Thursday, July 22, 2010

Workin' my way up to pack fill!


I'm a newly minted Category 5 road racer. I duly registered with USA Cycling about 10 days ago and then registered for my first race the next day. The day, Wednesday, July 14th. The place: an empty parking lot between Soldier Field and McCormick place.

This one:

To be fair, in the other direction, it looks more like a place you'd have a bike race:

I didn't tell anyone I was doing it except for, on the morning of, I was emailing with my friend Zac in Syria and I told him about it. Beyond that, I just did a normal work day, did a furtive clothes change in the bathroom around 5:30 and rode on downtown. Dunno why I was being so secretive. I guess I just didn't want to discuss it too much so as not to hype it up too much. I hadn't even really been riding that much lately. Lots of working and going out of town. Was probably doing maybe 60 miles a week for the month before, but I had told myself I wanted to do a bike race before the end of year 40, so I only had about 2 weeks left.

I had checked this race out briefly last year. Got a good laugh out of my previous post on the Soldier Field Cycling Series. Here's a funny paragraph:

Basically, there was a maybe 1/2 mile course made from traffic cones and some temporary fencing and people seem to ride around it for about an hour. Apparently that's a criterium. The women's combined field (women always get the shaft I guess) was only about 9 riders, but it looked pretty fun anyway. I was sorry to be out of town a couple of weeks back during the Chicago Criterium. I guess that's an entirely different affair. Anyway, checking it out made me think I might just go down there and give it a shot. It can't be much different than hauling ass up to the Botanical Gardens which I have managed at a almost 20 mph pace including city traffic before.

Ha! The humor will soon become apparent (for those who have ever done a criterium race, it should be already).

Anyway, here's how the day went down. As I was riding down the lakefront path, I came upon a woman on a Storck Absolutist and asked her if she was going to the race. Yes, she said and we chatted a bit on the ride over. She rode for Chicago Cuttin Crew and told me she was riding in the same race as me. I was unaware that women could ride in the mens heats, but apparently they can, which is cool! I prefer co-ed sports, seems like the boys just behave in a little more civilized fashion. Anyway, I watched the womens race and rode some laps on the big area for warming up. During the first mens race, I went over to each corner and tried to get a sense for what was going on. Also got to ride a few laps before the first mens race. Seemed pretty mellow as far as the course was concerned.

I also met a really nice chap, Laurent, who was sporting a Tour de France shirt and a funny accent. Turned out he was the Bastille Day "feature" and got up in the booth and did a spiel in French before each race. Pretty nice! Le Grand Campion du Chicago and such. He along with Megan, a nice gal who rides for XXX that I met whilst buying some parts the week before, told me they would cheer for me since I didn't have any supporters. Let me tell you. It's NICE to have some people cheering for you.

Here's how the race went down:
I lined up with what I thought was about maybe 30 people(?). After Laurent gave his pep talk, we got the rules: Ride for 30 minutes, timer counts down to 10 minutes, after that it goes to laps. If you get lapped stay to the outside and don't contest sprints, you can be pulled for falling too far back, but he probably won't. And we were off! The speed immediately went up to around 26MPH (that's about 42KPH for you modern rest-of-the-world types) and it pretty much just stayed there. It was about 2 laps before I fell off the back. At first I thought "dear God, I'm just screwed." Then I'd think I would catch up, then I realized I was about to be lapped. I'm still going fast, mind you, like definitely keeping it up around 23, but a few miles per hour is enough to get lapped twice as it turns out in 30 minutes! I think I was first in the people-who-got-dropped part of the race. Also probably came in first in the 40+ year old, first race category too, but who's counting?! What would that be? The grey, stained jersey perhaps. So yeah, some cheering was nice. I didn't ever let up from what I felt like I could do and it seemed like a decent first outing. It's pretty exhilarating to just turn yourself inside out (as Phil and Paul like to say) for a while. There were some crushing riders there and it makes me laugh to think that the guys that were killing me wouldn't even be able to hang on the to back of most stages of a Grand Tour or something. Gives you a whole new respect for the lowliest TDF domestique! During the MS150 back in the spring, my friend Jason (no relation) was telling me he thought I'd be able to hang on to the back of a Cat 5 race, and I'm here to say... I can't. But I'm working on it! One day I'll be bonafide Cat 4 pack fill.

Personal stats:
Distance traveled in 30 minutes: 12 miles exactly
Average speed: 22.75 MPH
Top speed: 30.25 MPH (!!)

One very impressive thing is that Jeanette (I think it was) from CCC, who I met on the way over, was part of the 2nd of 2 "main groups" (such as they were) who lapped me twice. Truly a badass. Way to go Jeanette. Here's something weird though... I felt like there was about 30 people in my field and I felt like I came in maybe 23rd or something, but when results finally got posted, it tells a whole other story, which I think may be a wrong story, but who knows. I'm not really buying it, but it looks a lot better for me here. They have the field at 17 and me at 10. That does not seem right at all, but the race before has all 42 people accounted for, so it's confusing. Anyway, next time maybe I'll stay around for the provisional results. This time I just split pretty quick as it was already kind of late. I thought the ride home would kill me (I had already ridden about 20 miles before I got there that day) but going anything less than circa 23MPH felt pretty leisurely and I went on home at a pretty good clip even with a fairly full backpack.

Overall, what a fun time! Nice folks were met and I'm going to go back I think.

TDF: Was going to try and write some fun stuff about it, but I've just been super, super, duper busy and blogging ain't payin' the bills (in case you hadn't figured that out on your own!). Anyway, a few brief thoughtlets:

- Bummer for Andy Shleck throwing his chain and losing yellow. Nice try today on the Tourmalet as well. You'll be in yellow in Paris soon enough I reckon.
- Armstrong. Should have maybe stayed retired, then would not have to be living and working amongst several hundred news reporters asking nosy questions about doping, selling bikes to fund doping and seemingly lying about his ownership in Tailwind Sports.
- Zabriskie and Hincapie. Are they feeling the crushing weight of the Landis allegations? They have both been such non-factors in the entire tour. No presence in breaks. Coming in with the gruppetto many days, not even a good prologue. Too bad. I hope they come clean with anything they have to come clean about.
- Footon Servetto. For sure the ugliest kits I've seen in my active days of watching racing. Many greats from the past can be found for sure, but they are really keeping in funky in those tan leotards.
- Ryder Hesjedal... Nice tour buddy. Methinks that perhaps Garmin should put some serious resources into you as a GC contender. Oh Canada!
- Contador. Boring. Like the Chicago Bulls in the 90s. I deeply crave the underdog win (speaking of which, bummer about Cadel. He was really hanging in there for a while.). I did like seeing he and Shleck get all buddy buddy after today's Tourmalet stage. I enjoy displays of friendliness between rivals. It was all World Cup style!
-Phil and Paul. Those guys jump the shark so, so much it's kind of wearing thin. I know that when you have to blab all the time, your gonna hit some lean material, but man, PAY attention! When you are calling Andy Shleck "Frank" after his brother broke his collarbone 2 days before, you really are just phoning it in. I like Matt what's his name, the warm up guy better.

Off to Omaha for the weekend tomorrow to run sound for Superchunk at the MAHA festival. Going to bring my newly built 1988 Specialized Allez! Did a stealth build of this a couple of weeks ago. It rips! If I was good enough to not need my Ti crutch, I'd do a crit on it just to be keepin it real!

I'll have to make another post about my 68 mile ride in northwest Dane County, WI soon. That was the inaugural serious ride for this bike and was a warm up for the Dairyland Dare in about 3 weeks.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Palos, city riding and other delights...


Okay, so last Monday I remounted my (maybe?) trusty 29er and headed for the much heard of but as-of-then untried "Palos." It seems to officially be part of the Cook County Forest Preserve District, but these guys seem to do a lot of the work involved in keeping up the trails. Closing some, reopening others, making little bypasses when something is eroding too much, that sort of thing. I will say now, nice job guys!

Before I could attempt to ride though, I had to spend a bit of time Sunday de-winterizing my bike. I had last ridden it probably in January. It had Nokian studded ice tires on still (which look so comically small compared to the Conti Mountain Kings that normally go on), a VERY crusty, rusty chain and just needed a going over. I did a deep chain cleansing and lubing, changed the tires, spent some more time tinkering with the rear dropout situation, which was time very well spent. My bike is built around an On One Inbred frame like this:

As you can see, it has rear facing dropouts like you would most commonly find on a single speed bike. Some very mad, mad people (including the wonderful guy I bought this from) apparently ride mountain bikes that way. I cannot fathom how this is done and I currently have this bike set up as a 1x9 speed with a 12-32 cassette in the rear and (I think) a 32-tooth cog in front. Anyway, when I first set the bike up for some reason it didn't seem like the rear wheel would sit all the way up front in the dropouts. SO, I used a trick I read about somewhere on the always trusty interwebs about putting some chainring bolts in there to move the stopping point back some. This caused me to have a problem where, when I really pedaled hard, the wheel would slip a bit because it just wasn't that great having the wheel seated up against the outermost point on a circle instead of being fully nestled inside of a semicircle. Does that even makes sense?! Anyway, on my shoulder separating ride from last fall, I had to stop every couple of miles and tweak the wheel. Not that inspiring to do. SO, I took another crack from scratch with the brake position and such and got it seated all the way up to the front of the dropouts and working well. Still have a little bit of disc brake rub I have to try and futz with soon, but it's not really a big deal beyond the mental zone where I think "this is slowing me down!" Still, I'll have to sort that out soon.

At any rate, the bike performed just splendidly on this trip. I did not eat it in any serious way (did one very comical slow-motion semi-wipeout on a log pile, but nothing except a touch of pride was wounded). Palos is really, really fun and is also in pretty great shape in my limited experience. It looks pretty taken care of. JBI, my guide and riding buddy, has been riding there for years, so even though it had been a good while, he still had a pretty good bead on what was where in there. There are lots of places to drop in and out from these service roads (or maybe it was just one road, I dunno!) and I would have been completely lost without him. We rode for a good 2+ hours and my shoulder did not particularly trouble me and I was careful but still managed to move along at a pretty good clip and have some thrills and chills like one would hope.

Here are some pics:

Dudes at the first stop:

Typical scenery in the non-insane roller coaster parts (why I could stop and take a pic!)

Here's a trail we tried that turned out to be closed (it was a pretty bat cave style entrance to this one and it took a while to be sure that the trees we kept coming across where actually meant to make you not be riding! JBI thought it had been recently reopened as he remembered it from a long time back, but after about 10 unride-throughable barriers we admitted we probably weren't going to get back to anything good without just going backwards. Doh!)

Here is (one of?) the service road(s?) that we came out onto a few different times.

Here's something you don't see everyday:

There are 2 old nuclear reactors buried under us! Follow the link above to see what these looked like. They look like large parts of a building, not just some kind of vat. CRAZY!
Beautiful ride down to the little lake (after a pretty big climb up to the crest:

My pretty raw legs (quite a few thorny bushes on the closed trail part):

And my bike, resplendent in the afternoon swelter:

We even got to catch up with the ice cream man about 5 minutes after we stopped riding and were just puttering around the car. NICE! I had a watermelon and lime Bomb Pop with candy seeds! Looking forward to going back soon.


Actually, I'm not all that crazy about it. Unlike many of my aerospoke front-wheeling, spoke card back-wheeling, carabiner, little caps, no brakes seats too high on a small frame, rolled up jeans, toe-clip sporting brethren and sistren (?!), I'm not really enamored of the gritty, glamorous danger of city riding. In spite of Chicago's #10 ranking in Bicycling mag's bike-friendly cities report, it still seems like a pretty dangerous place to get around by bike. While our bike lanes are nowhere near as disrespected as NYC's Kafka-esque circus of joggers, delivery guys, salmoning riders and cell-phone chatting walkers, it's still not great. Actually, when in bike lanes, things are usually pretty reasonable, but there are still a lot of streets without them and it's hard to rate a city on the amount of drivers who look at you as nothing but a pure obstruction between them and where they want to go. I think to discover that you have to just live somewhere, not cross-reference several lists from other groups and talk to local experts and bike shop owners. Many, many, many people in Chicago simply could give a sh*t whether you are a traffic cone or a human being. I had one woman lay into her horn the other day when I was riding down the street at about 23 mph, right at the speed of traffic and when I pulled up to her at the red light that she had to stop at maybe 3 seconds up the road from where she had to honk and asked "why are you honking at me?" She replied "You out there in the middle of the road like you a car or something. Why don't you get over on the side where you suppose to be?" I began to have discussion about how under IL law, I am required to ride in the roadway and I could actually ride right in the middle of the road if I liked and I was going at the speed of traffic anyway, but then she began throwing up hands and yelling and I just threw a few obligatory expletives at her (maybe not obligatory, but hard to keep in) and just rode off. Of course, she never got as far as me again, but I reckon she had to tap her brake back there or something and over what, a bike!?

Another min-van driving mom-ish looking woman in our neighborhood just was literally throwing up her hands today at one of Chicago's infamous angled intersections because we too were in it waiting to make a left-turn. I reckon she thought we should be on the sidewalk were we belong as well.

My friend Keith was hit about 4 weeks ago, not through neglect but through a good aim and careful timing by some gangbanger dudes who, coming the opposite direction down a neighborhood street, moved over to box him in against parked cars on the right and opened both driver's side doors to send him flying through the air. Just what we all need, thrill-killers. Right?

Here's another great one for Illinois.

Though we certainly don't have a monopoly on ignorance!

We did apparently get a new law signed last week making it a class A misdemeanor to "crowd or throw missiles" at a cyclist, but judging by the sentence given to Armando Reza for drunkenly trying to run over cyclists, I'm not holding my breath for the dawn of a new day of safe cycling from this. Even making it a class A misdemeanor to potentially kill someone with your car is too much for people like this gem of a human being. I'll do my best to stay clear of this suburban bell. Actually, I'll just go ahead and never enter Orland Park, I'm sure that'll work just fine for both of us.

In other Chicago living notes, I always know that summer is in bloom when I take a ride down the lake shore and see all the drinking fountains with their heads knocked clean off, spewing that great Lake Michigan water that we love to use so much of 4 to 6 feet in the air all day and night. Mmm, mmm good!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010



Le tour is underway. Seems like 2010 has been especially heavy on crashes, enough to get rider protest on the Giro, Armstrong out of the TOC (quelle timing!), Cavendish, Van De Velde and on and on. The first 3 stages have kept up the trend. Gruesome but Henry Desgrange would be positively delighted (his ideal race would be so hard that only one rider would make it to Paris)!

Not really pulling for anyone specific (I guess that's not really my style in general, but this year even more so). Liked Wiggins last year, but now he sort of seems like an over-hyped contract breaker, so it kind of took the wind out of my sails. I think I'm pulling for Ryder Hesjedal actually.

Just got led to some HEAVY DUTY links on the Landis biz by Joe Lindsey's almost-always enjoyable Boulder Report blog. Landis seems to have a flair for memory that I don't really have, but then again, if I was doing sh*t that crazy and having to make up complex and intertwined lies about it, I guess such things might focus the mind a bit more than making dinner and having a chat about some job that pissed me off that day or whatever.

If you want more details in this sordid affair (allegations, I reckon it must be said, though some allegations are easier to believe than others), here are the two new insane articles I just got done with:

from the WSJ

from ESPN

Some of the detail in there is just crazy. Selling maybe up to half the team bikes to finance the doping program, I guess it makes sense. Can't exactly put that stuff in the annual budget. Thanks Trek!

Went on a great MTB ride Monday, my first at Palos. More on that soon. For now, it's off to work.