Sunday, December 21, 2008

2007-2008 Holiday Letter

2007
2007 was a busy year, and we never got around to writing our annual holiday letter. We procrastinated, and consequently we are doing a joint 2007-2008 update.

As usual, in 2007 Tom spent countless hours on his bicycle, and Tracy spent countless hours immersed in her studies for her Doctorate in Education. In between the hours in the saddle or with a nose in a book, there were opportunities for travel, relaxation in Seattle, and the introduction of two new four-legged friends into our lives.

BIKING
Tom rode 8800 miles during the year, a few less than usual, but he did manage to climb over 500,000’ on his bike during the course of 2007. 63,200 of those feet involved riding across the Pyrenees Mountains of France. He started on the Mediterranean Coast in El Port de la Selva, Spain, and finished on the “Gold Coast” at Biarritz, France.

Tom continued in his role as a director on the Cascade Bicycle Club board, and helped develop a new annual event for the club held at Mt. St. Helens. It’s called the High Pass Challenge. Tracy was “volunteer extraordinaire” throughout the whole process. Tom also managed to ride in the event, and got to wear the #1 bib number for the only time in his life! Of course, Tracy managed to throw her leg over her bicycle for the occasional ride, but her real focus this year was running.
STUDYING
In 2006, Tracy enrolled in the University of Washington’s Leadership for Learning Education Doctorate program. She spent one Friday/Saturday a month engaged in class work, with a considerable amount of time between class sessions reading and writing. If all goes well, she’ll walk across the stage in June 2009 with her “funny hat” and purple velvet robe.

TRAVELING
After staying close to home in 2006, we decided to take flight a couple of times in 2007. In February, we took a vacation to sunny, warm Oahu. With a hotel right across from Waikiki Beach, we determined that the best way to spend seven days in tropical paradise was to stay close to the sand and surf. We took walks, lounged by the pool, and cruised the beach each day. The weather cooperated nicely so that we were able to return from Hawaii well refreshed and slightly tan.

In April, we flew down to Scottsdale to stay with Tom’s long-time friend, Karen. Her place just outside the main part of the city provided a terrific base for another week in warm, sunny weather. Tom took his bike on this jaunt, and spent some time exploring the hills around Scottsdale. We also drove down to Tucson—taking the bike, of course—to spend a couple of days down in that area. Tom had the chance to ride up through six climactic zones to the ski area on Mount Lemmon.

The coup de gras to this year of outside-of-Washington travel was Tom’s trip to France. He spent a total of 11 days in Europe, including 550 miles of cycling over 7 days crossing the Pyrenees.

RELAXING
When we were in Seattle (which, really, was most of the time), we made 2007 the year of exploring the city like a tourist. We toured SAM’s newly expanded digs, walked through the Olympic Sculpture Park, enjoyed various neighborhood haunts like the Shanty Café, watched the Blue Angels, biked to Alki and back, contemplated “riding the ducks” (although Tracy’s not sure she could handle having to quack on command), and spent many, many days at the Pike Place Market.

WELCOMING FURRY CRITTERS
A sad note to 2007 was saying good-bye to Madeline, our calico cat. She died in April after a pampered life. Toward the end of May, as we were enjoying the annual University of Washington Street Fair, we were captivated by two new feline friends. Aspin and Mente, two fluffy little calico girls named for two passes Tom rode over in France, joined us in June (they had to get big enough to come home) and have made it their personal mission to torture their new “brother” Zeke, our orange tabby. They’re adorable. They’re naughty. They make us laugh every day!

2008
In 2008, Tracy continues on in her fourth year as principal of Phantom Lake Elementary in Bellevue. In October, Tracy passed her General Exams, and upon completion of her dissertation will earn her Doctorate in Education in June of 2009. Already the most intelligent and highly educated person Tom has ever known, Tracy just keeps pouring it on. :) Who knows what the next great adventure lays ahead in her career path?

We spent a long Memorial Day weekend at Lake Chelan at a friend’s place. While Tom focused on cycling in preparation for his upcoming trip, Tracy focused on relaxing lakeside.

Tom went back to Europe in June for what he views as the cycling adventure of a lifetime. Spending almost three weeks with his friends Laura and Tim Wyckoff in Germany, France, and Italy, Tim and Tom managed to climb in excess of 93,000’ over some of the most storied roads in Europe. Tom flew to Munich, where Tim and Laura are spending three years while Tim works as a patent attorney. Laura was not working while Tom was visiting, and she volunteered to “sag” and support the two riders. First up were the Dolomites, and then Tim and Tom rode up the mighty Stelvio en route to three rest days in Bellagio at Lake Como. Next up (literally) were the famous climbs of the high French Alps, and finally a ride to the Mediterranean Sea through the French Maritime Alps.

Upon his return from Europe, Tom began publishing this blog.

Tom and Tracy volunteered as a team at the second annual High Pass Challenge, and Tom claims to have had more fun than last year when he rode in the 114 mile event.

Despite not doing a single ride in excess of 100 miles in 2008, through mid-December, Tom has managed to ride his four bicycles a little over 9200 miles, accumulating over 620,000‘ of climbing in the process. Given that we are experiencing the most prolonged cold and snowy (yes, snowy in Seattle!) weather since 1990, it’s possible that he is done for the year.

We don’t know anyone who we think would claim to have had a great year economically in 2008, but we do have a lot of friends who have had a fantastic year otherwise. Count us in that camp.

We hope you and yours have a wonderful 2009!





Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lance Armstrong: Best of the Best...Regardless

Lance Armstrong won seven Tour de France races in a row. No matter how you cut it, no matter how you view it, he is the best of the best of all time, regardless of how he accomplished it.

From a competitive standpoint, it simply doesn’t matter whether he used performance enhancing drugs or not.

It has been pretty well established, without naming names here, that virtually all of his main challengers in his seven tour victories were either directly or indirectly associated with some type of devious and clandestine plot to artificially increase their own chances of winning the tour.

Lance Armstrong beat them all convincingly.

This is not intended for anything other than pure speculation, but the way I see it, there are three possible scenarios that explain his dominance in the Tour de France:

1) Armstrong is an extremely talented athlete, even at the rarified elite level, and he raced clean. His incredibly focused and specific approach to the TDF, his mental fortitude, his bike handling skills, his drive and dedication to be the best, enabled him to overcome the illicitly gained “advantages” that many of his competitors had. He also consistently benefited from not only the strongest team, but a team that was extremely well coached and dedicated entirely to his cause. Depending on the drug, how it is administered, and the doctor interviewed, one is led to believe that drugs in sports can give an elite endurance athlete anywhere from a 5-15% performance edge. Armstrong closed, and then exceeded that gap, entirely through natural methods.

2) Every top level professional cyclist of the era was taking performance enhancing drugs. Armstrong had more talent than anyone else, still had the best team, still had the mental toughness, and therefore was able to dominate the 180+ person professional peloton and win seven Tours in a row. The “playing field” had effectively been leveled, and he still was the best.

3) Every top professional was taking drugs, Armstrong still had the other advantages, and in addition to that, he had the best medical team.

Regardless of which, if any, scenario makes any sense at all, one fact remains. Lance Armstrong is the best cyclist ever to compete in the TDF, and then there are the others, all five time winners. Seven of a kind trumps five, and Armstrong’s tour victories came in the modern era. As in most sports, today’s cyclist athletes are more highly trained and talented, and consequently participate in a more competitive sports environment.

Jack Nicklaus dominated professional golf in an era during which it has been acknowledged that there were a few top level golfers who were quite a bit more talented than the rest. In fact, they were called the “Big Four”, and there was Palmer, Player (this has to be the all time greatest name for a pro athlete!), Trevino, and Nicklaus. Most of the major tournaments of the day were won by these four, with Nicklaus being the most dominant. In today’s world, the Big Four could be equated with the “Big 100”, as the skill level is so elevated just to gain entry to the professional golf tours around the world, let alone win a tournament of any kind, that a type of parity has occurred.

Despite this perceived parity, Tiger Woods has managed to dominate the game like no one since Nicklaus, and he is well on his way to being the greatest golfer of all time. He is the Lance Armstrong of golf.

Most physiologists seem to agree that in terms of raw physical capacities at the highest levels of elite cyclists, differences of a few percent exist amongst the athletes. Greg Lemond reportedly had a Vo2 max of 90, and that number has been associated with Floyd Landis. Armstrong’s team has largely been silent on this subject. After Armstrong retired, Dr. Ed Coyle published the results of a long term study of Armstrong’s physiology tests. These tests dated back to the early 90’s when he was first a member of the international peloton, and long before his cancer. Even with Armstrong’s well documented weight loss, Coyle’s tests revealed a Vo2 max of between 82 and 84 when Armstrong was at his peak.

While this level certainly places him among the most physically gifted endurance athletes in the world, his aerobic capacity as measured by Vo2 max alone does not alone explain his dominance. Of course, there are many other physiological metrics critical for success, but Vo2 max has long been one of the gold standards, along with power at LT, that has been used to gauge an athletes’ odds for success.

As I stated above, I don’t really believe it is important exactly how Lance Armstrong was able to win seven Tours in a row. He was the best of the best amongst a very deep, talented field, many of whom have been linked to drugs.

I think he is still the best, and I think he has come back to prove it. At age 37, out of the game for almost four years, he has reentered the sport. He’s done so at a time when even the harshest critics of cycling feel that significant progress has been made in the fight against doping, and that the 2009 Tour should be one of the cleanest tours in the last two decades. The playing field should be as level as it has been in a very, very long time.

Why would he come back if he didn’t intend to race clean? Why would he risk his legacy when he has nothing to gain, and everything to lose?

Just imagine if he wins the Giro, and/or the Tour de France. That will shut everybody up, once and for all.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Alpes-Maritime of Provence 2009 Tour


I have decided I’m going back to Europe in 2009. I’m returning to the French Maritime Alps.

CBC’s International Tours Group has partnered up with VeloSki Tours to offer Cascade Bicycle Club members an incredible trip from 9-6-09 to 9-18-09:

http://www.cascade.org/EandR/tours/alpes_maritime/index.cfm

The trip size will be limited to 10-12 riders, and I have heard fantastic things about VeloSki. VeloSki is owned and operated by Pacific Northwest people, and the principals have many years of experience from years of guiding for the Seattle based Erickson Cycle Tours company.


In 2007, I took a trip to the Pyrenees with Cycle Miles, a German tour company. It was my first commercial tour, and I was blown away by how hard the guides worked to make sure we had an incredible trip.

The 2009 tour includes 12 days and nights in Europe’s Maritime Alps. The price includes accommodations and exceptional tour support. All accommodations are three-star. The early-bird price is 2000 Euros (until 1-15-09), or about $2530 at today’s exchange rate. This price includes everything except for your airfare and all but two lunches/dinners.

Yes, the economy is horrible, but this is a tremendous deal, considering the level of service that VeloSki offers on their trips, and the fact that group size is limited to 12 riders. See below for a word from Tom Napa about VeloSki. Tom is a local Seattle rider whom you may know.

To get a clear picture of the VeloSki tour’s value take a look and compare the 2009 Erickson Maritime trip to VeloSki’s:

http://www.ecycletours.com/Content2009/13-maritime_alps.htm

CBC has negotiated special pricing for Cascade members on this trip, and I am helping to get the word out, and answer any questions that I can. I was just in this region in June of this year, and it’s one of my favorite places to cycle in the world. That’s why I am going back.

Let me know if you are interested, and maybe we can put together a group of people who know each other.

From Tom Napa:

"Just an unsolicited endorsement regarding VeloSki and Larry Smith who runs
the company. I have taken 2 Tours with VeloSki....the Swiss Alps in 2007 and Austrian
Tyrols in 2008....both exceeded my expectations in every regard. The routes
were scenic and as challenging as one would want. Larry typically has at
least 2 routes to choose from everyday....a challenging one and one less so. The
accommodations are typically local 3 (if not better) star establishments
that I look forward to returning to on my own in the future. And the meals
are memorable....not to mention wine/beer with dinner.

Larry has led groups for years previously with Erickson and for the past 2
years has been on his own. He knows the cycling roads of Europe like we
know the Burke Gilman Trail! He'll take care of you and your bike from the
moment you land till the time you take-off for home. It’s well worth the
commitment in time, training, and dollars...especially as the US$
strengthens. I highly recommend whatever trip VeloSki/Larry has arranged."

Friday, December 5, 2008

What's Wrong With This Picture?

From Cyclingnews.com:

"Most cyclists in Spain are legally required to wear helmets, so when a Spanish policeman saw a group out for a ride and one rider not wearing a helmet, he pulled that rider over. Fortunately, Team Astana's Chris Horner knew that professional riders are not covered by the law.

Astana is holding its training camp on Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, and a group of riders including Horner and Lance Armstrong went out for a ride, when the group was stopped by the Spanish police.

"Horner found it funny because he knew the rules – he lived for some time in Spain – and knew there is an exception for professional riders," Astana spokesman Philippe Maertens told Cyclingnews. "He had to explain the rules to the policeman." After showing his identification to prove that he was, indeed, a pro rider, he was able to go on his way.

The 37-year-old actually had his rider's license with him as proof. "He always has it with him as he knows the Spanish rules," Maertens said. "Probably he was the only one who had it with him."

The Spanish law requiring helmets took effect in January of 2004. The exceptions are: when riding in cities or towns, during "periods of extreme heat", when riding up steep hills, for medical reasons and professional cyclists. Any riders during a competition are not required to wear a helmet, either. Violators are subject to a fine of up to 90 euro".

What kind of helmet law is this?

By the way, by "What's wrong with this picture", I didn't mean the helmetless head. This shot could be from Lake Washington Blvd. in Seattle on a Saturday morning (no offense intended). Why would a professional cycling team go to a place with narrow roads and a lot of traffic to do a camp? Maybe they are just heading out from their hotel in search of the open roads?

I hope to see you on the Tarmac.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Mean Season

Today is the unofficial start of the mean season. Officially, it’s the start of the big shopping build up to the Holiday Season, but for a cyclist, today holds an entirely different prognosis.

Every year, I notice that the hazards of the road seem to get a little worse, during this period between the day after Thanksgiving and the New Year. Drivers get a little more impatient and irritated at being held up on the roads, and riding just feels a little more…dangerous.

Given the horrible economy, maybe it will be different this year. Certainly there will be fewer drivers rushing to the malls, but the ones who do make the trip will likely be even more frazzled than usual.

In any case, I’m always a little extra cautious this time of the year and I go out of my way to try and give myself a solid margin for error to potential bad situations.

I hope you all keep your eyes open as well, and I hope you have a great Holiday Season.

I hope to see you on the road.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Are You Talking to Me?

A few hours ago, I rolled onto the east side of Mercer Island on my way back downtown after a great ride through Medina, Kirkland, and Bellevue. A nice mellow loop around the south side of the island would be a great way to conclude my cycling on a picture perfect deep blue sky day.

As I casually motored along at around 200 watts of effort, I noticed that I was slowing gaining on a cyclist up ahead of me. As I caught him, I greeted him with a very pleasant “How ya doing?” and a wave, and then I proceeded past. He took a hard and surprised stare at me, didn’t utter a word, and gave me one of those “Where did you come from—no one was supposed to catch up to me” looks. Frequently it seems to be problematic to catch up to a rider gradually. If you just blow by someone, usually that’s it, you’re here, and then you are …gone.

As seems to occur so often in this situation, this guy immediately jumped onto my wheel, and stuck like glue as I worked my way up through the shaded turns. I’m never happy when somebody I don’t know latches onto my wheel, but given the damp, leaf covered slick road, as well as the low winter light, I really was not comfortable. Especially so, when I realized that he was weaving around to stay behind me as I took the whole lane to pick the safest line. If the roads could have only been a little bit wetter! He wouldn’t have wanted a dirt mustache, and he would have backed off.

I speeded up a little, but I knew it would be to no avail. People like this either don’t get the message, or they are so lacking in social skills that they don’t understand the message.

As politely as I could, I slowed down, waved him up, and said “No offense, but I’m really not comfortable with somebody I don’t know following me”. I told him to go ahead if he wanted, and he waved me off—still not a word uttered, but he did give me his best Robert Diniro “Are you talking to me” look.

Once again I moved ahead, and once again he stuck to me like a cheap suit. Hmmm, this was becoming just a little aggravating. Finally he spoke up, saying “Fine, go, but I don’t what your problem is with people following”. Not thinking I owed him an explanation, I told him that I assumed that I was riding a little faster than him (as I had caught up to him), and that I simply wanted to do my ride alone.

As I again went ahead, we came to the last little uphill section before the flat at the end of all of the hairpin turns on the east side as you ride clockwise. I stepped on it a little bit, and he stood up and sprinted to match me! I told him that my intention was not to race him, and he mumbled something and just waved me away. I thought I finally might have some peace and serenity, but no, he just stayed 20’ behind me! I rode for awhile at between 220 and 260 watts, and he was still there.

Finally, I said screw this, I’m going to ride the way I had intended, and I backed it off to 200-220, still harder than I had been going prior to catching him. He motored by on the drops, I suppose intent on proving something to someone he would never see again.

I smiled to myself, and thought “Good for him, I hope he’s happy now”.

That thought stayed with me briefly, but I subconsciously found myself steadily pedaling harder and reeling him in. I guess I wanted to make him pay for ruining the Karma of my ride around Mercer Island!

I would creep up behind him, let him know I was there with a few gear changes, and then watch him latch back onto the drops, and put his head down, determined to stay ahead. Little did he know, I was only going to ride as hard as I needed to ensure that he paid the price by having to ride over his head.

We were nearly done with the loop, and I was still playing this little cat and mouse game, when I noticed a rider in full team kit slowly gaining on the two of us. Now this dynamic should be interesting! As the rider rolled up next to me, I said hi, and told him that the guy ahead really didn’t like to be passed. As we followed 20-30’ behind, I told him the whole story, and he shook his head and said he was thinking the two of us were really hammering as he was having to put down 250 watts just to stay with the pace, and it took a big effort for him to catch us.

For the rest of the loop, the team kit guy and I had a nice chat, fully aware that at least half of what we said surely was overheard by the mystery man up ahead. The three of us descended down the west side, and I bid goodbye as I took a left turn for a little shortcut to the lower platform of the I90 Bridge. The team kit rider told me he would say hi for me when he passed the guy on the final hill up to the top of the bridge. I laughed and replied that I liked his chances. By now that guy up ahead would be lucky to just make it up the hill, let alone hold off team kit guy.

I briefly thought about joining him, but there just didn’t seem to be any point to prolonging this escapade.

This entire adventure need not have occurred. All it would have taken would have been a friendly reply to my initial greeting. He could have asked if I minded if he joined me for the ride. Is that such a foreign concept?

It’s likely that I would have ultimately said no, but I surely would have ridden along with him for awhile and exchanged pleasantries. After all, I wasn't in any hurry.

The resulting parting of the ways would have had a whole different feel to it, and he would not have had to bury himself to stay in front!

Of course, I wouldn’t have had anything to write about today, other than to say I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A "Real" Athlete in Training

Check out this clip to see a real athlete in training!

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=UN2n6VzBcIU

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Rainy Season

This year I’m going to try a different approach for the winter rainy season. Typically, this is a time of the year where I have no real structure to my riding, and I just try and get out when the weather isn’t too bad. Since I have taken the last two winters off from leading the weekly Hills of the West Coast group ride, this means mostly easy to moderate paced riding, i.e., “base miles”. For me these could be called “boring miles”.

My Bullet Bike singlespeed is now my winter bike, and that changes everything. Not only is it much easier to clean than a geared racing bike, it’s a lot of fun not to have to worry about shifting when the weather is crappy. Having only 42x16 kind of dictates the riding style to you—you don’t boss the singlespeed around, and that means that you are mostly obligated to ride hard. With 70 gear inches (equivalent to 50/19), there are not many hills I would describe as easy, and then there is the riding into the winter winds.

Normally, moderate pace means moderate fitness, and that’s OK, as you have time to build fitness back up in the spring after it erodes away. This year I am going to try and keep as much fitness as I can through the winter. I figure that my hours on the bike will drop anyway, giving me plenty of time to recover. If I can only get out for an hour or two here and there, I’m going to make that riding time pay off. Every ride will have a purpose and I’m going to make every mile count. It we get a stretch of good weather, I’ll do more miles with less intensity. I equate two hilly hours on the singlespeed with between 2.5 and 3 hours on a geared bike, so that also makes it time efficient.

I’m not much of a “pound the trainer” kind of guy, as I find it a lot more fun and motivating to climb “real” hills on real roads.

The Bullet Bike will force my hand, and it’s a lot of fun to ride SS hard anyway. Besides, from what I understand, it’s harder and harder to build back fitness as you get older. Why lose it, and risk not being able to find it?

On Friday, November 7th I did about nine hills of hard effort climbing on Queen Anne and Magnolia. I’ve now ridden every hill in singlespeed, save one, that I normally do on my frequent winter rides to what I think of as my “winter proving ground”. As long as you are extremely careful on the wet roads, and pay particular attention to wet leaves and moss, it just doesn’t get much better than Magnolia and Queen Anne for the perfect winter riding area. Especially if you live downtown like me, and can just cruise through Myrtle Edwards Park to get there.

Only 3rd Ave. up from SPU on the north side of Queen Anne remains on my singlespeed hill hit list. I could give the climb up from the Discovery Park Lighthouse or the Counterbalance a shot, but I don’t see much upside in that for my knees. I don’t even like these climbs on my regular bike.

On another note, little did I know that my purchase of a new 09 Specialized Langster would generate five (with a possible sixth pending) sales of Specialized bikes. I have the 09 Langster, and the 09 S-Works Tarmac SL2. Reg has a new 09 S-Works Roubaix SL2 frameset he is getting ready to build up, and Justin has his new S-Works Langster track bike. Tom N bought a 08 S-Works Roubaix SL, and now Justin is thinking about a new S-Works Tarmac SL2 to replace his custom Calfee. All this was triggered by me spotting the Tarmac SL2 and the S-Works Langster at Center Cycle when I was picking up my Langster. My riding buddies have caught some new bike fever. Specialized is making fantastic bikes, and I was glad I could direct some business to Center Cycle in Renton.

I hope to see you on the road.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fuel for the Fire

No matter what your feelings are about Lance Armstrong, you cannot deny that he is serious about his comeback, and he has already thrown down the gauntlet. Whatever his reasons for returning are, he intends to come back at the top.

From Bike Radar:

Who the hell is Linus Gerdemann?

Recently, German rider Linus Gerdemann said that he was not pleased with Armstrong returning to the pro peloton and that Armstrong's generation and its propensity for drug use is better off out of the sport. When asked, Armstrong deflected Gerdemann's implied accusation:

"He's right, I am older. I raced with Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche, Miguel Indurain and Greg LeMond of all people. I have been around a long time and I don't know who the hell Linus Gerdemann is, but I know that when I rolled up in 1992, I started winning races. And when I roll up in 2009, I'm gonna be winning races. He better hope he doesn't get in a breakaway with me because I can still ride hard," said the Texan.

I doubt Linus Gerdemann will be very popular in the peloton. His comments will do nothing but provoke Armstrong into a higher level of focus. Lance Armstrong has always let his legs do his talking for him, and when others talk about him, it just seems to incentivize him to work harder and harder.

All of the other riders now can assume that their odds of winning the 2009 Tour just decreased.

“Lance Armstrong undecided about riding in the Tour”

Who believes that?

Armstrong is the ultimate at practicing gamesmanship. Rumors used to surface in December that Armstrong was having a “little knee issue”. Jan Ulrich would go right back to the dining room table, finish off his supplemental winter 15#, and Armstrong would win another Tour. The knee would never be mentioned again.

Read between the lines—Armstrong is back, and he intends to dominate.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Doubting Thomas

In an earlier post (“Get Yer Ya-Yahs Out” on 9-20-08); I wondered aloud whether incremental improvements in high end bikes would be incentive enough for cyclists to “trade up” to the latest carbon wonder bike. After taking several test rides on new bikes, I was thinking that the big gains in carbon bike design have been made. Well, now I have to eat some humble pie.

I’ve now had my new 2009 S-Works Tarmac SL2 for a little over a month, and I have managed to ride it over 800 miles during an October with hardly a drop of rain.

When I test rode the SL2, I did so two days in a row on unfamiliar roads, both days comparing it to my 2007 S-Works Tarmac SL by riding the bikes back to back. I made the decision to order a SL2 frameset because it seemed to do everything a little bit better than my SL, and I was ready for a new look anyway. The SL2 had bigger tubes, a tapered headtube, and a new finish called Raw Carbon/KL that I thought was super hot.

Subconsciously, I must have been justifying the new fashion statement by reasoning that the SL2 handled a little better, descended and climbed a little bit more solidly, and seemed to ride a little smoother than my SL. Of course, there were different wheels and tires involved, so I wasn’t totally confident that there were differences at all, despite the Specialized marketing machine claims of improvements in each area. Oh yeah, the company was also claiming the SL2 frameset weighed 100g less while managing to accomplish these goals.

The SL2 was built up with the pieces from my Tarmac SL, so I now have a true “apples to apples” comparison. After over 800 miles on roads that I am very familiar with, I now realize that that the differences between my old and new bikes are not subtle and evolutionary; they are huge and almost revolutionary. It took riding on roads that I had ridden many times to discover that the SL2 had a much more refined ride, and descended and cornered much more solidly. Given that I had thought my Tarmac SL to be a fantastic bike, suffice to say I am a little blown away by the SL2.

The SL was a blast to ride, but the SL2 “comes from another world”, to quote eight time world champion Valentino Rossi describing the 500 GP motorcycle racing bikes.

From now on I will longer be a Doubting Thomas. I’ll be prepared to be dazzled when I least expect it.

There is no moral to the story, other than the next time (and there always will be a next time) I decide to buy a new bike, I am going to do everything I can to beg, borrow, or steal (just kidding) the new model for long enough that I can ride it over familiar roads. If possible, I’ll throw on my wheels just for good measure.

With as important and expensive a decision as changing bicycles is, I want to give myself every chance to get the evaluation right.

The companies that manufacture custom bicycles tailor their marketing to their strengths. “We will build a bicycle for just you, and it will be the last bicycle you need for the rest of your life” is the mantra they preach.

High end, mass production manufacturers market to customers who yearn for the latest advances in technology, such as lighter and stronger materials, more gears, etc.

A bicycle for life? Who are they kidding? Does anyone actually do this—buy one bike, and ride it until they die? Every time I buy a new bike, no matter how much in love with it I am, I certainly don’t expect it will be my last.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Halloween Birthday Boy

I would have done this post on Halloween, except that I didn’t have the time because Tracy surprised me with a train trip to Portland for a birthday weekend. I truly am a lucky guy.

According to Bicycling Magazine, Portland is America’s number one cycling city, and it also comes across as the land of…no helmets. We saw a lot of cyclists, and I’d guess one out of 50 was wearing a helmet. What’s up with that?

There was even an ad in the newspaper promoting bicycle commuting, including a photo of two riders without helmets! It’s great to encourage people to get on a bike and ride to work, but please at least put a helmet on the people in the photo. Sure, wearing a helmet is a personal choice (even if it is a law in most cities), but can’t we encourage novice cyclists to at least wear one when they first start on the bike? They can make their final decision later, but throwing a few dollars down for a helmet seems a logical thing to do when you first take to the roads.

Bikes are everywhere in Portland. And you thought it was tough to find a spot to park your car in downtown Seattle:

Seriously, Portland is a fantastic city for cycling. We didn’t take our bikes, but you don’t need to be riding to sense how strong the cycling culture is, and you can pretty much safely get around in every direction. The cycling infrastructure is really well thought out.

Reflections on Age and Cycling

A birthday is always a good time for a little reflection. Since this is a “cycling” blog, loosely defined, I’ll try to keep this in context.

No one ever expects to get old when they are young.

The young have youth on their side. The “not so young” have experience. Just like a product has to be marketed based on its strengths, an athlete has to train and ride based on their advantages.

If you are young, you can spend a higher percentage of time riding at high intensity levels. If you are older, you can’t do high intensity rides as frequently, but you might have a little more time available to ride, and to recover from hard rides.

Most of my group riding experience over the last five years comes from a weekly ride I lead called the Hills of the West Coast.

At the start of the ride, typically either I or one of the other ride leaders will describe the route, and try to give a subjective estimate of the overall difficulty and summary of the major climbs. Based on the ride name, riders who participate can assume that we usually focus on climbing.

Normally, I mention that we will be doing 70 miles (summer rides) at a hard pace, and that some of the difficult climbs occur towards the end of the ride. Implied here is a need to save a little bit of energy for the late part of the ride.

I used to play competitive golf, and I always believed that it was a lot more satisfying to birdie the 18th hole, as opposed to starting your round with a birdie. Not only are more bets won or lost on the 18th, but the after round drink always tasted better. As a matter of fact, not only can I still remember many of those 18th hole birdies, I can remember the entire 18 holes of golf I played that day. If I tried really hard, I might be able to recollect a first hole birdie, but the rest of the golf day would be a blank.

Inevitably, the younger riders in our group (at least the ones on their first ride) attack the first climb of the day as if it were a mountaintop stage finish in the Tour.

On a ride about three years ago, I overheard two younger riders in full team kit talking about what maximum heart rate number they had registered on one of those earlier climbs. I remember this because I heard a number in the 200’s, and that is a number I haven’t thought about for a long time. These two riders were very strong, and for the first 30 miles or so, hammered each climb in a real Mano a Mano show of force.

Deep in the ride, we visited Cougar Mountain for a couple of hard climbs. At the re-group at the top of the climbs, these two riders were conspicuous by their absence as we waited for everyone to finish. They rolled up together, dead last of the 20 or so riders out with us that day.

We dropped down the north side of Cougar, and headed west up the gentle grade of Newport Way. One of the riders who had remained almost invisible all day, content to stay in the pack, now rode to the front. As he pulled the group up Newport Way, I noticed two riders getting shelled off the back. Yes, it was the same two riders, and now they were getting dropped on a very easy section of road by a rider who happened to be in his sixties (albeit a very strong rider). We never saw these two riders again that day, or on any subsequent rides. Perhaps they peeled off to lick their wounds?

Just like no one remembers who birdies the first hole, no one normally can recall the rider first up the initial climb of the day. You can bet that everyone on the ride that day remembers who was last up the last climb.

Every human being is born with a genetically wired, pre-programmed ceiling for aerobic capacity as defined by Vo2 Max. A sedentary person’s capacity peaks at around age 25. Endurance athletes hit their peak between ages 25 and 30, and sometimes as late as 35. There is not a lot one can do to alter this course.

There is a lot that the individual can do to develop and keep as much of that aerobic capacity for as long as possible. This involves discipline and a lot of hard work over many years.

There is also a lot than one can do to influence how wisely their aerobic capacity is deployed.

Sometimes it comes down to a common sense decision made in the blink of an eye after a subconscious split second analysis of the situation at hand. This is where an older athlete can often level the playing field.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

European Cycling Saturday, June 28th

Juan Les Pins-Nice-British Air-London-British Air-Seattle-Tracy

Totals for trip 686 miles 96,134’ climbing

When I woke up on Saturday morning, I was in the exact same position as I remember being in before I fell asleep. I had not moved an inch!

I normally don’t wear a heart rate band when I am touring, as I find the number increasingly irrelevant as the days wear on. When I did wear the band on a tour, it was obvious to me that my heart rate progressively decreased from day to day, and I attributed this to fatigue.

For the first time on a multi-day trip, I used a power meter. By the end of the trip, I was having trouble generating the power numbers on climbs that I use as a ceiling for “recovery rides” on flat roads at home. Certainly age is a factor, as I definitely need more recovery time than when I was younger, but on this particular trip I think cumulative sleep debt induced fatigue was also involved.

More so than in the Pyrenees last year, out hotel rooms this year were consistently hot. By and large, we stayed in great hotels, but very few hotels in Europe are air conditioned. You pay for that when you are cycling day after day in temperatures close to 90 degrees, with evening temperatures commensurately warm.

This year’s cycling itinerary was also much more demanding than my 2007 trip in the Pyrenees, and last year we had cooler temperatures overall.

My point with all of this discussion is that it would be great to cycle these fantastic roads if you were in a little better control of your environment. The point to point approach Tim and I used was perfect for achieving our goal of riding as many HC rated cols as possible, but the stress of packing and unpacking, and changing hotels every day, really does take it out of you.

Perhaps my next cycling trip to Europe will involve a “base camp” approach. It would be great to rent a villa with friends, and cycle out of the house for 5-7 days. If possible, it might work to do this in two different areas as part of the same trip. You could eat when and what you wanted to “at home”, and hopefully find a place with AC.

As far as trip preparation, if I had it to do over again, I would have spent less time in “specialization” (steep hills at low rpm over multiple days in a row), and more time doing intensity like we get in the Hills of the West Coast weekly group ride that I lead. I worked really hard at building an endurance base, and at day to day repeatability, and I feel like I should have felt better late in the trip.

If I had to look at the trip and work out a cost/benefit spreadsheet, I think it would go something like this. First off, the financial cost was less than I expected, despite the lousy value of the dollar relative to the Euro. Most of the towns we stayed in were little villages, and the hotels and food were a lot less expensive than in the cities. Also, while we were on the road, our food on the bike came from grocery stores, not restaurants.

The real “cost” was the hassle of international air travel, and being away from home for almost three weeks.

The major “benefit” was the opportunity to participate in a cycling trip of a lifetime. I traveled with good friends, rode with only one other rider, and Laura provided us with incredible support.

After I returned to Seattle, I was to learn that Tim and Laura are expecting their first baby, due sometime in January. I remember one day Tim and I were riding along and I asked him if he and Laura were planning to start a family, and if so, when? He mumbled something like, “Well, I guess any time would be okay.” He wasn’t kidding, and I guess this was one secret they had decided to keep for a bit longer.

Given how dang tired I was, and how solidly I slept when I got back to Seattle, I wasn’t sure what to expect fitness-wise. After a week of very low mileage, much to my pleasant surprise I enjoyed a period of cycling with the best fitness of my life. I time myself on a number of Seattle area climbs, and I wasn’t just going faster, I was going much faster than I ever had before. Maybe it was some kind of funky super compensation thing. I guess the old dog still has some legs left after all, just like that veteran sheep herding machine I saw in Jausiers.

It was at the Nice Airport where I discovered that Juan les Pins was actually pronounced “Zwan lay Paw”. While standing in the wrong British Airways line for almost an hour, I was approached by a very attractive young woman who was taking a survey, I assume for the local tourism board. As cordial and articulate as she was, it was no problem at all to answer her questions, and she answered that pronunciation question of mine. At least I got that one correct…on the way out of town.

BA lost my bike in both directions, but they got it to me when it counted--the same night upon arrival in Munich, and three days later when I got home, about the time I wanted to look at the bike and put it back together.

The bike could wait. It was time to be home with Tracy.

European Cycling 2008 Friday, June 27th

St. Marin Vesubie-Col de la Porte-Mystery Col???-Col de la Madone-Monaco-Menton-drive to Juan les Pins

66.08 mi 6498’ climbing

Once again, we got off to an early start, and after an initial descent, Tim and I wound up on a 2300’ climb of the Col de la Porte. If yesterday’s terrain resembled Colorado, today it looked like we were in the Pyrenees. Later in the morning, we climbed a “mystery col” (Tim, can you help me out here?).

For most of the day, we rode up and down from village to village, on quiet and tiny roads. Tim really did a great job plotting the day’s route out, and his onboard GPS guided us without worry.

The Col de la Madone is a climb made famous by Lance Armstrong. He used to do the 3000’ climb up from his home in Nice as a regular way to test his fitness level. Of course, Trek had to go and spoil it by naming a bike after it:) Tim and I would be doing the Madone in the opposite direction, from the north.

Neither Tim not I are really sure as to what happened, but I wound up in Monaco after missing a turn leading to the top of the Madone. After we had finished the lower part of the climb, Tim took the same wrong turn, and said he yelled out to me as we crossed in opposite directions. I didn’t hear him, and he assumed I turned around and was behind him.

By the time I figured things out, I was a long way down the hill, and by the time he figured it out, he was on top of the Madone! Tim dropped down to Menton, and I traversed over there from above Monaco. Getting off on the wrong route wasn’t ideal, but I did have some pretty incredible views looking down over Monaco and the Mediterranean Sea. On one side of me were misty clouds swirling around the high peaks to the north of Monaco, and down below were the fabulous yachts and high-rises that make up the epicenter of European wealth.

I settled on a beach bench in Menton and watched the early afternoon action. Tim rolled right by me and the two of us rode down to where the car was waiting for us. Just like that, the bikes were loaded, and our riding was done.

After the drive down the Cote d' Azur (during which I slept much of the time), we checked into the Helios Hotel, a four star hotel one block from the beach in Juan les Pins. Just as when I finished the Pyrenees trip last year in Biarritz, it was really nice to have the best hotel of the trip to recuperate in.

Juan les Pins was crowded in the afternoon, and as the evening wore on, it just got more and more busy. We had a nice “celebratory” dinner at a fairly high profile restaurant, and strolled around town before and after the meal.

It seems like just yesterday that Tim and I were discussing the feasibility of a super hard trip across the Dolomites, Italian and French Alps, and the Maritime Alps.

Now we were done with the trip, and I was not only pleased with the riding, but I was really happy that neither Tim nor I had experienced any kind of injury. While I was looking forward to coming home to Tracy in Seattle, I was sad that the adventure was drawing to a close.

If it were physically and financially feasible, I contemplated whether one could just endlessly ride their bike, moving from one stunning part of the world to the next, chasing great weather and incredible roads.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

10/26/08 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

For the last officially scheduled HOWC of 2008, we had spectacular weather with brilliant sunshine and rapidly warming temperatures. Early in the ride,we fought a north wind that was not only brisk, it was chilly. By the time we reached Shoreline and turned south, it was simply delightful to have the full sail effect to push us home.

Jeff led the ride, and took us counter clockwise along what we consider the classic north route, inner loop version. We did the climb by Chism Park in Enatai, and combined Juanita with Holmes Point. We used Perkins to reach 185th in Shoreline, and did the short Dayton climb just before a stop at Bitter Lake. There were six of us, including two newbie’s.

After crossing the Ballard Bridge with the big tailwind, we did a loop around Magnolia, culminating with a rapid transit stretch along the bluff, again with that wind shoving us along. We wound up with 53 miles and around 4000' of climbing. While the ride didn't go off at the frenzied pace typical in summer, Jeff did his best to make sure we all rode pretty hard, especially for the end of October.

While this is the last scheduled ride of 2008, Jeff and/or I may decide to post a web only ride if the weather looks promising for a Saturday or Sunday. Check Cascade.org for info, as well as the Team HPC message Board.

Look for the regularly scheduled ride to start back up in January.

I hope to see you on the road.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

European Cycling 2008 Thursday June 26th

Barcelonnette-Jausiers-Col de la Bonette-Cime de la Bonette-St. Sauveur-Col St. Martin-St. Martin Vesubie

72.1 miles 9197’ climbing

The Col de la Bonette was the scene of a fierce battleground in this year’s tour, and it was here that several riders lost their chance at the GC victory. After countless attacks on the incredibly long southern ascent of the col, Christian Van de Velde was dropped just before the top. Trying to make up the 30 seconds he lost, he crashed on the descent.

The top of the Bonnette is also where during Stage 16 of the 2008 Tour; John-Lee Augustyn crested the Col de la Bonette in first place before shortly and spectacularly overshooting the first hairpin bend on the descent. Both he and his bicycle flew over the embankment, and he slid over the loose shale, and plummeted quite a ways down the slope. His bicycle kept going until it was out of the camera’s view.

In this year’s tour, Dennis Menchov also took himself out of contention for the yellow jersey on the long descent to the stage finish at the village of Jausiers. For whatever reason, he was unable to follow the pace of the leaders on the technical descent, and lost not only 45 seconds, but any chance he had of winning the 2008 Tour.

Tim and I actually rode the Bonnette in the opposite direction (from the north). Television never does it justice, but I can personally verify that the grade is over 14% at the point the rider catapulted off the road, and it was a hump for us at 9200’ elevation.

This little section of road did not even exist until a few years ago when the local politicos decided that they were sick of the Bonette being just a few meters short of the Iseran, the highest col in France. The Col de la Bonette used to be 2715 meters high, or 49m lower than the Col de Iseran (see 6-20 blog). A new, higher road was constructed from the actual col to around the Bonette, topping out at 2802m (9193’), a scant 60m from the Bonette summit itself. The road then loops down to rejoin the original road at the col. The locals call this steep, exposed road the “Cime de la Bonette”.

One now has the option of looping around this precariously perched ribbon of road. In the middle of the curve at the very point of the mountain is a monument. It’s in French, of course, so I couldn’t read the full story that I am certain is engraved into the stone.

This new section of road makes the Bonnette the highest col in France, just a few meters higher than the Iseran. Maybe, depending on how you interpret it.

According to Wikipedia:

“The two kilometer long teardrop shaped loop around the Cime de la Bonette peak (2860m) from either side of the pass is the highest paved through route in the Alps.

A signpost at the foot of the climb makes the claim "Col de la Bonette - Restefond, 2802 m above sea level, highest road in Europe". This claim is incorrect for various reasons. The actual Col de la Bonette rises to 2715 m, but there are three Alpine road passes whose altitudes are higher: Col de Iseran
(2770 m), Stelvio Pass (2757 m) and Col Angel (2744 m). The road around the Cime de la bonette reaches an altitude of 2802 m, but this is not a "pass", but merely a scenic loop. It is, however, the highest asphalted road in France and is the highest through road in Europe”.

I guess one should just decide what to believe for themselves—I know the French do.

From the south, the climb starts at Saint-Etienne-de Tinee,
and is 16 miles long. Over this distance, the vertical rise is 1652m or 5420’ (an average percentage grade of 6.4%).

From the north the climb starts at Jausiers
and is 15 miles long. Over this distance, the elevation gain is 1589m or 5213’ (an average percentage grade of 6.6%). No matter from which direction you approach, the Bonette is simply a “beast of a climb”.

Just like the Galibier and so many other climbs we did on this trip, one wished that the climb of the Bonette would just go on forever (well, maybe until that final 14% section). Of all the incredible cols we climbed, this is the one that both Tim and I picked as our singular favorite.

Since we left Barcelonnette at 6:45am, the lower slopes of the climb were shaded, and the sun was shining on the peaks above us. The lighting was spectacular.

It was still very early in the morning as we headed south from Jausiers. Shortly outside of town, we had a 10 minute wait as a local rancher drove his sheep alongside the road. I say rancher, but it was really a dog that did the work. Tim and I watched with amazement as this dog ran from the front of the herd, to the back, and then kept control of the sheep by continuously moving back and forth.


Not only was it wonderful to see an animal working at the task he was born to accomplish; this dog was the most incredibly muscled dog I have ever seen. His breath hung thick in the cool morning air, and his coat had a wet sheen. He nearly ran right into me as he whipped around the corner of the herd at full speed. He was a spectacularly gifted athlete, kind of the Lance Armstrong of French dogs.

Once we were way above tree line, the resemblance to the Rocky Mountain west was uncanny. The road we were on reminded me of Trail Ridge Road, which traverses Rocky Mountain National Park northwest of Denver.

Just like yesterday, we had no support today. Laura and Katie got a late start, and then they were delayed by construction. It was just Tim and I out in the middle of nowhere, and also like yesterday, the route was almost devoid of cars. We stopped for croissants, we stopped for spring water, and we spent a little more time smelling the roses, perhaps because we both subconsciously sensed that the trip was drawing to a close. I decided that the prettiest smile of the trip belonged to our croissant salesperson, and she was friendly too, even though she spoke not a word of English.

Towards the top of the col, high above the tree line, there was some type of army maneuver taking place. I was passed by a truck, and then I spotted another way up above me on the road. It looked like a tiny toy truck, and I was reminded at how difficult depth perception becomes when there are no trees to serve as yardsticks.


By the time we reached the Col St. Martin, our leisurely itinerary caught up with us, as we were now in the throes of a serious afternoon heat. It was a blissful descent from the top of the col into town, but the climb was very hard.


As with almost everywhere else we had been, late June in St. Martin Vesubie is a very slow time of the year. In addition to having to wait at curbside for over an hour until our hotel front desk manager emerged from Siesta, we had difficulty in finding a restaurant.

Quality 10
Difficulty 9
Route 10
Scenery 9

Monday, October 20, 2008

European Cycling 2008 Tuesday June 24th-Wednesday June 25th

Tuesday June 24th rest day:

We awoke to a sky containing a few high clouds, the first break in the constant solid blue skies for a long time.

We were staying at a very nice three star hotel in Barcelonnette. The temperature was close to 90 degrees in the afternoon, and the hotel did not have air conditioning, so even with a comfortable room it was tough to “chill”. And then there was the noise and cigarette smoke coming through the open window…enough of the complaining, it was still a great town. Of course, back home even a Motel 6 has AC. Now I sound like one of those baseball cap wearing American tourists who always seem to be asking “Where is the MacDonald’s?”

To make matters worse, I was sleeping in an upstairs loft. So much for quality sleep. This deep into the trip I could tell that day to day fatigue was taking its toll on me, but I was really powerless to do anything about it.

I could have used one of these:



Some of the Tour de France teams have adopted the use of a surgical cooling helmet, which the riders wear while sleeping. One coach has noted that it’s especially helpful in Europe, where many of the hotels are without air conditioning. It’s a product that’s gone “from the operating room to the Tour de France”.

Tim rode incredibly well during the entire trip. He’s always been a super strong rider but I was amazed at how he seemed to get stronger every day. As opposed to my sleeping difficulties, he and Laura were getting good rest every night in their room, and he claimed to be starting each day feeling “fresh”. Maybe if Tracy were with me I would have slept better, but I think she would have just made me hotter! I’ve always been a temperamental sleeper anyway.

Before you jump to conclusions, I’m not whining! This was the cycling trip of a lifetime, and I loved every minute of it. I could sleep when I got home (and sleep I did).

Wednesday, June 25th

Barcelonnette-Col d’ Allos-Col des Champs-Col de la Cayolle

87.1 miles 11,553’ of climbing

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Maritime Alps. More than a few people had told me that this was an incredible area from a cycling perspective. I guess I tended to subconsciously pooh-pooh that, thinking how could the Maritime Alps be anything like the Dolomites, or the Italian and Haute French Alps?

With this prejudicial viewpoint, I certainly did not expect today’s 87 mile loop to be not only the single most enjoyable day of cycling of the entire trip, but to be perhaps the single finest day of my entire cycling life.

Seeking a jump on the afternoon heat, we left Barcelonnette at 6:50am with literally not a car in sight. We were in the more arid Maritime Alps, but there were mountain streams cascading down from every direction.

Tim gave Laura the "day off", so unfortunately I do not have any photos to do this description justice.

A total of eight cars passed us in over four hours of climbing. From a traffic standpoint, it was even better than the remote areas of the Pyrenees.

In many ways, this section of France looked more like Colorado than Colorado. I can see how travelers could easily spend a week in Barcelonnette, alternately cycling and hiking. There is a system of Refuge Huts and seemingly no people to use them.

Out first climb, the Col d’ Allos was fairly long and steep, but it really paled in comparison to the monsters we had been riding up and down this entire trip. Devoid of traffic and almost totally encased in silence, the climb of this col was just amazing.

The second climb of the Col des Champs was a little shorter, but no less attractive.

The final big climb of the day was the Col de la Cayolle at 20.5km in length that gained over 4000’ of altitude. This was a monster climb, especially in the afternoon heat.

On our return to Barcelonnette from the top of the Col de la Cayolle, we descended for mile after mile alongside a powerful river with rapids. This was one of the prettiest rivers I have ever seen.

That evening we returned for another good meal at the Mexican restaurant, and Laura helped me pick out a handmade French apron for Tracy.

Quality 10+
Difficulty 9
Route 10+
Scenery 10+

10/19/08 HOWC Ride and Team HPC End of Season Party Report

HOWC

Cold and foggy, and then cold and partly sunny, is how the HOWC started and concluded. Jeff led the group of six out to Cougar Mountain for some late season climbing. We did Newcastle Golf Club (starting from Coal Creek), Lakemont, Somerset the “easy” way, and then Horizon View (no easy way possible).

The cast was comprised of Reg, Jeff, Tom M, Tom N, Don M, and me. All were HOWC veterans, and all seemed to be pretty fit for late in the cycling season.

All in all it was yet another great HOWC, with some hard riding interrupted by plenty of time for on the bike socializing.

I left the ride a little early (but not early enough) to help set up the snacks and media room for our first annual Team HPC Powered by Cycle U End of Season Party. Tracy wound up doing most of the work, leaving me to greet people as they arrived.

Team HPC End of Season Party

We had a total of between 35-40 people at the gathering, and almost all of them were there from beginning to end. An open forum was held to discuss the 08 season, and what we could do to make the 09 season even more productive and fun.

David, Craig, and I all outlined various different scenarios for how next year could play out, and the group took it from there. It was encouraging to see different team members suggest some new ideas, and I hope these members follow through.

Perhaps the team message board can be used as a forum to seek out “sub-committees” of people interested in one particular thing or another? It will take someone to spearhead a new idea, and I am sure others will want to join in.

We had two very interesting guest speakers. Craig Undem from Cycle U, and Chris Ragsdale of ultra racing fame presented bi-polar approaches to the same end result—going faster on a bike.

Chris is a true “seat of the pants” rider, preferring to race and train totally by feel without the use of any training device. Chris lives and rides in the moment, and deals with obstacles as they appear. Chris just goes as hard as it feels right to go, and if he starts a climb at too high a pace, well “I just deal with the top of the climb when I get to the top of the climb”.

Not only does he not fear “The Bonk”, he anticipates the bonk, and seems to view it as a necessary thing to get through as part of any ultra event.

He shared some great stories about the recent Furnace Creek 508 race in California. This is perhaps the grand daddy of all of the ultra races, and here was Chris with three years of racing experience lining up with some of the greatest professional endurance cyclists in the world.

Not only lining up, but going off the front during the first hour with two of the stars, testing each other at 28-30mph, and ultimately finishing second in the race. So much for not burning all of your matches early on! In other words, Mano a Mano, if you can’t hang with me now, you won’t be with me 500 miles down the road, will you?

Craig talked about maximizing your potential, competing with yourself, and not setting unrealistic goals.

There are probably less than five people living on this earth who have the potential to ever play the game of golf like Tiger Woods does. It took almost two generations for Tiger to come along after Jack Nicklaus, who most people consider the last super dominant golfer.

There are likely less than 10 people alive at this moment that have the potential to dominate the Tour de France like Lance Armstrong has done.

Craig talked about aspiring to improve upon our own personal best, and not dwelling on climbing like Lance Armstrong, or riding over 500 miles in 24 hours like…Chris Ragsdale.

Craig discussed how professional coaching and a structured training plan can help you improve your fitness, and “beat your former self” up that climb.

Chris talked about the lack of structure in his approach, from his diet to his training mileage, to even his equipment, as in “Man, I was dying for that 11 cog”. Chris is truly a gifted athlete, and I suspect we would be watching him race on television if his potential would have been discovered as a teenager.

Craig discussed how the rest of us can benefit from using a combined approach of structure and riding by feel.

We had some discussion about the team rides, and afterwards I had a perspective I’d like to share.

We could start the summer clinics at 7:30am for the development riders, and any expert riders wishing to attend. The expert group would show at 8, and we would roll as one group. We would either then split the groups into two different routes, or do the same thing we did on Cougar Mountain this year (variations upon the same route).

If possible, we’d have a re-group and ride back as one group.

This would be a lot easier to manage than separate dates for the respective groups, and riding all as one would also instill more of a “team” feeling.

There was a lot of enthusiasm for the team and the potential of what we can accomplish together. Look for postings on the team message board, as well as articles in the Courier, as to what lies ahead in 2009.

I hope to see you on the road.

TOM

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Chris "RAM" Ragsdale Furnace Creek 508 Race Report


Many of us have had the pleasure of riding with Chris Ragsdale on the Sunday Hills of the West Coast ride. Below is a recent race report from Chris that chronicles his experience in the Furnace Creek 508. It also gives some insight as to why his wheel is so hard to hang onto...

"Hello Everyone
Just wanted to touch base and let you know I made it through another race. This past weekend was the Furnace Creek 508 and it was a heck of a race. Some of my personal hero's were there: Michael Seacrest, Michael Emde, and many other riders I respect a lot.

The quick version of the story is, Emde, Mcnulty and I took off hard into the first canyon and put a gap on the rest of the field. I continued to chase but the two of them slowly pulled away. By mile 200 with 10,000 plus feet of climbing I came in at 8 and a half hours. With the two just a few minutes up the road. We climbed Townes pass and descended into Death Valley in daylight, something that has only been done once before by Baloh. I hit the Furnace creek time station at the 252 mile mark in under 12 hours. By that point an ugly storm had descended into Death Valley and I was fighting to keep the bike upright due to strong side winds. Soon thunder and lightning was making this whole thing pretty surreal.

Things started to go downhill a bit. Energy started to run a bit low. I got a flat, had a few minor issues like adjusting lights on helmets and breaking a pair of glasses. Mainly I was just getting plain tired. By the time I hit Shoshone time station, I said I needed to rest a while. So I lay down like 15 min. And then went back at it. Not feeling any better from the rest. I ended up taking another just an hour or more later. This time I was passed by a team and a solo I think. Even after this stop I battled to stay awake. When I hit the Baker Time station, I needed to go down for another rest and I really felt wasted. This time when I got up they said another solo had passed me and I really needed to get up and go for it. I quickly caught one rider but I think at this time I was in 4th. However I continued to lose the fight to stay awake. This time weaving quite a bit and even going off the road once. Right about the time the crew was going to make me lay down again I was passed by Cat Berge, one of the strongest female riders alive. She offered a kind word and a couple no doze. So I took them, dropped back, and did my best to chase her vehicle up the hill. Before long I was feeling quite a bit better and was strategizing when I would make my move. I could see her and Joel Sothern, the 3rd place rider just ahead. I was currently fifth but was plotting to make it 3rd again. I took off up the hill and quickly passed Cat and was tracking down Joel. I just happened to plan it perfectly. I over took him just before summiting the climb and went over the top quickly. Now feeling very energized as the sun began to rise again. It was as if I were starting a new day all fresh again. The legs felt like they could answer any request and the mind was now fully engaged again. I rode hard to the next time station and upon asking for the time splits and placement, they told me that I was in second, and that Mcnulty had DNF'd, and Emde was the only one ahead. This was incredible fuel for the fire, and I rode as hard as possible for the next 6-7 hours, constantly obsessed with being caught by Cat or Joel. Finally I reached the finish in 29:10 for 2nd place. Cat would finish 3rd, like 20 or so minutes later.

I was super pleased with the result, and the amazing crew of Bob Brudvik and Mark Thomas. They were constantly stimulating me with more numbers and goals than I could process and did a great job of keeping my tank full. Thanks to everyone who has supported me this season and for all of your encouragement."

Here is a link to the Pics that Mark took Slideshow - http://www.flickr.com/photos/26649888@N00/sets/72157607822587330/show/Normal view -http://www.flickr.com/photos/26649888@N00/sets/72157607822587330/detail/

Chris "RAM" Ragsdale

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Center Cycle in Renton WA

I don't want to turn my blog into a commercial, but I just had to say something great about all of the people at Center Cycle.

I have just bought my sixth bike from Dave (three frames, and three complete bikes), and his service is far above and beyond any other shop that I have dealt with.

More on my new bike later, but if anybody out there is looking for a class act in the bike shop business, you should check out Center Cycle.

Tell Dave that Tom from Cascade Bicycle Club sent you, and he will take good care of you, including a very competitive price.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

European Cycling 2008 Monday, June 23rd

St. Jean de Maurienne-St. Michel de Maurienne-Col de la Telegraphe-Valloire-Col de la Galibier-Col de la Lauteret-Briancon-Col de la Izoard-Guillestre

77.3 miles 11,431' climbing

We awoke to deep blue skies, totally calm winds, and the day would prove to be just a little cooler than the past few.

Technically, it was a four col day, but we joined the Lauteret at the top. First off, we went up the Col de la Telegraphe, which many think of as just a prelude to the Galibier, but it is a separate climb. Coming off of the Telegraphe, one descends some three miles to the village of Valloire, which is where the Galibier starts. Total climbing for the two cols is 6900', with just the three mile break.

The Telegraphe spiraled up through the trees, and after approximately 3000’ of climbing, we reached the top and the nice views to be found from there.

The Galibier is a huge climb, and one that you wish would never end. It’s easy to understand why the Galibier, along with the Tourmalet, and the Alpe du Huez, are the three most famous cols of the Tour de France. In a nutshell, the Galibier was absolutely, incredibly awesome.

Out of Valloire, the Galibier starts climbing up through a long and deep valley, initially at about a 9% grade. Then the road just goes up, and up, and up, and it was almost totally devoid of cars. It was a perfect climb on which to listen to my iPod Shuffle, although at times I turned it off to hear the wind whistle through the trees, and the water rush down the stream that paralleled the road.

As you approach the end of the valley, you can look up and see where the real climb to the col begins. It kind of reminded me of riding on the North Cascade Highway from East to West. After you pass by Mazama, at one point you can look up to the right, and see a series of long hairpins that climb to the top. It was as such with the Galibier, and once I was in those hairpins looking down, I recognized the view. In the Tour, they always use the camera angle looking down from the hairpins, usually from a breakaway back to the peloton. I remember the shot of Vinokourov (cheater), with the camera looking over his shoulder, as he took note of his lead during the 2005 tour. From TV, I also recognized the café at the junction of the Galibier descent and the top of the Col de la Lauteret. We had a stop sign, but the tour riders go through a fast left hand sweeper that starts them on the road down to the town of Briancon.

About halfway up through the many hairpins, we encountered a magazine shoot featuring a number of professional motorcyclists. They were photographing the riders on sportbikes at extreme lean angles through the turns, and we saw the motorcyclists practicing the line through each turn before they barreled through it at high speed. Imagine the hoops you would have to jump through to (legally) pull this off in the US! As I was crawling up at less than 10mph, it made for a nice contrast, and there was never enough traffic to cause any problem at all.

At our lunch stop in Briancon, we were approached by a couple from South Carolina. Tim and I wanted to get back on the bikes before the heat built, but we chatted on with the friendly couple. They sounded very envious of what Tim and I were up to.

The Izoard started off relatively mildly with a tailwind and moderate grades, but it had a very hard, steep and long finish. The climb totaled around 3700’, and was yet another HC rated ascent.

On the Izoard, I didn’t use the Shuffle, as it was a metaphysical experience just riding the bike. Once again, with no cars, the only sounds were those of the wind and rushing water.

As long as the climb to the top of the Galibier had been, it was still astounding just how long the descent was. Basically, we rode downhill all the way to Briancon, a distance of 35km (22 miles). Dropping off of the Col de la Izoard, the first thing we noticed was just how much more arid it was on the south side. We were still a ways from the Alps Maritime, but already signs were evident.

The Izoard featured the smoothest road we had yet encountered, which made for a super fast descent, and the entire climb had a bike lane, not that it was needed, at least on this day. Maybe it was the afternoon heat, but I would see a sign showing a 6% grade for the next kilometer, and it would feel like 9%. Then I’d see a 9% sign, and it would feel like 6%!

It was truly an incredible day. The views from both the Galibier and Izoard were just stupendous. From the top of the Galibier, you could see approx. 100 miles to Mt. Blanc, the summit of which is the highest in Continental Europe at 15,774’ (4808m).

We had decided in the advance planning stage to go over the Col de Vars in the car, rather than add another col to a very hard day. It’s a good thing, because we wound up with a 1.5 hour construction delay.

Barcelonnette is a French town with a little bit of Mexican history, and as such, they play up the theme with Mexican restaurants and architecture. It seemed a little strange to be eating Mexican after so many days of Italian and French, but it was a nice change of pace.

Quality 10+
Difficulty9
Route 10+
Scenery 10+

Sunday, September 28, 2008

9/28/08 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

Whew, that was hard!

On Friday, I did 60 pretty hard miles on the singlespeed (you don’t get many “easy” ones), and I felt it in my legs on my short Saturday ride. I was operating under the premise that Jeff was going to be leading today’s HOWC, and I figured I could start with the group, and hang around until I felt like going home if I was tired.

Well, Jeff got sick, so I led the ride. I had already decided I was going to take the Bullet Bike (new nickname), and find out how I would do riding singlespeed on a hard group ride. I knew that it would not be the best weapon of choice, but I had to see for myself. Besides, yesterday I thoroughly cleaned the other bike, took photos for ebay, and readied it to have the components stripped off and installed on a new frame.

There were eight of us, and all were strong riders eager to have a go at it on a picture perfect morning.

With a 70 gear inch ratio, my pedaling “top speed” is realistically around 22mph, and had we chose to stick to a strenuous pace I would have been ok on flat sections. I still would not have been able to keep up on gradual downhill roads, but you never know unless you give it a shot.

As it turns out, pedaling at 140rpm on flat and downhill sections is more tiring than climbing steep hills at 60rpm, even while standing up on the whole climb. I would lose the draft, become unhitched, and then have to work extra hard on the next uphill section to get back on. Chasing hard riding cyclists over and over is tough work!

I offered to split the ride, but that wouldn’t have worked because everybody wanted to ride hard. It wasn’t fair to hold the group up, and I also couldn’t expect them to hold back going downhill. I wanted everybody to have a good ride, so I did the best I could.

I had to be home early today, and could only do 35-45 miles. If time permitted, I had built in an optional loop around Mercer Island on the way back downtown. By the time we got there, my legs were a little cooked. I don’t think it would have mattered anyway. Once we would have finished the initial gradual uphill section, I knew pandemonium would break loose (it always does on the loop), and I wouldn’t have had a chance of staying with the group through the fast rollers.

So, of the eight of us, seven went around Mercer Island, and I rode home by myself. Not great protocol for the “Ride Leader”, but I had a great ride, and everybody seemed to enjoy themselves. That’s always the goal on the HOWC ride, so mission accomplished.

The moral of the story is that the singlespeed is ideal for certain things, and not so hot for other types of rides.

Tracy has been really busy with both work and finishing her Doctorate by June of 2009. She gets in a short run whenever she can, but Tracy has pretty much abandoned her bicycle, and she misses long rides on her bike.

As an "incentive", I told her that in 2009, I would ride Ramrod or do the STP-one day with her, but she didn't see that as much of a treat to look forward to. We could also ride the High Pass Challenge together, but I actually had so much fun volunteering with her as a team that I think I'd rather do that again.

So I have added a new item to the list. I will ride the STP with her on my singlespeed (as long as she promises to wait for me on the downhills!). If she wants a real challenge for the two of us, I'll even do it in one day.

Guys, if you are reading this, I hope I didn't compromise the spirit of the ride, and I won’t show up with the Bullet Bike on a group ride again. Give me a shot in a group of two or three, where the singlespeed is more in its element.

I hope to see you on the road.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

European Cycling 2008 Sunday, June 22nd

Alpe du Huez-descend to Croix de fer start-car to St. Jean Maurienne

18.5 mi 4172' climbing

After a solid breakfast, we escaped from the hell of the Milan Hotel, and rode the few short miles to the foot of the Alpe Du Huez. I knew that the start was hard from watching the Tour, but 1.5 miles at 10.5% always seems so much easier on paper.

Think of the Zoo Hill, or the climb up the north side of Squak Mountain, only a lot steeper. Now consider that you are starting your day with this following many days of grueling mountain riding.

Imagine Lance Armstrong hitting this section on the wheel of George Hincapie, as he powered up it in the big ring, or Carlos Sastre attacking and winning the 2008 Tour on this very strip of blacktop, and how easy they made it look. Well forget about that last image, because the Alpe is a hard climb, and the start is seriously hard.

Ok, it was hard, but not as hard as I had expected. Perhaps because we had been doing so many climbs that were much longer and almost as steep, Alpe du Huez felt like just another piece of the puzzle.

I rode up this bottom section with Tim just up ahead of me. Almost immediately, we started passing other cyclists, and I guess subconsciously, one has to make a decision as to how important it will be to not be passed. I actually managed to pass everyone I saw except for Tim, who as usual was taking no prisoners.

While there were a lot of obviously very serious cyclists on very serious bikes, not everyone fit into that category. Even more so than on other famous climbs we did in Italy and France, the Alpe appeals to everyone. I must admit that the people I saw inching their way slowly up the climb didn’t appear to be suffering; they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. And why not? How often does one get to climb one of the three most famous climbs used in the Tour, along with the Galibier and the Tourmalet?

I guess I used up a little more energy than I needed to, and it was due to the “Man in Black”. There are 21 numbered hairpin turns on the Alp, with the first turn named #1. Somewhere around number 10, I noticed a cyclist dressed all in black standing near his bike as I entered the left hand turn. As I rolled by him, I took a cursory look back in my little mirror, and I saw this rider do a running mount onto his bicycle. He kind of looked like a cowboy in a western movie, as he ran to his bike and dove onto it. He was going to use me as his “rabbit”!

Unless he was by the side of the road for a lot longer than it takes to enjoy a nice view, I had to figure that I had caught him, and it just seemed almost criminal for him to use me as his incentive to get himself up the climb. I was probably 50’ ahead of him, and he was gaining on me as I maintained the same effort that I had been at before I went by.

About four years ago I started using a helmet mounted mirror in order to keep track of the riders on the weekly group ride I lead. It was easy to glance in the mirror to check if everyone had cleared the red light, or made the last turn. Being well aware that the geek factor was huge, I originally intended on using it only on that ride. After discovering how effective it was riding solo, I just stuck with it, figuring that the increased safety factor overruled the geekiness. I took some consolation from a story about a very successful local Cat 1 racer who used a mirror to monitor the riders that he dropped.

In this particular situation, my mirror was worth its weight in gold. Not only did this cyclist give me motivation to ride a little harder than I really wanted to, he unwittingly became a participant in a very cruel game I played.

I had noticed that when we would hit a section of easier grade, he would slowly gain on me, and when we hit a steeper section, I would pull away from him. Without the mirror, I wouldn’t have known how far back he was, or where his “weakness” lay.

I thought I would lose him, but he was hanging in there, and this went on for a good 10 minutes. At about the same time I was tiring of the game, I saw my opportunity. I was entering a blind steep hairpin to the right, and I could tell the steep pitch continued above the turn. After cruising around the turn, I applied extra pressure to the pedals when I was hidden from his view. When the “Man in Black” exited the turn, I had significantly increased the gap, and I saw his head drop immediately. I persisted with the pressure on the pedals, and he cracked like an egg. Not to sound mean, but it served him right!

Despite all the times watching the tour riders on the Alpe, I didn’t know where the official "top" was (it looks different with the fencing, and the throng of people), and I motored right on by Tim and just kept on riding. The road actually continues on up quite a way up past the standard finish line at a little village, and Laura had driven on ahead as she was looking for Tim and me.

Having descended the monster that is the Col de la Croix de Fer the day before, I had to admit that I was having elements of doubt creep into my mind after we finally hooked up. I’m not sure if it was the day in, day out heat wave we were experiencing, or if it seemed redundant to climb what we had descended the day before. Maybe it was just time for a break. I made the decision to do the descent of the Alp du Huez to the northwest, the bottom of which winds up at the start of the Croix de Fer climb to the north. At that point, I was going to get in the car, and skip the climb. For whatever his reasons might have been (possibly misery loves company, and he wouldn’t have any), Tim came to the identical conclusion.

Back at the same hotel we had stayed at on Friday night, I was luxuriating in the cool air of my room, while it was about 90 outside. European showers are certainly much better than they were ten years ago, but air conditioning is still very rare. My clean room and comfortable bathroom were in stark contrast to the almost prison cell block décor that was the Hotel Milan in Le Bourg.

Tomorrow we would ride and descend the Galibier, and today we replaced our brake pads. The few miles we had done in the rain in Italy had pretty much destroyed the new brake pads I had installed right before the trip. Since the only thing that is more important than good brakes when descending these mountain roads is a lot of common sense, we weren’t taking chances.

After it cooled off a little bit, we all went for a little walk around St. Jean de Maurienne. This being Sunday, it was a total ghost town, and about the only thing open was the little café we stopped at. Later on, we had a wonderful meal sitting outdoors at a traditional French restaurant. I had cold smoked salmon on a bed of bread, vegetables, and lettuce, and accompanied by cold soup. Just what the Doctor ordered on a smoking hot day, although the hot frites tasted pretty good too.

After dinner, I relaxed in my cold cave of a hotel room, and pondered tomorrow’s double HC climbs of the Galibier and the Izoard.

Quality 10
Difficulty 8 (would have been a 10+ with the Croix de Fer)
Route 10
Scenery 8

Saturday, September 20, 2008

European Cycling 2008 Saturday, June 21st


St. Jean de Maurienne—Chambre—Col de la Madeleine--Col du Glandon—Col de la Croix de fer-Le Bourg d’ Oisans

71.3 miles 11,310’ climbing

“Probability is like gravity. You cannot negotiate with gravity”. Sony Crockett as played by Colin Farrell--Miami Vice--the movie

Anybody that says the riding in the Pyrenees is harder than the Alps has not ridden where we were riding in the Alps. Last year’s crossing of the Pyrenees from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean was nothing like what Tim and I were undertaking. Today, we climbed over 10,600’ in our first 50 miles of riding. Doing back to back HC climbs almost right out of the door will do that for you.

After a few miles of valley riding, Tim and I were at the foot of the spectacular Col de la Madeleine, a 5200 vertical foot climb that averages 7.8% in grade.

I guess it was appropriate that about two thirds of the way up the climb, I picked up a friend as I rolled through a small village. I tried to communicate with this fine specimen of man’s best friend as he trotted alongside of me, but he obviously spoke only French, and besides, I didn’t know his name. Just a little over a year ago, our cat named Madeline died at the age of 13, and for me, she was the greatest cat of all time. Here I was, riding the Madeleine for her…with a dog. My not-so-little buddy lost interest in me as I exited his little town.

Once on top, Tim and I had a chat with a couple of motorcyclists. One of them was riding a pristine example of a 1990 Honda CBR 1000 Hurricane in the same colors as the one I had ridden for three years or so back in the day.

La Madeleine was an up and back climb for us, the only one of the entire trip. Even on le Alp du Huez, we found a way to ride down the northwest side of the mountain, thereby saving a few miles, and avoiding a round trip via the south side.

As Tim and I started downhill on the long descent, the dog from the village below popped up over a little rise. He was summiting the col! He must have followed other cyclists after he left me, and he probably did this every day he could. He was a handsome beast, and a strong one. I wonder if he times himself!

On the way down the descent of la Madeleine, I had the only really scary moment of the entire trip. As I dropped into a tight, blind right-hander, a small car hugging the “racing line” came barreling up towards me. I hit the brakes while leaned over, and my rear tire stepped out just a little bit. The driver clipped his apex, fully in my lane, and I hugged the inside edge of the road and hoped for a good outcome. What a moron! Maybe he thought he had his radar on that morning, but if I was in the same spot just a few seconds earlier…Tommy Timing!

From the start, the Col du Glandon was not a very pretty climb, and it would get a lot uglier as we went up. The last 3+ kilometers of the Glandon averaged 10.3% into a headwind, not that the wind mattered much. I was going so slowly I couldn’t outrun the flies that were hovering around my face, and I didn’t have the energy to bat them away. It was brutal, and as usual, I didn’t look at my power or cadence for the whole climb. It’s a good thing, because it would have been demoralizing. I guess we were lucky the Glandon topped out at only 6300’, because it sure would have been harder at 9000’. On the flip side, you don’t see too many cows grazing at 9000’, and it would have been cooler.

Pictures don’t do it justice, but Tim was riding a beautiful all carbon bicycle, handmade by Simplon in Austria. I thought my rig was pretty light at 14.5# with pedals, but Tim not only out climbed me, he out “weight weenied” me. His bike weighed less than 14#!

The Glandon links up with the Col de la Croix de Fer near its top, so we rode just a short ways uphill on de Fer, but we rode a very long ways down the other side, the side we would be climbing after the Alp the next day.

As we were descending the Croix de Fer, Tim and I looked down the road and saw a cyclist coming up the other way. Even from a distance, something looked different about him. As we drew closer, we could see him weaving across the road, initially covering its full width, and then just the uphill lane as we approached. Hopelessly over geared and apparently incredibly fatigued, he was barely ticking the pedals over at about 20 rpm.

Tim and I nodded a greeting to him, and then we looked at each other at about 40mph. No words were necessary, as I could tell both Tim and I had no doubt that this rider was going to the top, one way or the other…and he was only about 25% of the way there. He was stuck in his own "personal purgatory". One of the great things about cycling is that one gets to choose one's own poison.

As opposed to most of the huge descents we had already done, which allow a rider to plummet non-stop like a stone, the Fer descent has several climbs in the middle of its 17 miles. They are not long, but they are steep in places, especially when it feels like your legs are now filled with concrete.

Like a true champion, Tim pulled into headwinds the whole way up the valley to Le Bourg. Tim, if you are out there in German cyber land, Thank You!

By this time into the trip, I was convinced that there couldn’t possibly be cycling as great as this anywhere else in the whole world. I also was starting to feel that the other aspects of this type of travelling had its downside.

We spent the night in Le Bourge, at the foot of the Alp Du Huez. Our hotel was called the Milan, and unfortunately for us, it was a dump, the first (and only) bad hotel of the trip. The Milan overlooked the main village square, and just below my window were three or four cafes, an ice cream shop, and of course, a bike shop. As it was Saturday, the village was humming with activity, and since it was too hot to stay in the hotel room, we took the opportunity to do a little strolling.

Somewhat surprisingly, given its location at the foot of the Alp du Huez ski resort; this was to be the least attractive town during my stay in Europe.

Shortly after we returned from a pizza dinner hoping to get a solid night of rest, the “amateur hour” of music commenced. Seemingly, every local from miles around would wait his turn to climb up to the little stage, play his instrument of choice, and wail (sing) away. About every 20 minutes or so, there would be a lull, and then the same local village idiot would get up and strum away at “Hey Joe”, singing the more famous lines in English, and the rest in French.

I’m a big Hendrix fan, but I think I’ll delete this one from iTunes.

It was just horrible! I couldn’t close my window due to the heat wave, and after I called Tracy back home (not to complain!); I just lay there and tried to read myself to sleep. I dozed off after they shut everything down at 1 or 2am, but I slept fitfully the rest of the night.

I have a feeling that Lance never spent a night in the Milan.

Not exactly a good night’s rest, given what we had been up to, and our plan to get on Alp Du Huez as early as possible the following morning, and follow that up with the Croix de fer to the north from whence we had come.

Quality 10
Difficulty 10+
Route 10
Scenery 10