Style: Wearing White

I wrote this post for a friend’s website – VeloBeats, check it out – that I figured I’d throw up here just to try and generate a little momentum in my own publishing. Enjoy.

Q: I just saw some pictures of Bettini in his white World Champion kit and it looked awesome. Can I rock the white threads? Is it like my white linen suit and Labor Day?
A: White is the fastest color. Except for black. Didn’t Spinal Tap teach you anything? And what are you doing with a white suit? This sounds ripe for a “what you think you look like – what you actually look like” infographic. Put down the white gloves: Michael Jackson is dead. The Luna Chix can wear white. If you’re asking this kind of question, chances are you can’t.
But if you’re asking this kind of question, chances are you already bought that white kit in the clearance section and want to hear “yeah, man! That’s baller! Do it!” For sure, your buddies aren’t going to make fun of you…
At our local world championship ride, two guys are known to show up wearing white: one looks so damn good people have been known to ask if he’s a pro, the other is so appalling that his own friends have whispered “what the fuck is he thinking?” just a few feet away. What’s the difference? Details.
It’s like putting on a suit: every piece matters. A two hundred dollar thrift store special can stand ground next to Armani’s latest with the right tailoring and carefully selected finishings. Fold your pocket square. Put in collar stays. Make your tie the right length. Stand with confidence. The suit doesn’t make the man, but it can make him look like a slob. So buy the matching white socks. Shave. Clean your bike. Wash the kit twice every time you wear it so people squint looking at it. Polish your shoes with bleach. Look the part from head to toe. White isn’t just a color, it’s a presentation.
And for the love of all that is holy, don’t put it on if it doesn’t fit. White isn’t slimming. If you can’t fit it, hang it on your fridge door and shame yourself in to skipping meals until your midriff doesn’t show.

2012 BikeJam/Kelly Cup: When The Streak Ended

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This report is about a month delayed from the race. There’s a reason for that: I didn’t feel like writing it. The experience was kind of shitty and I haven’t been eager to relive it. But the month that followed would be out of context without it, so here goes.

I wanted a good day out of BikeJam the way all experienced racers say you’re not supposed to. It was the “I need a good finish for the upgrade points” kind of way. And after a string of difficult races with lackluster results, I was looking for a bit of validation, too. In retrospect, all the makings of a miniature disaster were laid out in front of me like the ingredients for a big cake of don’t-eat-that-you-fat-slob. (The great thing about this analogy is that my diet really is terrible. And I would eat the cake.) It could have been great and exactly what I’d hoped for, but what were the chances of that happening? Self-awareness is probably a skill I could work on.

Since I arrived to the race a little late, I skipped the trainer and did a few laps up a hill behind the course with a teammate. I’ve never been big on warming up, but was recently convinced to at least try it for a little while. Whether or not it made a difference I’ve got no idea: I lined up, started the race, got the first few efforts out of the way and it all felt like business as usual. In fact, by time time the race settled in to it’s rhythm I felt pretty good. It was a welcome change of pace (see what I did there?) from the searing pain and empty lungs that characterized the previous few weeks.

During races that have been problems for me, the first sign of trouble is sliding back in the field. It’s usually followed by an internal monologue about the number of times that [hill, turn, or other painful course feature] has to be repeated or quiet pleading to let the attacks subside. Then comes the deal making: “at least do 3 more laps,” or “just close this gap, if there’s another you can let it go.” There’s always cursing about the guys inflicting all the pain. It’s a great little party of 1. Needless to say, when I caught myself giving up a few positions about halfway through, I was eager to move back towards the front of the race.

I was worried about getting caught in the yo-yo of the back of the field and playing crack-the-whip with the nearly-broken guys that were hanging on by the skins of their teeth. If getting dropped is an airborne transmitted condition, I wasn’t about to have anything to do with it.

And this is where I should note something important: local racers whose memories haven’t been wiped clean by repeated impacts with the asphalt and and an unhealthy number of interval sessions call this race Bike Slam. Dramatic crashes are the norm. On the day of the 2012 event, people were still talking about the last year’s crash in the women’s field that appeared to involve a hand grenade. The 2011 master’s open wreck involving an unnamed local celebrity and an alarming proximity to the barriers became the stuff of folklore that still gets repeated every 5th group ride or so. It’s not the place to get anxious. So that’s what I did. D’uh.

I slotted in behind my teammate, Pierce, and suggested that we make up a few spots. We surfed up and entered the roundabout, then switched directions for the left hand turn coming out of it. I stood on the pedals and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground. Somehow I got crossed up and took myself out. Awesome. Fortunately, there was only 1 other casualty and he immediately rejoined the race. I coasted to the pit, changed my flat tire, and tried to pretend nothing happened. Half a lap later, I realized something was seriously wrong with the bike: the pit mechanic took a look, pointed out the broken seat stay, and I called it a day. Well, sort of. I moved on to address the road rash and increasingly uncomfortable pain in my wrist.

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The rest of the day passed in a blur: I watched The Dirt Field win the women’s pro race in absolutely dominating fashion, then went to the Johns Hopkins emergency room to visit her teammate who had crashed out of the same race and suffered a broken wrist. By the time we reached home at 7 that night, my wrist pain had become too great to ignore and I made my way to the local emergency room. The verdict: two broken bones in my wrist, the scaphoid and the radial styloid process.

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The last month has been a bit of a challenge. Initially, I did not deal well with a hiatus from racing and the prospect of several weeks on the trainer. I’m still not happy with it. But broken down in to little steps, it has been more managable. I’ve moved off the trainer – back outdoors to rides with my friends – and things are definitely knitting themselves together in the cast. The broken frame is sitting on a shelf still broken, where it will stay for quite a while, but everything else is slowly finding it’s way back to order. In a few hours, I’ll head over to Arlington Hospital Center for a follow-up appointment. With any luck, I’ll walk out free of my cast and on to a brace.

Besides, the family of whatever little animal died in it will appreciate the chance to give the body a proper burial.

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The Little Book of Excuses

I’m starting a new feature. There’s a guy on my team that makes the sometimes unwise decision to attend group rides with a few of his faster peers. They We are sometimes frequently unkind. When he gets dropped we love to point it out. He offers up a one liner to rationalize the performance, we laugh, then look forward to the next creative self-assessment of athletic prowess. He’s a good sport, but there’s a little bit of That Guy in all of us. Every ride has that one unfortunate soul. Sometimes it’s just a bad day, but sometimes the droplet says something so unique that it’s practically Hall of Fame material  It’s about time somebody started immortalizing these gems.

Date: Sunday, 17 June

Ride: Great Falls loop from Reston Town Center, approximately 1.5 hours.

The Drop: Ben, fading on the power climbs. A victim of the merciless egos of the ride leaders, bent on winning Sunday glory while half the fast guys were hours away at the Washington County Stage Race.

The Excuse: “I went running yesterday.” To be fair, he did go on a running date. But who does that?

You Got Dropped: A Race Report

NCVC’s Poolesville Road Race is a MABRA tradition. It’s the regional Roubaix, with something like a mile of gravel in each 10 mile lap. It’s early-May date means that any kind of weather could be in the forecast, and because it doesn’t conflict with any other big events, participation is always high. This year, it got a little extra publicity because the organizers failed to include a pro/1/2 women’s field. But I guess somebody has to sit in the feed zone.

I digress.

On purpose, actually. Because I don’t want to talk about the race.

There aren’t a whole lot of noteworthy features in it. In fact, most people don’t even remember that there’s pavement. Seriously. One could be excused for claiming victory after riding back and forth across the gravel all day. That aside, the other 9 miles each lap are of the rolling terrain variety. Centerline rule applied, but moving around in the field was never very difficult. I should know: my slide from the very front to the very back was totally effortless!

I was coming off a rest week, but put a few efforts in on the bike a day or so early to get my legs back in the swing of things. One of my teammates and I scouted the final miles of the course so that we could dial our leadout. Another took charge of leading us safely into the gravel each lap. As we staged and rolled out, everything seemed copacetic. And for the first half of the day, everything was.

We rode a strong, mostly smart’ish 3 laps. All 3 of us were in the first 10 wheels the entire time, we were among the first 5 riders on to the gravel, and nothing seemed very difficult. Then, on the 4th lap, my race started to fall apart. I started losing positions and, before I knew it, I was at the back. Shortly after the next trip through the gravel, I found myself yo-yo’ing with the back of the field. A little bit farther down the road the elastic snapped and I was chasing. I caught back on as the field hit the feed zone, but the next 20 miles didn’t look like they’d provide much relief.

And they didn’t. I did my best to work may up the group, eventually touching base with the front 10 again, only to slide back every time actual work was called for. Through the gravel a 5th time, I reassumed my position at the ass-end of affairs, then lost contact shortly after the transition to pavement.

And that was Poolesville. I could write a litany of reasons that I didn’t meet expectations, but the truth is that somewhere between “this got really hard” and “shit, 20 more miles?” I just let go. It’s not the first time in recent events I checked out prematurely and it’s incredibly disappointing to find myself in that place. But I don’t have any big training deficits to overcome and I haven’t been featured on You Got Dropped yet, so there’s still time to turn things around.

Carl Dolan Memorial Classic Circuit Race: Failure to Launch

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This is a difficult race report to write. A lot happened at Carl Dolan and a lot didn’t. That all my insides are inside, my bones are together and where they should be, and that I’m able to write about the race from start to finish are things I’m thankful for. A lot of people weren’t as lucky. The top-10 finish is even better. But somehow, rolling across the line things felt unfinished.

What Didn’t Happen:

  • A tactical race: from the get-go, the field was resigned to a sprint finish. I can’t complain. I was waiting for it, too. Lesson learned. Racing your skill is great, but it doesn’t hurt to venture outside your comfort zone occasionally.
  • A solid sprint finish: a very out-of-sorts final kilometer saw the leadout men charging to the line while an array of sprinters scattered across the road.
  • A safe race: there are a lot of reasons for this and it’s nothing to bash anybody about. The kilometer long hill comes out of a fast downhill turn and it encourages the back of the field bunch back up with the front very quickly. This year, strong winds stifled the progress of the bunch even more. Riders in the back saw their opportunities to move to the front. The field size and category mixing played a role as well, I’m sure.
  • A hard test of fitness: why? All of the above. The race could have been safer if we’d committed to racing it hard. The sprint would have had fewer players with less bunching. Tactics apart from negative ones would have played a role. And we’d at least walk away feeling like we gave it a go and tried.

What Did Happen:

  • Crashes: left, right, all over. The aforementioned negative racing meant that 125 guys circled the very wide office park roads together, curb to curb. There were more incidents than I can count on one hand (and after that, I just give up – counting with both hands requires way too much coordination).
  • Race restart: as the field came around for five laps to go, it was neutralized. Two thirds of the way up the hill leading to the finish, a racer had crashed hard on the previous lap and failed to remount. When the race was restarted, what seemed like half the field had voluntarily withdrawn. Two laps were cut from the board to recoup some lost time.
  • An upright finish: in the final lap, I found my position and prepared for what I figured would be a lot of bumping. But with half a kilometer left to race, the rider in front of me went down, a result of the rider in front of him doing something or other that ended on the ground. Pierce and I both made it around safely, but not without watching the race go up the road. I sprinted from that point, but it was very obviously somebody else’s day. [One of those somebody else's was our teammate James, who had been up front pacemaking. He motored in for second overall, which was good for the win of the cat 4 group. Awesome, James!]

So that was Dolan. There were little things I’d liked to have executed differently, but it’s difficult to accept because I know I could have done more and didn’t. It’s less than likely that the result would have been any better, but at least I’d have worked for it. Chalk it up for next time.

Jefferson Cup Road Race: And Then There Was One

Registering for this one was a last minute decision. Having a significant portion of my life consumed by it was not. With the pressure on for The Dirt Field, it was the focus of more conversations than I can count. We discussed the entry list, the course features, the final 2 kilometers, how training in the preceding week might affect performance, what type of gas to put in the car, race strategy, sock choice. No stone was left unturned. Then, about a week out, I realized that I’d need to find some kind of training ride to do that day. Might as well race, right?

It wasn’t quite that simple – this would be a better story if it were – but it’s not untrue. In reality, I wanted more from Black Hills. Despite not doing badly, I was disappointed in myself for thinking of giving up so quickly and felt like I should have done more. I wanted to prove to myself that I could keep my head in it, but Jeff Cup was the only chance for a few weeks. And then there was the matter of upgrade points. I’ve resisted discussing exactly how much I want to earn my Cat 2 upgrade for fear of public failure, but there it is. I can’t even explain why I want it so badly, but I do and there’s no turning back. All of these factors were weighed against the risk of showing up to the race and getting hurt, wasting energy and resources to go and not achieve anything, and a streak of utter failure with road racing. When you train for 60 minute crits, a 60 mile road race is daunting. But it was there, my teammates were going, I’d already talked over every single aspect of the event, and, at the end of the day, it’s still a competition.

But I only had a few days to stress about it. I like my method.

The race plan was simple: my sole teammate and I would wait for the finish to burn our matches, letting teams with bigger numbers do the chase work. I was anxious and it showed on the first couple laps, as I sat on a break attempt or two and stuck my nose in the wind too much. A few reassuring words from Pierce brought me back to Earth and we settled in for the long haul. Around 2.5 laps in, Bike Doctor’s rival sprinter flatted, ending his day. Apparently the wheel truck didn’t even stop for him. Without that wheel to mark, I would be relying completely on Pierce for the rest of the race. A lap later Pierce flatted. It was the end of his day and it took my head out of the game. If my ride home hadn’t been feeding for the Pro/1/2/3 race, I might have pulled the plug right then.

I stayed in, hoping to coast in to a safe finish. On lap 5, that didn’t seem very likely. The field was a little sketchy all day, and the 5th trip up The Hill felt a lot worse than the preceding 4. Fast forward to lap 6 and I’d somehow managed to stay in contact with the lead group. It hurt and my legs were starting to feel rubbery underneath me, but to not shoot my bullet in the finish wouldn’t be right. I began a half lap of negotiations with myself and ultimately determined that no matter how understanding my friends and teammates might be about a lackluster finish, I would still walk away disappointed f if I didn’t leave everything on the tarmac.

And that nearly happened. With Bike Doctor’s sprinter out, The Bike Lane leadout compromised, and no clear leadership in the field, the final 2 kilometers were some of the scariest I’ve ever raced. Despite being in the first 20 wheels, I couldn’t see the front of the field. People were bumping off each other left and right, and a whole lot of guys that don’t normally contest the gallop found themselves sniffing the line. I found daylight off to the side just outside of 200 meters to go, jumped into it, and did my best to whirl my little rubber cankles around to get something resembling a sprint. It was good for 2nd in the field, which landed me on the last step of the podium. I’m happy with it.

Now begins a very much ancitipated rest week. It’s definitely a lot easier to go into it without the weight of a disappointing performance on my shoulders. And to have learned a few things about myself to help my game moving forward is a good feeling. April Fools may have been Sunday, but the first Tuesday in April is Root Beer Float Night. Jeff Cup may have been worthwhile, but you can’t beat corn syrup with a big heaping helping of sugar.

Black Hills Circuit Race: In Which I Rediscover Heart Palpitations

In 2010, the race season started with the Richmond International Raceway Criterium. It was flat. And had no turns.

In 2011, it started in North Carolina with the Wolf Pack Road Race. Not quite flat, but only a few turns per lap and only about four laps.

This year, my first race was on the roads of Black Hills Regional Park. Each 1.5 mile lap nearly doubled the amount of turning that Wolf Pack did over 10 miles – repeat 14 times – and the elevation change was enough to sear the legs every lap. Between the snap out of each bend and the climbing and the up-front riding to stay out of the way of the inevitable crashes, Team Bike Doctor’s event had ‘litmus test’ written all over it. And then there were the nerves.

Oh, right. The nerves. Hello, friends.

60 minutes [or maybe less] stood between me and some sort of validation or the kind of defeat that keeps you awake at night wondering why your attachments are so small. Nothing’s more fun than watching your own race from the sidelines.

Standing in the staging parking lot, I quickly remembered that my pre-race resting heart rate was over 100bpm. It’s the little things that make competing so endearing. Like having to pee less than 5 minutes before the start no matter how many times you’ve already gone or how little you’ve had to drink. Racing’s idiosyncrasies quickly floated back into my head like it hadn’t been 6 months. Until the race started, anyway.

Whoever said “it’s just like riding a bike” has clearly never been on the bike while  jammed onto 6 feet of pavement with a 75 alpha males all trying to occupy that same piece of real estate.  ‘It’ does not come back quickly. It is nerve wracking and fast moving and a blur of “what the crap are you doing? Hold your damn line!” So much for a seamless return to the peloton.

So, race recap. First half: uneventual. Attacks, counters, attacks. Every surge saw an HPC kid racer try to go up the road. Not kidding. Every one. Second half: uneventful. At least, that’s what I thought. It wasn’t. People shouted time gaps from the sidelines. 10 seconds. 15 seconds. 20 seconds. After a couple laps of this, I bit and asked around to figure out how many had escaped.

4. Brain off. Ugh.

And right then I packed it in. There were less than 4 laps remaining and the break wasn’t coming back despite my teammate’s best efforts. Helping him reel it in would leave nothing in our quiver for the resulting sprint. It felt a little hopeless.

When the field resigned to duke it out for 5th, my teammate – Pierce – rotated back around to ensure our plan was still queued up. I told him I was done. Sprinting for a slim shot at the last couple upgrade-point positions didn’t seem worth the risk. He shook his head ‘no’ and said we were going for it. [About Pierce: he's 165 pounds of 6' 3" freight train. Working to try to bring back the break at this race, he set a personal record for 20 minute power of 399 watts. You'll never get him to admit a race was hard, and he never shuts down a big effort. Easily one of my best friends, I sometimes hate the guy on a bike.] I’m pretty sure that they could hear me groan all the way back in Virginia.

As the bell sounded for the final lap, Pierce began threading us through the field. Half a lap to go, pre-flight checks began and the pace really ramped up. As soon as we reached the marker for open road – about 300 meters from the line – Pierce gave it full gas and I held on for dear life.

I never made it around. We swept the field sprint to lock in 5th and 6th places. All things considered, not a bad result. For somebody who fancies himself a sprinter, keeping the field at bay up that damn the hill was a minor victory in itself. A week later, I’m still kicking myself for missing the break. But that’s racing. It won’t happen again.

The day finished with Chipotle, where every dedicated athlete fuels up on essential amino acids and vital nutrients. Or something like that. It was not a day to christen a wild new victory salute. But it was also not the one that had me laying in bed wondering who swapped out the things in my shorts for peas. I’ll always hope for more, but this wasn’t a bad foot to put forward on the first day of the new race season. And considering that in 2011 the 3/4 field seemed totally out of reach, it’s improvement I won’t complain about.