Archive | June, 2007

2007 Fitchburg-Longsjo Race Report – Stage 3 Road Race

30 Jun

So I’ve been feeling kind of fat this whole Fitchburg weekend, and I realized why on the ride to the race this morning. Even on my easiest days of training, I get in more saddle time than I’ve had in two days of this race. Heck, just the ride to work takes up more time than the TT. I realize there are a tremendous number of fields to get through in a given day, but c’mon – yesterday’s Men’s 3 race was 9 laps; the Men’s 2 was 20. Until today, I just didn’t feel like I was getting my money’s worth.

Even todays race, all 68 miles of it, felt a little on the short side. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Yesterday was miserable, so I decided to forget about racing for a bit, eat some grilled steak, watch some Big Love and drink some beer. And I did and it was awesome. Woke up this AM on short sleep, but had two bowls of Honey Nut, a cup of coffee and was out the door. Skipped warm up entirely, and took my time swapping cassettes, chamoising up, and visiting the porta-john.

Despite this, my HR was 173 on the line (f-ing Timex. I can’t wait to tear into their cruddy HRM with a product review). Got rolling and the break went early (4-5mi?) and took its time finally getting together. Lots of people laughed, but there were some solid riders in it, and had I been feeling a little better/had a well placed GC teammate, I probably would have taken a shot at it. Various teams shuffled riders in, but I think the final composition was something like Anthem, NEBC, Velo-Europa and NorEast. Apparently no GC contenders.

The course is decent, a flat, rolling backstretch with a few short climbs, then a fairly steep transitional climb into the feed zone, then a rolling, wide-open climb and a wiiiiiiiiiide-open descent back through the lap. Points sprint on top of the hill. Last lap (that’d be the 6th, in our case) you race up Wachusett Mountain. A house on the back side of the course had a lawn party that was well underway when my field (the first of the day) rolled through at 9:20 or so. All in all, it was ok.

However, the officials (IHMO) began muffing things up around 9mi in, as they neutralized our field (for like 15 minutes) so the Masters could pass us. Despite my I usage of this neutral time to bum a homemade energy bar off Roy van Cleef, I think the neutralization was a mistake. It really interrupted the flow of the event, and in all honesty, I don’t think the Masters’ field ever would have caught us without the neutralization.

Certainly, the un-neutralization could have been done better. I think some riders just decided we were active and began rocket tucking up to, behind and eventually AROUND the official’s moto. Next lap, we caught the Masters back, and I commented “Not in such a hurry now, eh?”. They said some very dirty things back, but I believe also enjoyed the opportunity to do so.

With the break snatching up most of the points sprints, the racing activity was fairly limited. The escapados drew out their advantage to over 2 minutes as riders managed to cartwheel off the course on small climbs, pee on me (a first), break chains, and generally fart about. With three to go, some organized pulling got together, and I kept out of it for the most part. However, from my cheap seats, it appeared that GC contenders were pulling all on their little old lonesomes.

I mostly concerned myself with getting to and staying at the front during the steep climbs, and it proved fairly easy. Even as the break was caught at two to go, no one countered and we rode as a unit through the points sprint. There was still a man up the road, but with just a fistfull of seconds, we caught him well before the final shakeout. Which came way, way later than I would have liked.

Basically, I clung in with the field until the access road split into two one-way roads. Then I was riding – not just suffering over the pedals, but really riding – as steadily as I could, trying not to blow. There may have been a few seconds hiding on that ascent, but I was in no shape to pick them up. A few riders (Miro) who I would have liked to stay ahead of passed me, but what can you do? This race has basically been an expensive series of progressively less-annoying training races. Maybe I’ll be on form at Working Man’s or something.

All told, I’m thinking this race – like the other two – should have been longer. It was pretty much just a group ride to the bottom of the mountain. Granted, the final mile or so of climb takes a few minutes (7? 10?) but until it kicks up, everyone was just riding for position. I think there needs to be another pressing obstacle on the course somewhere. I only lost a 1:40 on the leaders, but was way back in 43rd. Put me 1:40 back of the winner during the queen stage at GMSR, and it’s a completely different story – though considering how much I love GMSR, comparing the two is a dangerous road to start down.

2007 Fitchburg-Longsjo Race Report – Stage 2 Circuit Race

29 Jun

So one for the “The Universe hates Cosmo” file today. Drive into the start with no worries (other than the massive calzone I foolishly ate all of the night before), and rode up (helmet on) to staging to sign in. Immediately I get yelled at to get off my bike at the staging tent. Keep in mind, no one else is here – the Cat 4 race is done, I don’t race for another hour, and Masters 35+ is on course. But hey, just because I loathe authority doesn’t mean I always ignore it. I get off my bike, sign in and head back to the car to warm up.

The parking lot is filled, I mean swarming, with dudes riding around with no helmet on. But hey, no big deal, right? The officials can’t fine everyone right? Cosmo should just watch out for Cosmo. I get the bike ready, and as I am doing so, realize there’s about 65psi of pressure in my tires. Granted, I left the wheels in my car, and there were big temp swings (91 the previous day, around 70 this AM) but still, I’m betting that I didn’t have 110psi in yesterday’s TT.

Once everything’s set, I ride around Fitchburg, adhering to the rules of the road, and not, as the race bible insists I avoid, riding on the course for warm up. I get a good HR in, the legs still feel effing horrible, but no big deal. Line up, endure a massive wait (scheduled start was 10:55, I think we were off by 11:10). The course suffers a bit from the Cox problem – the downhill is too long and gradual so everyone keeps on. Points sprint lap the first time around, too, so without a call out or a well-chosen starting position, really no shot at it.

Pace is decently hot (27.something mph avg for our pathetic 28 mile race), so I hang out in the wheels mostly, dodging the twitchy riders, staying out of trouble and moving up carefully. The descent is terrifying – I’m in 53/11, turning 80 rpm or so, surrounded by people moving this way and that. No one really has much faith in this field, so people start trail off in these 40mph half-wheel echelons as soon as they need to hit the brakes to avoid plowing into the rider of front of them. I come around the final turn for the second point sprint around 10th or so, but it’s still too far back to make an attempt.

Next lap I sit up a bit and get enveloped. No one wants to pull into the headwind so things spread out across the surprisingly bumpy road. When we make the sharp corner onto the downhill (w/ a tailwind) it doesn’t string – just a little cone of 10 or so guys, then a wall of the half-wheel echelon. I try to move up, and suddenly there’s a massive weave in front of me. Apparently, someone had been indecisive about which side of the median that appears about 2 miles into the lap to swing to. No one crashes, and I make it through ok, but at this point, I admit to myself there’s no way I can win/score points in the race with my legs like this.

So for the rest of the race (which was too short – barely an hour. Men’s 2 race was more than twice as long) I’m sitting like 50th or so, just trying not to get killed. At one point, I was on the wheel of the race leader (they wear orange here), all alone, about 10 feet to the left of the main field, because the twitching was so ridiculous. As we’re coming into the finish, people are going uber-nutty, and I end up dead last around the final corner. No big deal, and I cruise past a couple guys, for what I think was a pack finish. Certainly, I didn’t see any gaps up the road.

Au Contraire, it seems. Though neither I, nor anyone else watching the race saw it, apparently a nearly FOUR SECOND (!) gap appeared 4 wheels in front of me. I had my doubts, but what can you do? Protest the finish camera? So I lose 28 seconds because so herb (Andras Gipp of Affinity, you just made The List) couldn’t hold a frickin’ wheel. To add insult to injury, as I’m cooling down, I see some Women’s riders just riding into the sign-in tent, unmolested by the officials, and a guy from Rite-Aid doing repeats up the hill during the Women’s race. Then, on the way back from changing, I got yelled at for riding on the sidewalk.

2007 Fitchburg-Longsjo Race Report – Stage 1 TT

28 Jun

The last time I did Fitchburg was back in 2005, and man, was it a high-strung race. People cussing, shoving at the start lines, knocking each other around on course. Granted, today was a TT, but I’d have to say the overall scene was far more laid back. Lots of guys in the Cat 3 field just kinda sitting up, missing starts, no aero kits or nuthin’. I’d love to say that this was due to the more selective (if way stupider) course, but I don’t want to advance my own opinions on course design or anything.

I got to the hotel for reg about 40 minutes later than I’d planned, then rallied my Subaru to the start, only to have State Trooper Friendly tell me there’s no parking at the start line. No biggie, the last minute panic thing works well as a warm-up for me, and a megadose of caffeine never hurts. Drove to the civic center, checked in with the squad, had a bathroom visit and hammered off to the start.

I nailed the race clock syncro, rolling into the start house 40 seconds before my time, with an HR of 151. My 30 second man was absent, which gave me nothing to chase. And the holder held me crooked. But what can you do, right? Eventually 13:02:00 rolled around and I was off. Settling in was hard. My evil HRM was spitting out ludicrous figures (239, 240) so I had to go by feel. Aerobically I felt good, almost too easy, but the legs, even at 85 rpm, just couldn’t get on top of the gears I wanted to turn.

After my recon, I thought this might be an aerobar-free course, but last night I put them on, figuring better to have them than not. I think it was a good call, with a solid headwind for much of the climb. By about ten minutes in, I was getting a good lock on my minute man, and just pulled him back steady, passing him on top of the hill despite an inopportune chain throw. Only the steepest or longest bits forced me out of the aero position, but I still just couldn’t put power I wanted into the pedals sitting down.

I tucked into the aerobars and 53/14 on the descent. I was going probably 90-100 rpms with it, but still – the power just wasn’t there. Dodging the bumps was easy, but even with 1k, 500 and 200m to go signs, I really couldn’t push it red. I suppose any chance I had of doing well today disappeared with my bike under the front wheels of a black SUV last Monday, but it would have been nice to at least have the sensation of leaving it all out on the course. C’est la vie.

Finally got back to the hotel to check results later in the afternoon. 19:47, bad enough for 64th place, about 2:30 back from the worst sandbagger best finisher. No one else on INTERNATIONAL BICYCLE CENTERS fared particularly well, either, with C.Greg in 33rd with 19:09 and Paul and Mike a few ticks behind me. But it’s really only incentive to be that much more active over the coming three days.

Kessler Suspended, Petacchi Out? Barloworld In.

27 Jun

On the ride to work today, I hatched this theory that maybe the “men in black” weren’t really Astana like everyone’s been saying. Maybe they were Caisses d’Epargne, a squad that tends wear black kits, and has had a few scrutinized riders. Well, looks like it’s back to the drawing board for me. Matthias Kessler has (of course) no idea how his testosterone became elevated, and Lord knows, asking his team manager, the famously unaware Walter Godefroot, won’t provide any answers either. But I bet Floyd Landis could offer a few suggestions to the young German – provided he doesn’t mind not racing in France for a bit.

Too bad about Kessler, though. I always admired the guy for manning up to finish a Tour stage with a collapsed lung in 2004. I don’t care how much dope you’re jacked up on – that’s some hard guy stuff right there. A decidedly less hard guy is also in hot water on the eve (figuratively speaking) of this year’s Tour – recently re-crowned sprint king Alessandro Petacchi. His offense? Too much asthma medicine. It seems like a stupid exclusion, but as I understand WADA’s draconian rule structure, if Petacchi’s above the the 1000 ng/mL line, then Therapeutic Use Exemption or not, that counts as a doping offense.

Jumping momentarily from those excluded to those inexplicably invited, Cyclingnews has a nice feature on the Barloworld squad. Robbie Hunter aside, I’d still rather see Unibet, or even Tinkoff, toeing the line instead of these guys; that having been said, almost anyone would be a step up from Agritubel. While not nearly as aggressive at recruiting refugee dopers as Team Relax has been, I suppose I can see the ASO harboring some ill will against Tinkoff for hiring Tyler Hamilton and Jorg Jaksche. But excluding an exciting spring performer for purely political reasons really defeats the point of selecting Wild Cards in the first place.

Nothing Makes Sense

26 Jun

Arrrg! Shimano, why? First Cannondale and now you? You beat SunTour in the 80’s by pouring millions into engineering and research. You were so awesome when you came out with the 10 speed Dura-Ace in ’03 and said “our research shows aluminum cranks are better”. Now you let idiot mechanics say “Nowadays everybody wants to use carbon when possible, so Shimano are starting to use it in areas such as chainsets.”? Simply unreal. This only propagates the idiotic notion that road bike lines go “aluminum, aluminum with carbon stays, full carbon”. I promise you, consumers will make you suffer by remembering that.

But what should I expect, you know? Cycling’s a European sport, and Euros, well, they just don’t make sense. The Tour says it needs to regain its credibility. And how does it plan to do that? By making riders sign a pledge? Awesome. Because pledges have historically been so successful and even-handed. And you’ve gotta love the German approach to anti-doping – banning Erik Zabel for confessingn a single incidence of doping over a decade ago. Got something dark in your past? Just ban it. That’ll keep deep-seated wrongdoing from ever resurfacing. Honestly, when the entire continent functions like this, it’s an economic wonder the Euro remains strong.

So after all this, I’m thinking Unibet.com’s best shot at this year’s TdF isn’t through the courts. The team should instead channel its legal fees into sneaking the same nine riders into the early kilometers of every stage. Sure, they’ll need to use progressively more sophisticated means of insertion as the race goes on (disguises, bribery, HALO jumps) but once a single rider catches a draft off a Unibet wheel, ASO will be forced to accept them into the event, or risk sacrificing the very race integrity all these Scotch-Tape anti-doping measures are aimed to protect.

The Hay is in the Barn

25 Jun

So, now that Vlad Karpets has locked down his second stage race win of the year at the Tour de Suisse, the blogosphere breathes a sigh of relief. No more posturing, no more shadowboxing – just the Tour. Sure, there’s the Eindhoven TTT and some fancy jersey giveaways, but for the contenders, the hay is in the barn. And for the contenders’ teams, the back-up plans are drawn up and ready. Have you noticed that Astana and Caisse d’Epargne, two squads whose leaders each might very well be Puerto’d before the start, have serious contenders waiting in the wings?

I won’t even hazard a guess at who’ll end up in yellow on the Champs Elysees, at least not until all the racers have signed the waiver. If you’re really looking for predictions, a good person to ask might be CSC’s Frank Schleck, who was dead on in tagging teammate Fabian Cancellara for the final TT at the Tour de Suisse. Maybe after all the teams submit some final start lists, or after the abnormal results waters have cleared, I’ll come forward with a prediction or two. Only thing I’m willing to say now is that the winner won’t be this guy.

2007 Cox Charities Cycling Classic Race Report

24 Jun

I am hilariously frail right now. Yesterday, I bumped my elbow with me knee and it hurt for like, 10 minutes. Most of my wounds have healed/scabbed, but now huge bruises are rising on my forearms and shins. I’m hoping they’re from Monday’s dust-up with the car, but the way I feel right now, they might very well be from scurvy. Even as I type this (lying prone on a blanket alongside the Cox Criterium course), I have to be careful what parts of my body I lean on. I’m essentially disabled without a bicycle underneath me.

So obviously this is the perfect time to start racing again. Especially in a 3/4 criterium with 125 riders on a non-selective course with a fast, bumpy downhill, like the one I was upended on at Great Falls. To be fair, the Cox Criterium course is kinda fun, but it’s not exactly kid gloves for coming back from a hard crash. Plus I drove down with Darcy, who promised that if I crashed again, she’d beat the living $&!t out of me. And Lord know, I don’t need that.

The INTERNATIONAL BICYCLE CENTERS team had more than 10 registrants, so we were officially a “VIT” (very important team), meaning a special warm-up tent, with its own bathroom, trainers, free Accelerade, Endurox, Poland Spring and underripe bananas, was ours to use. But I hate the trainer so much that even this wasn’t enough incentive to get me warmed up properly. At any rate, they kept us on the line for 10 minutes, and there was a neutral quarter lap or so, making warm-up essentially irrelevant.
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Tour de Suisse, Some (Anti-)Doping

23 Jun

So after mountains of insurance paperwork, follow-up medical care, driving all over New England in search of a Cannondale dealer and previewing the first stage at Fitchburg (note to organizers – next year, you need to give the fat kids a reason to show up), I have returned! News – Vlad Gusev isn’t just for Paris- Roubaix anymore. The Russian stormed out of his breakaway and onto the top step of a Suisse Tour podium, through weather described as “freezing mist”, so having a little cobblestoned grinta probably didn’t hurt. Chris Horner (no gloves, BTW) came across two minutes later, just to remind American race fans that he is still around.

Today’s stage was taken in a late move by Columbian 20-year-old Rigoberto Uran. It would have been quite the coup for his marginalized Unibet squad, had the neophyte rider simply remembered to zip his jersey, but since he didn’t, he looks like just another Columbian pan-flash. Of far more interest to me is the race behind the race; that is to say, the TdF contenders. Lest we forget, the big show in the July is the primary reason teams come to this silly Apline ramble, and over the past two days, Andreas Kloden (2nd, 3rd) has really shown mettle. I am looking forward to seeing his performance in tomorrow’s TT, especially given his team’s past performances this season.

Of course, there are those less excited about those surprising Astana performances. Vino and the boys in Robin’s Egg Blue have defended themselves vehemently, but apparently there have already been some “non-negatives”. Impressive that we haven’t heard names for any of them yet, as the UCI is known to have more leaks than the Iraqi Navy (man, I wish I could take credit for that phrase). Hanging out on the obverse of the anti-doping coin (that’s “tails” for all you non-numismatists out there) is Team CSC, who recently released the results (PDF) of their in-house testing program. It’s kinda cool to look at, but I have a few questions; most pressingly, why do some of the lines just stop in mid-April?

"The Secret" in Cycling, Armstrong, Disco, and Suisse

21 Jun

So how many of you out there are down with The Secret? Well, I’ve got proof that it works. Wasn’t it just yesterday I questioned CSC’s team anti-doping program in light of Bjarne’s recent confession? And then today – boom – CSC announces that all its riders have been clean thus far. Not too shabby, eh? And of course, CSC’s announcement itself employed The Secret, too – they, after losing a sponsor earlier this year, wanted the universe to make their title sponsor continue. Mission accomplished, I’d say.

Lance Armstrong certainly knows The Secret. He demands that the universe not take doping allegations against him seriously, and behaves as if the object of his desire were on its way. I do find it a bit unusual that Armstrong’s managed to rail against this book before I’d even heard it was going to come out, but hey – can’t let the universe know what you want too quickly, right? Especially with at least five former teammates either confessed, convicted or charged as dopers.

If I were Big Tex, though, I might try asking the universe for something slightly different than I’ve been demanding through most of my career. After all, the frenetic doping denial thing is kind of out of fashion at the moment. And the allegations made against Telekom sound an awful lot like those leveled against Postal, but until some more riders confess, I guess we’ll just have to assume Armstrong was clean, unlike the confessed dopers he was so thoroughly trouncing.

I could go on, really, about how Postal/Disco’s reluctance to play along and questionable hiring practices might be hindering their sponsor hunt – but I’d rather talk about racing. Especially when golf ball-sized hail is involved. It must have damaged the helmet of stage winner Erik Thomas Dekker, forcing him to don an ill-fitting replacement. However, the real action was further back, as the overnight leader, CSC’s clean-testing Frank Schleck, lost 1:21 on the day – quite a bit for a supposedly less difficult stage. Schleck now sits third on GC, behind the Caisse d’Epargne’s other Russian, Vladimir Efimkin, and Saunier Duval’s José Angel Gomez Marchante; the real fun starts tomorrow.

Books, Honchar, UCI, Tour de Suisse

20 Jun

Man, everybody’s got a book these days. Floyd Landis wrote one that was apparently pretty bad (he stole the title, too), and Saul Raisin’s working on one about his comeback, despite not having really come back yet. Used to be only the weirdos and paraiahs of the cycling world wrote books, but with the help of a few co-authors, everyone’s getting in on the act. Maybe I should get a job as a cycling book writer. I guarantee lower rates than Sally Jenkins, and my services will come with the added benefit of making your book not utterly suck.

Personally, I’d love to write the life story of T-Mobile’s Serhiy Honchar. I would call it Low-Hanging Fruit. Honchar’s a veteran rider who’s already built a solid palmares, and hopefully a solid retirement portfolio. Last season’s TdF performance aside, the 36-year-old had only a few seasons left, and his rise to prominence during the dope-happy 90’s, affiliation with Eastern Bloc training programs, and ostensibly inefficient riding style had already made him the subject of rumors; the perfect high-profile target for T-Mobile to say “Look, we kicked someone out! We’re policing ourselves successfully!”

With the UCI now ripping off Hollywood in an attempt to give their existing anti-doping measures more teeth, I really want to trust that Bob Stapleton is putting in a bona fide effort to self-regulate. But since CSC, the other ProTour self-policer, has had a slew of doping cases surrounding it, I think my cynicism can be forgiven. Certainly, I’m more trusting than the French, German and Dutch representatives, who expressed distinct displeasure at the news that Alejandro Valverde would be allowed to compete at this year’s Tour de France.

Oh, yeah, and I guess there was some racing, too. A little-known Italian guy made a gutty breakaway for his first win at the Tour de Suisse, while local lad Fab Cancellara completed the three-day trifecta of winning a TT, podiuming in a group sprint, and finishing with the lead pack on a hill stage. Cance did crack the next day, but teammate Frank Schleck (Andy’s older, fatter brother, in case you forgot) came away with the win and the GC lead. Then today, Robbie McEwen won a group gallop, with Daniele Bennati scoring his third 2nd place five days.