Wednesday, August 27, 2008

AMC Stage 1: The Rim

Me and Tinker

Stage 1 of the American Mountain Classic was a 53 mile point-to-point race.  It was entirely above 9,000 ft, and much of it was above 10,000 ft.  It started with a short descent down a dirt road that was so dusty I couldn’t see the ground five feet in front of me.  The road turned uphill for a while, which cleared some of the dust, but didn’t make the riding any easier.  Then it turned downhill again. 

It was a long downhill.  And fast.  The picture above is of me keeping the pace with Tinker Juarez, (he's on my right in the green and black) which, admittedly, didn’t last long.  Twice on that descent I whacked rocks hidden in the dust with my back wheel.  One of those rocks jettisoned one of my water bottles.  It was twenty miles before the first feed zone.  I was a bottle behind for the rest of the stage—always just a little thirsty. 

Next we stared climbing to the rim on some single track.  I stared to feel my back rim clunk against smaller and smaller rocks.  Then it was making a thud with every downed tree branch I crossed.  I was getting a flat, but thought I could ride it until I got to the feed zone.  Then I came to a switchback. 

The tire nearly rolled off the rim.  I stopped to air it up; thinking my sealant inside would plug the leak easily.  Instead my Big-Air valve broke the barrel screw off of the stem on my wheel.  I would have to replace it with a tube. 

I installed my tube and started to air it up, but in the process broke the barrel screw off of that valve stem too.  I searched through the weeds where it landed but never found it.  I needed yet another tube. 

About that time Aaron, my teammate, came by.  He gave me his Big-Air canister and his spare tube—he was going to have to ride on faith to the next feed zone.  I installed his tube and tried to air it up, but the valve stem was too short to protrude out of my deep dish Reynolds wheels.  I didn’t know who to curse; the wheels or me for leaving my valve extender back at the room.  I wasted the entire Big-Air trying to get air into the tube. And failed. 

I stood there looking helpless for a while.  Its funny how many racers will ride by and ask if I had everything I needed, but would keep on riding when I said “No, I could us a pump and another tube.”  Finally, and this was at least twenty minutes after I initially stopped, one guy actually stopped and gave me his spare tube and a pump. 

I promised him I would catch him and return the pump and he was on his way.  I was on my way too, after a couple minutes spent installing a third tube and pumping with his tiny pump.  I spent the next 40 miles chasing down my group.  Oh, and I whacked my helmet on another low-hanging tree, but Reed Wycoff wasn't behind me to tease me this time. 

I caught and passed a few of the elite men, but I was over an hour behind the winner.  My time was 4:48, but for the record, the guys I was riding with when I flatted finished in about 4:15.  Could my flat have cost me half an hour?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Clean as a whistle

Today's post was supposed to be about Stage 1 of the AMC, but I had a unique experience on my way in to work today.  

Bicycle commuters face lots of hazards.  From inattentive drivers to inclement weather, from poorly placed storm drains and broken glass on the roads to disgruntled lawnmower drivers, I thought I had seen it all in my thirteen years of commuting by bicycle.  But today I had new experience to add to the list. 

I got sprayed by one of these:


It was parked at the side of the road as I came by.  The driver started up the sprayer at just the right time to get me.  I got drenched. 

I don’t know what those street sweepers spray on the roads, but I can assure you it doesn’t taste like plain water.  I appreciate that they’re cleaning all the debris off the shoulders of the road where I ride, but must they do it during the morning commute?

Stay tuned for my report on Stage 1 of the AMC…

Monday, August 25, 2008

American Mountain Classic: Prologue


I felt a twinge of fear signing up for a race against Jeremiah Bishop, Manny Prado, and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, so when we lined up for the prologue on Thursday I set myself up on the back row where I had a good view of the real pros up front.  I hadn’t seen the course, and only had a general idea of how long it was.  There were thirty of us so my only expectation was to not finish 30th. 

From the start, which was down a paved road, I was amazed at the pace set by the front row.  All I could do was put my head down and try to draft them.  They didn’t let up when the race turned onto a gravel road, but I could see a left turn onto some single track coming quickly.  I had to unlock my front shock but first had to conquer my fear of taking my hand off the handlebars and reaching for the lockout at that speed.

All I remember about the next twenty minutes was how much my lungs hurt.  I think the course was twisty with lots of rocks and roots.  Oh, and I nicked my helmet on a low hanging tree branch, and was teased by Reed Wycoff about it from behind. 

I crossed the finish line in 17th place with a time of 23:19, three minutes behind the winner.  I realized the obvious, that I wouldn’t be able to compete with the guys who do this for a living, but I also realized that I had no reason to fear the rest of them. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Evanston, the AMC and Wingnuts in San Francisco

The Wolverine Ridge Race in Evanston, Wyoming was nearly two weeks ago.  It was mostly uneventful for me, except that I felt good the whole time, and managed to stay upright and keep the air in both my tires. One memorable instant did occur on the first lap, on the long steep, straight, powdery climb, when I actually caught up to, and passed Bart G.  It was the deepest into a race that I had ever been in front of that perennial winner.  Apparently, he had left his climbing legs in Canada.  Riding in front of him was just an instant though, well two minutes maybe, because he blew past me as soon as the trail turned downhill and I never saw him again.  I gotta learn to descend. 

Speaking of descending, I signed myself up for the American Mountain Classic this weekend.  That means for the next four days I’ll be lining up with Jeremiah Bishop, Ryan Trebon, JHK and, rumor has it, Tinker Juarez.  With a group like that, you can expect to see my name descending rapidly to the bottom of the GC standings.  But how am I ever going to learn to race with the pros if I don’t race with the pros?  Go ahead, call me a wing nut. 

Speaking of wingnuts, Vince called my attention to this article in Today’s Wall Street Journal.  Apparently some nut in San Francisco is saying that allotting more street space to cyclists could cause more traffic jams, more idling and more pollution.  He’s stymied the City’s construction of bike lanes for two years by demanding an environmental impact analysis before they begin. I’ll surprise many of you by agreeing with him that crowding cars into fewer lanes can result in more pollution since they’re spending more time idling and getting nowhere, but he’s taking a very shortsighted perspective and thus is missing the point.  That’s why I call him a wingnut. 

Motorists have been subsidized by governments for over half a century.  We’ve built roads, parking lots, and entire communities that made it easy to get around by car; all at the expense of pedestrians and cyclists.  It was an incentive to get people to buy cars, and it worked.  (It worked really well for Ford, General Motors and Chrysler for a very long time.) Now we have a better understanding of the symptoms of car addiction—pollution, stress, obesity—so we as a society need to make driving less convenient.  We need to provide some disincentives to driving cars.  Traffic congestion is a natural disincentive.  Parking fees and toll roads are good ideas too, and they’re easy to implement.  Short of rationing gasoline like we did during WWII, taking road space away from motorists and giving it to cyclists may be the best way yet to make driving less convenient.  It’s not an “attempt by the anti-car fanatics to screw up our traffic on behalf of the bicycle fantasy”, as the wingnut from San Francisco so succinctly put it.  Building bicycle lanes in our cities is a sound use of public policy to steer behavior in a healthier, more sustainable direction. 

Friday, August 1, 2008

Jackson Hole

Jackson 2008

Well, the Jackson Hole race was seven days ago.  I guess that’s enough of a cooling off period.  But before I vent, first some good news:  Construction to connect the Salt Lake City and Sandy/Draper sections of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail will begin soon.  Read about it here—they’re looking for volunteers. 

Now, on to the whining.

Yes, the race was that bad for me.  I knew from the word ‘go’ that it wasn’t going to be a good day.  I don’t know if it was the poor night’s sleep I got the night before, or if I ate the wrong thing for breakfast, or maybe I had been riding too much (or not enough?) lately, but I just didn’t have any pep in my legs.  I usually start out well enough to be in a good position when we get to the single track.  But not this week, I was third to last going in, but only because I passed two guys on the inside of a tight turn. 

It took a lap and a half to convince my legs that it was time for them to work.  In the meantime I was dabbing my feet on the technical climbs and regularly checking my back tire to see if it was flat, because only a flat tire could make me feel as slow as I felt. 

By the third lap I had managed to work my way into fifth or sixth place, out of ten starters.  I was climbing better and figured I could salvage something out of this race.  Then, on one of the numerous stream crossings, I whacked a rock with my back wheel hard enough to blow the seal between the tire and rim.  “No problem.” I thought, “I’ve got two Big Air Canisters with me because I don’t want a repeat of my Solitude experience.”  Big air

One of the canisters was half spent, but I was able to get a bit of air into it.  I rode for a mile and got the wheel to seal up.  I stopped again to top it off with the second canister, but I couldn’t get my valve to pierce the seal on the can.  It was really strange.  I checked my valve, and it looked fine.  I looked at the can; it had a deep dimple in the seal, but wasn’t pierced.  I tried again—really hard, but nothing.  

By then some of the Experts were passing me.  Tim H. tossed—literally; I had to catch it mid-air—his canister at me and I finally got my wheel up to a serviceable pressure. 

No more than five minutes later, I was making a right turn off of some singletrack onto a dirt road.  My front wheel washed out, then my back, and the next thing I knew I was sliding through the bushes.  I was still clipped into my pedals when I came to a stop.  A by stander said he had counted six racers crash in the same spot that day. 

I got back on and determined to finish the race out of principle.  Just before starting my fourth lap (actually just a half lap this time) I saw Mags walking away from the feed zone.  She had forgotten that I was doing a fourth lap.  I started shouting “where’s my water? Where’s my water?” because I had sucked my other bottle dry while trying to fix my flat tire.  Darren, my brother, heard me and grabbed a bottle and started running through the trees.  He caught me just before I set of on the singletrack again and probably was the difference between me finishing the race and dropping out.   That’s the second time in two years his quick thinking saved me from dehydration. 

So yes, I did finish.  Yes, I was last.  Actually I was seventh, because three riders dropped out.  I guess I need races like this to appreciate the times when things go well.  But it is starting to seem like it’s been a while since things went well.