It’s Cyclocross Season! Who Cares?

Fall is here, and that means the cycling world starts to talk about cyclocross. You know, that race through the dirt and mud where riders have to dismount and carry their bikes over obstacles? It would seem that during October, cyclocross racing is the only kind of riding you should do — everybody is doing it!

Well, everybody isn’t. I’m not, I can tell you that. I’m not knocking cyclocross. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun, if you like to race.

There are a number of cycling events that get a lot of play that I don’t take part in. Time trials, for instance. Oh, I’ve actually done a few of them, but when the company that put them on decided it wouldn’t anymore, I stopped. And when another company stepped in after a year and decided to revive our local time trial, I decided to opt out. I just don’t care anymore (And I know just how fast I can’t go, anyway).

Around here, everyone is talking about the Livestrong ride, which comes up this weekend. But I find myself doing only a few organized rides per year now, and the Livestrong isn’t going to be one of them.

Maybe I’m just an old stick-in-the-mud, but I still enjoy just good old road cycling. That’s what I’ll continue to do. I don’t particularly care how fast I go, and I’m not really yearning to slop through the mud and gasp for breath.

Have you taken a shot at a cyclocross race, or are you of the non-competitive bent as well?

A Noob Goes To The Races

The Bike Noob has never contemplated racing, but guest poster Jeff Hemmel has — and he did more than contemplate. Jeff tells about his first race, during his vacation this summer in upstate New York.

So there I was, sandwiched between a breakaway pack of 12 riders, pedaling nearly as fast as I thought humanly possible, looking at the last 90-degree corner of what had been 30 of the fastest, most hardcore miles I had ever ridden. All around me faces were dead serious, jerseys were filled with sponsor logos…legs were shaved. And then there was me, a noob, riding my very first race, jersey a plain and unassuming blue…and no real game plan what to do next.

What the hell was I thinking?

To get to that answer you need to backtrack to late July, 2010. That was when I first came up with the idea of actually trying to contest a race while vacationing in Upstate NY. Long story short I chickened out, but vowed to try again in 2011. After all, this race was perfect…it started in a picturesque riverside town, it had some of the hills that I love (and hopefully most riders would hate), and was a fundraiser for a good cause.

Most important, no one knew me. If I choked, I could fade into the background, my pride shielded by my outsider’s anonymity.

I can’t really say why I did it. Most likely it’s because, like it or not, I’m somewhat of a competitive person. While two years ago I was simply content to hang with the Sunday morning group ride, lately I had been trying to actually contest the end-of-ride sprint. I have no aspirations of signing up for every race that comes along, but I wanted to test myself, if only this once.

Which is why, this July upon arriving in New York, I not only began to rack up my usual mileage in the hills, but frequently found myself visiting the race website…mapping out the route…even watching it fly by on Google Earth. And yes, a few days before the event, traveling about 90 minutes north to plop my bike on those roads and actually riding the course. That I made about 10 wrong turns and ended up turning a 30-miler into a nearly 50-mile reconnaissance isn’t the point. The point is I took it seriously and prepared. If you looked closely at my bike at the start, you would have even seen a little piece of masking tape on the stem, labeled with various mileage points and whether the race was turning left or right.

As I said, competitive…and yes, maybe just a little bit anal.

My race day plan was simple — to spot the guys who looked like they were the most serious, and not let them get out of my sight. I figured I’d either burn out and limp to the finish at the back of the pack, or maybe, just maybe, surprise everyone (including myself) and hang on to the finish.

Well, this looks daunting.

At the start, the latter option didn’t look too promising. A well-organized team jumped away from the 100-plus rider field only a mile into the race, and I fought to stay with them, watching my speedo settle in about 26 mph. Their intent seemed to be to drop as many people as possible right off the bat, and I was almost certain I would be next. Somehow I stayed close, even joining their paceline so I could say I did my share of the work and at least earn their respect before my flameout. Miraculously, however, that moment never came. As I survived mile after mile my confidence grew and I knew I could hang with them till the finish, especially as their speed settled down slightly. As to any pipe dreams of actually dropping the pack on a climb and soloing to victory a la Andy Schleck, however, I knew I didn’t have a chance. This group was strong, and even if I found myself with an advantage on a climb, I knew they’d reel me in with ease once things flattened out.

I'm in there somewhere.

So, I I fought my impetuous instincts, rode smart, and just tried to fit in…a guy with hairy legs in a generic jersey in the midst of a bunch of logoed-up team members looking clean and mean. With about three miles to go, a three-man breakaway leapt ahead, but somehow we reeled them in about a mile from the finish. Still together at mile 29, all that remained was a bunch sprint — a scenario I had really hoped to avoid given my utter lack of racing skills. Heading into that 90-degree lefthand turn about 100 yards from the finish, I took the inside line, only to be cut off by the rest who kept up their speed and swept through the corner. I hit my brakes, lost momentum, and watched as that team led their leader out to the finish. It was actually pretty impressive.

And I still managed to finish first in my age group.

The best news for me? I did okay. I triumphed over the nerves of 2010, finished upright (the primary goal of any first-time racer a friend reminded me before the race), and was greeted at the finish line by my daughters and wife…three people in town who did recognize me.

Finish line greeting.

That’s a victory in any noob’s book.

Those Bike Team Names – 2010 Version – Part I

Hey, the Tour de France is just around the corner! It starts Sunday Saturday. Each year, I like to introduce Bike Noob readers to the teams in the Tour, because their European corporate sponsor names are probably unfamiliar to most Americans. This year is interesting, because of several new teams in the Tour, and four U.S.-based teams. Lance Armstrong rides in his last Tour, and just might contend.

Twenty-two teams are riding this year. Today, we’ll profile half of them, by alphabetical order. The remaining teams will go up Thursday.

AG2R-La Mondiale: France. Ag2r Group is a French-based interprofessional insurance and supplementary retirement fund group, and the La Mondiale Group is a French-based international group for supplementary pension and estate planning insurance. Rinaldo Nocentini led last year’s Tour for eight days.

Top riders: Dimitri Champion, Nocentini, Nicolas Roche.

Bike: Kuota

Astana: Kazakhstan. Sponsored by the Astana group, a coalition of state-owned companies from Kazakhstan and named after its capital city Astana. Last year, the team had trouble making its payroll, until the Kazakh government stepped in. The Tour’s defending champion, Alberto Contador, rides for Astana, but half last year’s team bolted for the new Radio Shack squad.

Top riders: Contador, Alexander Vinokourov.

Bike: Specialized

Bbox Bouyges Telecom: France. Bouygues is a mobile telephone company. Bbox is the bundled Internet, TV, and telephone package offered to Bouygues customers. Last year, Thomas Voeckler and Pierrick Fédrigo won stages of the Tour.

Top riders: Voeckler, Fédrigo, Pierre Rolland.

Bike: Colnago

BMC Racing Team: USA. BMC is a Swiss bike company. The team is brand new, having competed in some domestic races last year, but won a wild card berth to the TdF this year. They’ve made their presence known in some of the earlier races this season, and have a strong stable of riders.

Top riders: US Champion George Hincapie, Alessandro Ballan, World Champion Cadel Evans.

Bike: BMC

Caisse d’Epargne: Spain. The team is registered to Spain, but the sponsor is the fourth-largest French banking company. Their top rider, Alejandro Valverde, is suspended for ties to doping. Still, Caisse is always one of the strongest teams in the Tour.

Top riders: Luis Leon Sanchez, Juan Mauricio Soler, Juan Jose Cobo.

Bike: Pinarello.

Cervelo Test Team: Switzerland. Cervelo is the Canadian bike company. The team made quite an impact last year, when it debuted in the tour.

Top riders: Carlos Sastre (2008 TdF winner), Thor Hushovd.

Bike: Cervelo

Cofidis: France. Consumer Credit. Le Credit En Ligne (online). Offers customized consumer loans either by phone or over the Internet. The company had planned this to be its last year, but now will be around through 2012. They are probably the weakest of the French teams.

Top riders: David Moncoutie, Samuel Dumoulin, Amaël Moinard.

Bike: Look.

Euskaltel-Euskadi: Basque. Basque telephone company. Euskadi is the Basque word for Basque. The Basque Country is an autonomous region in the north of Spain. Basques are ethnically different from Spaniards, and there’s been some separation sentiment for years. Euskaltel is the unofficial national team of the Basques. The team is known for its strong mountain riding. Team leader Mikel Astarloza is under a two-year doping suspension.

Top riders: Samuel Sanchez, Amets Txurruka, Egoi Martinez.

Bike: Orbea.

Footon-Servetto: Spain. Footon makes insoles to correct bad posture.  Servetto is an Italian wardrobe company. The team was formerly Saunier-Duval, which got caught up in a doping scandal. They claim the jersey is gold – most observers regard it as nude.

Top riders: Martin Pedersen, Michele Merlo and Manuel Cardoso.

Bike: Fuji

Francaise de Jeux: France. The French national lottery. This team has been around since 1997. The team had a good year in 2009, but couldn’t win the big one, and are under some pressure to win their own country’s big race.

Top riders: Christophe Le Mevel, Sandy Casar, Thibault Pinot.

Bike: Lapierre.

Garmin-Transitions: USA. Garmin is the top maker of GPS gear, Transitions makes eyeglasses that shade with the sun. The team won 29 races last year.

Top riders: Tyler Farrar, Christian VandeVelde, Robbie Hunter.

Bike: Felt

A minor milestone

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a few months, you’ll recall that I took a stab at a bi-weekly time trial run in my neighborhood. That was back in May, and at the time, I figured I wouldn’t bother with it again until September, when I would run it to see if I improved at all during the summer.

Holy cow! It’s September! Not only that, but only two TTs remain until they shut it down until next spring. So if I was going to gauge my performance (or lack thereof), I’d better step up now.

It just so happened that tonight was one of the two remaining TTs. My work schedule allows me to take off earlier on Tuesday than the rest of the week, so I got home, changed into riding clothes, and headed out.

Not without some trepidation, however. Our temperatures may not be topping 100 anymore, but it was still 96 when I headed over to the staging area. The wind had picked up during the day, and was blowing from the east southeast at nine, gusting to 22 mph, according to one of the local TV news channels. I didn’t know if I could battle the wind enough to improve on my time from May.

A quick recap for those who may be new to the blog: The time trial is 8.12 miles, along the Mopac extension in southwest Austin. There are a few hills, but only one that I consider a challenge. Of greater concern is the fact that the TT starts at 6 p.m., the height of rush hour, when the traffic along this stretch of road is comparatively heavy.

When I ran it in May, my time for the 8.12 miles was 24:34, for an average speed of 19.5 mph. So my goal for tonight was to beat that mark, and if possible, get below 24:30.

Right after I checked in, a cyclist rode up to me with a big smile and an extended hand. Evan is a Bike Noob reader, and since I was wearing my Bike Forums 50+ jersey, he recognized me from past pictures I’ve run here. This was Evan’s first time trial, and we talked about the route and procedures. I looked over his bike — a Surly Long Haul Trucker with wide Schwalbe Marathon tires and bar-end shifters. Evan was dressed in a t-shirt, baggy shorts, and touring shoes. These are the guys you have to watch out for. I’ve been passed too often by them when I’m riding along at what I think is a good pace.

I took a warm-up lap on the Veloway, where I nearly hit a deer that burst out of the bushes and ran at me, then went out to the course. Joe from our club, who leads the A group rides on Sunday, headed out with me. He’s my age, but much faster, so I figured if I could just keep him in my sights, I’d be okay.

We went through the starting timer and headed south, into a wind from the southeast. Although I could feel the resistance, I could also tell I was making good time. Once we turned west and had the wind at our backs, we could make good time up the only real hill on the course. The eastbound leg has a good downhill, but we were into the wind here, and I could only get up to 27 mph. I knew I had to pick up the pace on the last northbound leg.

I pushed over the series of easy hills, and could see Joe all the way. When I got to the finish line, I waited until I heard the timing beeps, then clicked my stopwatch. I did it! Unofficial time 24:10 — beating my old mark by 24 seconds! Average speed: 20.16 mph (I may be old, but I’m still slow).

But it’ll stay unofficial. We learned late this evening that an electronic glitch at the finish line prevented any times from being recorded. Hmph. Well, at least I’ve got my stopwatch. It looks like I’ll have to do this all over again in two weeks.

The RunFar Time Trial

Every other Tuesday from April – September, a company called RunFar puts on a time trial in Austin. It’s an 8.12-mile course along the Mopac loop that I ride so often. But this, as they say, is the “Ride of Truth.” Riders are welcome to come out and see how they stack up against their goals, their previous personal bests, or that character who shows up all the time, and always seems to get the better of you.

I rode the time trial in May, and I’ll do it again next month. But in the meantime, I took a video camera out to this week’s event, and maybe was able to capture some of the atmosphere. Cameo appearance by my friend David at the end.  Temperature: 102°F (39°C).

I don’t think I could handle this

If you’re an addicted Tour de France watcher, as I am, you’ve probably seen Jens Voigt eat the pavement on the downhill run from Petit St. Bernard during Stage 16 in the 2009 Tour de France.

If not, here it is.

He broke a cheekbone and had a concussion, but his injuries are not life-threatening. How would you handle a crash like that? Would it mean the end of biking for you?

I know he gets paid to do this, and he is among the elite of the elite in cycling. But a crash like this would send me to the swimming pool, or the badminton net, and I’d put my bike up for sale.

I was playing around this morning in the “downhill tuck” position, where I scrunched down over the top tube with my hands in the drops. It really works. Even on a gentle downhill, I pulled away from my wife, and she was concerned about my ability  to hold my balance. But that was at a blistering speed of about 17 mph. At 40+ mph, no thanks.

It’s like watching baseball. I’ve played a lot of ball in my life, but when you face a 95 mph fastball, and the best you can throw is 55 mph, you know you’re in a different league. I’ll continue to watch and marvel at these guys, but I’ll never entertain fantasies that I can ever approach what they do.

Addendum  July 31, 2009: Here’s a YouTube clip of Jens speaking from his hospital bed. Recorded July 26.

Those bike team names (2009 version) Part II

A look at the second ten teams in the 2009 Tour de France. The first ten were featured in yesterday’s post.

Garmin2Garmin-SlipstreamUnited States — Garmin, the GPS company, is the sole main commercial sponsor this year. Chipotle is no longer a name sponsor. Slipstream is the sports marketing and development company that headed up the creation of this team last year. The pale blue and orange argyle is a distinctive look. The team’s leader, Christian Vande Velde, suffered multiple fractures in a crash at the Giro d’Italia. He’s back on the bike now, but might not contend in the Tour. American Dave Zabriskie is one of their top riders, as are Bradley Wiggins and sprinter Tyler Farrar.

KatushaTeam KatushaRussia — Formerly Tinkhoff Credit Systems. Organized by the Russian Global Cycling Project foundation, which itself is funded by Russian businesses such as Gazprom, Itera and Rostechnologii. The team spent a bundle of money to attract top international stars like Italian Filippo Pozzato, and Russian Vladimir Karpets. Riders who fail doping tests must pay five times their salary back to the team. Belgian star Gert Steegmans refused to sign the agreement, and was left off the Tour de France team.

lampre_jersey09-2Lampre-NGCItaly — Lampre has been an active supporter of cycling since 1991. They are a manufacturer of prefinished steel sheet materials. NGC is a manufacturer and distributor of medical devices. Last year’s secondary sponsor, Fondital, is out. Most of the team are Italians, with Damiano Cunego and Alessandro Ballan the team’s top riders.


Liquigas09Liquigas — Italy — As its name implies, Liquigas is a provider of liquified gas products in Italy. The team’s lime green jerseys stand out in the peloton. Liquigas is a strong team, featuring Ivan Basso, who is back in pro cycling after a two year doping suspension; Daniele Bennati, who will be Mark Cavendish’s main sprint competition; Roman Kreuziger won the Tour de Suisse in 2008 and is expected to be in the Tour’s top ten this year, along with Vincenzo Nibali.

milramjersey2009Team MilramGermany — Milram is the European brand of the Bremen-based Nordmilch, Germany’s largest dairy company. Milk, butter, and cheese. Their 2009 jerseys emphasize the dairy connection, with a cow pattern that reminds me of the old Gateway computers motif. Milram is the only remaining German team in the tour, with the departure of Gerolsteiner, and this year, they’ll be riding a German bike: the Focus Izalco. Linus Gerdmann and Gerald Ciolek lead the team.

QuickStep09Quick StepBelgium — Quick Step is a Belgian laminate floor covering company. Secondary sponsor Innergetic is Europe’s leading manufacturer of latex foam mattresses, toppers and pillows for the bedding industry. Their top rider is Belgian star Tom Boonen. It looked like he would be kept out of the Tour for the second year in a row, after admitting to recreational cocaine use, but on Friday, July 3, his appeal was upheld, and he will ride.  Two-time Tour of Flanders winner Stijn Devolder is another top Quick Step rider, and watch French star Sylvain Chavanel, who joined the team this year.

2009_rabobank-2RabobankThe Netherlands — Rabobank is a Dutch cooperative bank, mostly in agribusiness. They’re set up as a federation of credit unions. Their top man is Russian Denis Menchov, who won the Giro d’Italia this year. Menchov’s goal is to podium in the Tour. Other strong riders include Oscar Freire, who won the points jersey in the 2008 Tour, and Juan Antonio Flecha. In an effort to be transparent regarding drug tests, Rabobank is posting on its team web site a regularly updated list of all the doping checks made of team members.

saxobankSaxo BankDenmark — Saxo Bank is an online investment bank. It took over sole sponsorship this year of the former CSC team. They’ve got a strong roster, including the Schleck brothers, Andy and Frank, both of whom could be contenders for the overall win; time trial specialist Fabian Cancellara; and probable stage win contender Jens Voigt. Missing is last year’s winner, Carlos Sastre, who jumped to Cervelo. Saxo Bank will ride Specialized bikes this year.

SilLottoSilence-LottoBelgium — Lotto is the Belgian lottery. Silence is a brand name used by Omega Pharma, a Belgian pharmaceutical company. Previous team names of Davitamon and Predictor were also brand names of Omega Pharma. The team’s big gun is Australian Cadel Evans, who has finished second in the Tour each of the last two years. He’s expected to get more support from the team this year. Philippe Gilbert won the Ster Elektrotoer, a five-day stage race in Holland last month.

Skil

Skil-ShimanoThe Netherlands — Skil manufactures small power tools, and everyone knows Shimano, the Japanese maker of bike components, fishing tackle, and snowboarding equipment. This continental racing team won a wild card invitation to the Tour this year. It features Fumiyuki Beppu, a Japanese cyclist.

Pick your favorites — the Tour starts Saturday!