchman in an elderly German businessman's body, a cheese eating surrender australopithecus, but I prefer to think of myself as a cheesehead. Good cheese is like any other tasty thing; you should never feel ashamed of yourself for liking stuff that tastes good, unless you're one of the people who tries to make people feel small if they haven't been turned onto it first. Shouldn't be that way at all, I'm just trying to share with you some stuff I like.
Anyhoow, it looks to be a real cracker of a stage, cheese allusions notwithstanding. Why don't you head over to Ryan's Service Course, and check out what he's recommending to drink. You may want to read what he says about fair weather bike racing fans drinking the Lance-flavored Kool-Aid while you're over there. Good stuff.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Sadly, I have no cheese to recommend to you.
For Christ's sake, this stage is a pan-flat 232 kilometers! In grown-up distances, that's around 125 miles. And, unlike you when you're doing a "century," they are *actually* hammering, not pretending they are hammering.
Do you have any idea how boring this must be for 90% of the racers?
While the sprinters are sitting there looking at each other and their road captains like the little dog bounding around the big mastiff in the old Loony Toons cartoons (Can I sprint now Spike? Can I? Huh? Huh? Please? Just a little one?) everybody else is wondering how to avoid falling asleep on the bike for what is basically a 6 hour session on the rollers.
Sure, they can throw water bottles at the spectators, or pause to take a crap and wipe their butt with a local picnic-er's tablecloth, as Bob Roll claims to have done. But there isn't a lot happening today.
So what do you do? Why, you drink your mother-loving face off with that Sancerre, and you eat some fresh fruit with it. Just like living in a fraternity, when you read this blog, if you're in doubt, drink up!
Not only is fruit a good compliment to Sancerre, but it is one of the things the Loire is really good at producing. So have some grapes, some apples, some cheese, and if you have to temper it with something... Bacon!
Okay, you don't need to eat bacon, but they are known for white meat dishes in the Loire Valley, and other than the occasional Coq au Vin, by "white meat" I don't mean chicken. Tourangelle soup (vegetable soup made with salt pork), various pork dishes with mushrooms and figs and tomatoes and other fruity bits (this is peasant food here), and for those Rouleurs of a darker persuasion, French soul food - Jargeau sausages, aka stuffed chitlins. Yes, I said "chitlins" and not "chitterlings." But it's okay, chirrets - I speak jive. Lookie here. I can dig grease 'n chompin' on some buns and draggin' through the garden. Anyhow, if you don't have any of that handy, and you need to chomp on something for the last hour of the tape-delayed evening showing of the day's stage, I recommend pork rinds, or perhaps Spam, which I think is made from pig parts but nobody really knows for sure, just that it's worshipped in Hawaai and in my house when I've been on a three day bender.
For tomorrow, the route will go from Aigurande, to Super-Besse, a town named for huge cows with amazing powers, I think.
But seriously, it is going into the heart of the Auvergne region, and to celebrate that, we should take a swing at the St. Agur cheese, a creamy, butterfatty bleu cheese that goes well with fruits like sliced apples. I'll leave it up to Ryan to pick the proper beverage to accompany it.
For stage 8, a trip through the Cantal mountains, we'll need to get some Cantal cheese. That's just a warning for you; more on Cantal tomorrow night.
Monday, July 07, 2008
Another thing races teaches you is to never ever quit. You can go way, way deeper than you would ever imagine. Until you know how far you can go, how far past your perceived limits you can travel, you just don’t know. So we race because we just don’t know how good we can be. Like salmon heading upstream, some of us are going to make it. The rest of us… well…
Those two lessons put together help teach the third lesson that racing has to offer. Don’t just race, but enjoy the ride no matter what it entails. I think Gustav Hasford, in The Short Timers, said “the Dead know one thing: it is better to be alive.” So too racers – we know that racing is better than not racing, and watching races is better than not.
The bottom line is life is short – you need to wring as much out of it as you can. You get just one shot.
But how can you make your TdF experience better? Would you hire a soigneur to rub your ass, when it gets sore from sitting on your old sofa while you watch the telly? Would you invite Johann Bruyneel and Levi Leipheimer in (what the hell... they aren’t doing anything) to team up, with Bruyneel driving your wet bar and Leipheimer bringing you drinks and snacks every few minutes?
Well, maybe so, if you've got Michael Ball's money. But a good place for the rest of us to start is by making the TdF a little bit less of a three hour nightly punishment session for your wife, husband, SO or roommates. Make an event out of watching the Tour. Have some fun with it. And treat yourself right in the process.
One of the best ways to do this is the way we keep non-football fans pacified during football season – good food and drink. Over the next few weeks I’ll work with Ryan to try to lay out some regionally appropriate snacks and drinks to enjoy with particular stages of the Tour. If you make a little effort to turn each night into an event, you might find yourself converting a few of your prisoners to fans.
For our first treat, one you probably won’t have a chance to purchase, let’s try a cheese appropriate to Brittany, Chaubier. Chaubier is a workmanlike cheese from the Nantes region where today’s stage ended. Perfect for the early stages, it has a cheddary texture, yet is still sort of creamy with a tangy, nutty flavor. It’s really good with grapes and strawberries, and would benefit from being paired with a solid white or a gentle French red, or, what the heck, some nice cider as Ryan suggests.
Matter of fact, while you're considering getting some cheese, let’s look at what cheeses you’d like for various stages. You may be able to get these from the local fromagerie, Dean & DiLuca, or a local gourmet shop. Or you can do what I do and order an assortment from I-Gourmet through Amazon.
There are a lot of stages going through and around the Massif Central, the immense range of mountains and plateau in south central France. Fittingly, there are several cheeses appropriate to these stages. Ryan may offer drink suggestions, I may offer a few of my own.
One cheese from the Massif Central is St. Agur Cheese, a Blue (Bleu?) from the Auvergne region, which covers much of the Massif. Massif Central, mild blue, modern in origin (1988), a double cream cheese with lots of butterfat. We're told it is excellent on apple slices or on raisin bread, or just plain French bread accompanied by fruit. I might actually throw some in an walnut/vinaigrette salad with lots of fresh baby spinach, and some thin sliced Granny Smith apples.
Another cheese from Auvergne, one of the great cheeses in the history of the world is Cantal. It is an ancient and honorable cheese, mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Historia Naturalis, which was the first encyclopedia. It is an excellent nutty, buttery cheese, firm with a tangy kick at the end - just like we hope we'll see in Stage 7, which travels through the Cantal mountains. I'd be inclined to have this cheese with a slightly sweet farmhouse ale or one of the sweeter lambic beers (peche, framboise). Ryan may have other ideas.
Going into the Pyrenees on Stage 9 on July 13, riding from Toulouse to Bagnères-de-Bigorre, the start of the Pyrenees, I'd recommend Frommage Abbaye de Belloc, from the Pays Basque region of Aquitaine, a gateway into the the French Pyrenees. Dense, rich textured sheeps milk cheese, it has carmel flavors.
On July 14th, Bastille Day and the second day in the Pyrennees, a fitting cheese would be Bethmale – a famous cheese of the Pyrenees. It is a somewhat hard goats milk cheese, with a bit of solid flavor to it. Excellent served with nuts, olives, ham (I might rock some Proscuitto here) and a robust wine (like a Spanish Rioja, a Beaujolais or maybe a Languedoc) that can hold its own against this character-filled cheese.
Moving into the French Alps later in the tour, I'd recommend a French Emmentaler, from Chamonix, near Mont Blanc. Emmentaler is a subtle cheese, it melts well, should be creamy, and may taste a bit like walnuts. Yeah, you can make fondue with it, but I'd be inclined to eat it with a white German halbtrocken or maybe even a sweet gewurztraminer. This would be a good cheese for Stage 16, from Cuneo, Italy to Jausiers France, in the French Alps.
Friday, July 04, 2008
All those caveats aside, sometimes I have to wonder if he rides fast only because he's trying to get home in time, 'cuz it's ten minutes to Wapner.
Take today, for instance. He joined me for the Coppi Muffin Ride for an early AM easy spin. We met up at my place at 5:35, packed up my truck and headed downtown. As we headed downtown, we drove through some rainshowers. It was nervous for a few minutes as we wondered if the ride would get cancelled by thunderstorms, but as we headed south into Arlington the weather cleared, and we had a great ride, along with the usual coffee and yap session at the Java Shack.
After, we drove back to Crofton and as we pulled into my house, there was Kyle's car with the back door wide open! There were puddles in the back seat on the floor. "Oh no..." he says. "It rained in my car, dude."
Res ipsa loquitur.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
I ate dinner tonight at the local Vietnamese restaurant. It was hard to get a seat because a couple local families - about 25-30 people in each - were sitting in there, in long banks of tables put together. They were getting a start on the July 4th Independence Day holiday. They were talking about the coming fireworks, making sure the kids ate their Pho, and talking about daily business. There were some elderly folks, middle aged folks, and families with young kids. All of them over the age of 30 spoke English with strong Vietnamese accents. It kind of brought it home to me what a great country we have and how lucky we are to be here. We fool around on our bicycles. Most of us have nice cars and homes, out of our own volition. We have jobs that pay well, where we do stuff. We have personal economic and political autonomy. If we want to be Mr. Plastic Fantastic we can, and if we want to let our freak flag fly, or live in a cabin in West Virginia, we can. This really struck me as I was looking at the Vietnamese families that surrounded us - our local Vietnamese community emigrated in the mid-70's, they were boat people. They risked everything to have freedom. Maybe they take it for granted, but I doubt it. You don't get together to have a celebration feast like that unless it means something to you. Man that's awesome, seeing those new Americans getting down on the Nation's Birthday. I'm glad they're here. The pie's big - we can afford to share it because in our system, every new person who comes here is expected to help make an even bigger pie. It's a tough system in a way, it makes you be strong like an Irish matriarch, but it seems to work.
It's a great country we live in friends. I guess she has some flaws; maybe we oughtta have a couple words with her about it. But today is her birthday, we can talk tomorrow, once she's enjoyed her annual day in the sun.
In that spirit, have some straight up hooo - rah.
And here, if you like your love of country cut with a little bit of Tequila and maybe some stuff The Man frowns on, have a little Stevie Ray doing the National Anthem:
Need to put a little funk in your trunk? Have some Ray Charles, singing "America the Beautiful."
I don't think it matters how you love this country, as long as you get your love on and try to appreciate how good you have it, and answer if she calls. I don't know if it's the best place in the world; all I know is it's better for me than any other place I've lived, and there's no way I could have the good life I have anywhere else that I've been. Do I have some beefs with how things are run from time to time? Sure. But like anybody else I love, I'm not going to get all spiteful about it. We're going to have a quiet word or two, maybe I'll write a note or two about it, but I can't afford momentary lapses in her behavior to affect the overall relationship. When you get right down to it, she gives a lot more good stuff to us than we give back.
Thanksgiving Day is nice, it's a great holiday, but this is my real day of thanks.
I don't know about you, but I think I'm going to go and spend Independence Day riding my bike, having some fun with my family, drinking a High Life, and counting my blessings.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
So somebody in the women's sport field asked why we Clydesdales started behind them, when we'd start picking off their field within a half lap despite the two minute gap between waves. There's only one answer I can think of: we like the view. Seriously, lotta cute girls ride MTBs. I have a rule in life: you want to find the good stuff, whatever it is, look for the cute girls. They know what's good. I guess that explains the packed women's sport class at Wakefield. The ever entertaining Dharma was present, along with frequent commenter DCVeloBella, KLM, who is a race official who likes to yell at me on the road bike. (She denies this). She's very warm on the mountain bike so I'm going to bring my mountain bike to roadraces to make sure she has a good attitude there from now on.
Anyhow, the race started with a long gravel uphill. It was pretty slippery, as usual, but I cleared it fine helped by the slightly larger 32:19 gearing (up from the normal Patapsco 32:21 gearing). About 6 guys got in front of me at the start, and a little pack of 3 got past me later, so I found my place somewhere near the back of the pack of a pretty good sized clyde field - maybe 18 guys? Three or four really slow guys weren't there this week, so that was a bummer, but the thing is once you're racing you just go as hard as you can and that's it. So I have no idea where I was, not last, but probably top of the bottom third perhaps? Hard to say.
The first lap went pretty well. I didn't go out as hard as last week - I rode to just short of the point where my face goes numb. When the face goes numb the fuse is burning and I think pushing that hard early last week caused the lapse that caused my crash. So I settled in behind a couple other clydesdales and just worked around, picking one of them off on the long-ish powerline hill. Geared MTB'ers often don't climb as fast, granny gears offer a bailout that allows for easy, uncommitted climbing.
I found myself riding pretty steadily with a clydesdale who was a lot faster than me through the technical parts, but struggled on the hills. I read the tea leaves and figured there was no way I could get a clean pass early, I'd need to ride on his wheel, let him get nervous and worn out and then take him when he started to pop. So this led into a really odd rhythm where I was scaring myself in the woods trying to keep up, and then easy spinning on the hills, seriously, not even breathing hard, to keep up.
At the start of the second lap we started passing some women. Eventually I passed Dharma and got in a little group behind three girls and my arch rival. An expert blew by, and right after that the guy I was marking passed the girls, and then I did. A minute or two later we were on KLM's wheel going through the powerline meadow. My guy passed her, and I rode her wheel on the flats, waiting for a spot to pass. That's when I noted there wasn't a single deer standing at trailside watching, but two. And one of them was straining mightily to push out a steady stream of deer pellets. I pointed this out to KLM but she didn't seem to find it amusing - later she said she didn't even see it. I guess she's not in touch with her inner 6 year old boy.
Going up the powerline hill the second time, I blew passed the guy I was marking as hard as I could. I wanted to make the pass really convincing. Apparently it worked because by the time we crossed the stream, he was nowhere to be seen.
The third lap was pretty uneventful. I got passed by eight or ten experts. A couple times, there was nowhere to pass so I went as hard as I could in some forest sections. One guy who had been forced to hold my wheel paid a compliment about that after the race, said it was some really good riding. That was nice of him, and it felt good to know I wasn't f-ing up his race. I'll have to see if I can do more riding like that. But what's the trick - identifying the parts of the trail where speed is easy to gain and safe? I figured out one trick today which is to think two turns ahead. A lot of little schwerves at Wakefield require you to come out of one corner positioned properly to hit the second and third one after that, otherwise it's a big loss of speed. Anyhoo...
Coming across the last stream and up the hard hill to clear, I was resolved to clear it in style. A pack of experts had just passed me, so I was a little bummed, but determined to clear it. I'd cleared it earlier but now my legs were crampy, and I'd only barely cleared it before; it would have been faster to run earlier. I didn't want to do that again. This time, I did a mini sprint across the stream and up over the roots, clearing them with some pace. Aha! A couple experts had failed to clear the hill. The one guy got remounted and I passed and sort of shoved him out of the way, the other one was running up the hill with his bike. As I passed him, I said "Fat Roadie Pass!" Yeah, I bet he was bummed by the sight of my big ass beating him into the last section of single track.
From there it was nothing, I came across the line alone in my class. Based on later discussions with Dharma, I probably pulled a 1:04 or so for the three laps, not awful but not great either. I'll have to post my result here in an update when Potomac Velo posts them.
The bottom line - it was a really fun race, total blast. There's a nice vibe in the MTB racing scene, and it's an easy crowd to hang with. The racing at Wakefield is fast and hard - you can rest a little in places, but it's a lot like a crit in terms of effort, long periods of tempo+ effort, a bunch of 30 second red zone efforts, and occasional soft pedaling and a lot of spots where you don't pedal at all. Still, after about 50 minutes, my legs were getting really, really heavy feeling. Going tempo for hours is easy, going all out frequently as you go around the course is much, much more tiring - but again it's like a hard technical crit with constant hard accellerations. That, and not hitting your brakes is a key, just like in crits. It's a great workout, and not terribly technical. Fat Marc seems to think the skills you learn will pay off in 'cross too. But the real reason to do it, is for the fun. Man, what a great way to spend a couple hours on a Wednesday.
Postscript: Family Bikes wrench and Friend of the Rouleur Tom Mackay won the Single Speed class today. The kid's a monster, very impressive.