Monday, July 28, 2008

European Cycling 2008 -- Tuesday, June 17th

Prato allo Stelvio (Prad allo Stilfserjoch)-Gomagoi-Trafoi-Passo Stelvio (StilfersJoch) 2753m
16 miles
Climbing 6003 ft

Technically, the Dolomites are part of the Italian Alps. During our tour, Tim and I were basically riding the entire high Alpine chain in a big crescent shape, starting with the Dolomites, then west to the Italian and French high Alps, and then south to the Mediterranean Sea by way of the Maritime Alps. Riding the Stelvio and Gavia would put us in the very high true Italian Alps.

The Stelvio is the pass that European cyclists rank as their number one most desirable alpine pass, and given the competition, that is pretty strong testimony. Having seen still photographs and the occasional Giro footage, I knew what to expect…but I didn’t really know what to expect, if you know what I mean.

The word “Stelvio” seems to roll off of the tongue, certainly more fluidly than “SlilfersJoch”, the German name for the pass. The Stelvio was to be our first ascent to over 9000’ altitude, and it would be accomplished entirely in rain…and then snow.

Our plan was to climb and descend the Stelvio, and then climb the Gavia, the pass made famous by Andy Hampstein, the only American to win the Giro in 1988. He rode through a heavy May snow to ride into the pink jersey on a day when many riders abandoned the race.

Given that yesterday was shortened due to weather conditions, we were determined to tough it out like Andy. Tim and I certainly didn’t want two “rest” days in a row with two real ones at Lake Como coming up!

The classic approach from the North to the Stelvio rises 6000 vertical feet over a distance of 16 miles for an average grade of 7.1%. The climb started almost immediately upon departing from the Hotel Zentral in Prato allo Stelvio, the attractive village where we had spent the night. There is an official “starting line” painted on the road, but you really don’t need it to let you know where you are.

The rain started as a light drizzle, and transitioned into a steady rain as we ascended the lower valley up to the ski village of Trafoi and the Hotel Bellavista, run by Olympic ski champion Gustav Thoni.

The Stelvio has 48 numbered switchbacks and the first, numbered 48, is low on the climb. In general, the higher you go, the closer the switchbacks get. There was a lot of distance between #48 and #47, and it gave me plenty of time to devise a strategy to make the climb more enjoyable (survivable?). Last year on the final ascent to Hautacam in the Pyrenees (a 14,000’ climbing day including the Peyersourde, Aspin, and Tourmalet cols), I was suffering on the last few kilometers. Each kilometer had signage detailing a drawing of a cyclist and the upcoming average grade. During the long stretches between kilometers and as the number went first from eight to nine and then 10 toward the top, I tried to focus on some pleasant experience that Tracy and I had shared.

For the Stelvio, I tried to reconstruct my life at my age of the number of the switchback. As the climb got harder as I rode higher, it became more and more difficult to fill up each kilometer with specific memories, but I gave it my best effort, and it really did help. It was an odd situation in that I wanted the experience of the climb to go on forever, but it was a hard climb and I needed to take my mind off of that as I also focused on enjoying the moment and my surroundings. At around age 5 I gave up, and just focused on the matter at hand.

Even in the rain, it was almost surreal to be able to look upward at the switchbacks yet to come, and back down the steep mountainside to switchbacks already conquered. Toward the top, I spied a rider in a blue jersey gaining on me from below. During the climb, the sensations in my legs had made me well aware of the previous three days of effort in the Dolomites, and I quickly factored in the pending ascent of the monster Gavia. But I wondered: Should I go for it, amp up the effort, and try and finish the Stelvio ahead of this anonymous rider I would never see again? Common sense prevailed, and I continued at my steady pace, and was overtaken just before the final 10% section leading to the top of the pass.

I watched him “touch” the top, do a U-turn, and head right back down. As he was the only rider besides Tim that I saw on the entire climb, I took some consolation from the fact that it was likely he had come out that morning to “time trial” his local climb in the rain. In any case, I doubt he was planning on 25 more hard alpine climbs over the next week and a half! Other than Tim, who was incredibly strong during the entire trip, this was to be the only rider that went by me.

In what seemed like a repeat of yesterday, it was 36 degrees on the top of the pass. Unlike yesterday’s sleet, today we had real, tangible snowflakes falling on us. While we didn’t have the classic alpine vistas we had hoped for on top, during the climb it was spectacularly scenic. The valley below was a narrow ribbon, and the towering rock and ice walls of the opposing mountains seemed amazingly close. So close that on the lower slopes of the climb, I spied a cross high on the ridge, and higher up a climber’s refuge hut.

With great reluctance, we skipped the Fausto Coppi memorial, and climbed into the waiting car. No one was paying us to risk taking a severe fall, something that was a definite possibility on a long hypothermic descent of the Stelvio. We considered riding in the car to the foot of the Gavia, and grinding up another 5500’ of climbing. We were confident that we could motivate ourselves to emerge from the car, remount our bikes, and give it a go, but given that our legs would likely feel like cement, we declined. Once more, and despite all of the controversy surrounding cycle racing at the highest level, I was blown away by the level of commitment required to succeed at the top level of the greatest endurance sport in the world.

The rain eased as we moved away from the high mountains. The clouds that remained as we approached the Lake Como region would prove to be the last ones we would see for the rest of the trip.

Difficulty 10 (9 if adjusted for the shortened day)
Quality 10+ (An incredible experience!)
Route 10+ (Pre-requisite for Highway ‘construction 101)
Scenery 10 (Even if we didn’t see much of it)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

7/27/08 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

Today we had a winter sized crew of five total people, and given the cloudy, cool weather, I guess it was appropriate. The upcoming Ramrod this Thursday also was a factor, as many of our regulars are participating.

I woke up to wet roads in Downtown Seattle. Riders who had ridden to the ride from Ballard said it was actually drizzling when they left home. Luckily for us, the roads were dry at the 7:30am start, and we had a nice day for riding, although the sun never did come out. During the ride I was trying to remember if we have ever had a July or August rain cancellation of the HOWC, and I don’t believe we have. Knock on wood.

Whenever Chris R. shows up at the ride start line, I know that the pace won’t be easy. Chris tends to force the pace upward, but in a way that makes everyone want to dig deep and ride well. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him go really hard, and I know that there is always plenty in reserve, but then you’ll have that with a world record holder for 24 hour endurance road cycling.

We are always flattered when Chris shows up at our regular ride, and glad that he can find some value in it for his training program. Just watching him ride is inspiring, and as with all great riders, his cadence and position on the bike never give any indication of how hard he might be working.

There were only five of us, and that meant fewer people to give Chris an occasional break on the front. Nevertheless, the pace was hard from the beginning of the ride until the end. We crossed Mercer Island, and worked our way south to May Valley, and then took 148th south, eventually linking up with Jones Road for some “spirited” riding. Next up was the fairly long and steep 196th hill, and then we took 196th and Sweeney to wind up south of Maple Valley. We worked our way over to Tiger Mountain, climbed it from the south, and then took a break at the store near the end of the climb.

After a quick flat repair at the break, we headed back west on May Valley. Thanks go out to Steve and Peter for doing most of the work on the flat to rolling terrain, and enabling us to carry good speed the whole way. After we polished off the climb up to Newcastle Golf Club, we headed up Lakemont and then down 164th, where we encountered the first of many Seattle Century riders we were to see on the way home. They seemed to be everywhere, but I don’t think any of them took the detour up 150th to the top of Somerset like we did! The view from Somerset has to be one of the most dramatic in the area.

Chris led us across the I-90 bridge taking care to safely pass a large number of the Century riders. I’m not sure they knew what to think of our multi-rider freight train express as it motored by them!

Today's ride was a nice change of pace from many of the spring and summer rides where we have had a concentrated focus on climbing. We've spent a lot of time at Cougar and Squak Mountains, and it was nice to get out into the "hinterland" today.

We wound up with 72.7 miles of riding with 4706’ of climbing at an average speed of 17.7mph, and most importantly, it was a safe, incredibly fun ride.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

European Cycling -- Monday, June 16

Selva di V. Gardena (Wolkenstein)-Passo di Sella (2213m)-Canazei. Drive to Prato allo Stelvio (Prato allo Stilfserjoch)

11.47 miles
Climbing 2437 ft

The Dolomites look like no other mountains I have ever seen. The shape, the color, the steepness, and the lack of foothills enable one to feel so close to the rock walls themselves it’s as if you could just jump off of your bike and start climbing. The steepness allows the road to be very close to towering rock walls, and stupendous views are everywhere in all directions.

All contained within Italy, the Dolomites are part of the area known as the Tyrol. This area is home to many of the world’s most famous alpinists, including Reinhold Messner, who was born here, and still lives in his private castle atop a hill. Messner is arguably the most talented and audacious mountaineer of all time, and was the first to climb the fourteen 8000m peaks of the Himalaya, all without supplemental oxygen. In fact, he was the first climber to reach the summit of Everest without oxygen, and the first to solo it, via a new route from the Tibetan side. He and his girlfriend were alone in their base camp, and there were no other human beings for many miles while he was on the mountain. Talk about commitment! I was to draw upon this knowledge as motivation during many of the steep climbs of the Dolomites.

This part of Italy is as much a part of Germany and Austria, and many natives speak German. Many of the towns and passes have multiple names, and I have listed two names in several instances. German food selections are common in restaurants.

It seems that I have been dubbed “Dr. Dolomite”, since it seems like I look like a doctor after I remove my helmet, and am wearing only the white skull cap I use to absorb perspiration.

We left the hotel in a cold drizzle (skull cap not required) with Laura ahead of us in the car. In the prior two days, we had ridden the Gardena Passo twice, once in each direction. Since Wolkenstein was down valley from the Gardena/Sella Passo junction, we now had to retrace part of the western approach to the Gardena. We didn’t have a choice (other than the unacceptable one of getting into the car), as there were no accommodations near the junction.

So after 1150 vertical feet of steep climbing, we reached the junction, having done roughly 40% of the western side of Gardena before we even reached the day’s first objective. As it turned out, this “bonus” climbing was a good deal for us.

It took us only another 1300’ of climbing to reach the top of Sella Pass, and the whole way up I was thinking that it was good to be going uphill, since without the effort required to overcome gravity, I would have been freezing cold in the steady rain and wind that enveloped me as I rode. But of course, what goes up…and I would shortly be freezing.

On top it was 36 degrees and the rain had morphed into sleet as we scrambled to throw on all of the winter clothes again. We started down the long steep descent to Canazei, being ultra cautious as we steadily got more chilled.

I was in front as we approached the town, and I pulled over under a protective overpass. I looked over at Tim and said, “I’m done with this.” No argument from Tim, and we scrambled to get the bikes loaded, so we could jump into the warm car.

We would be skipping the rest of the riding we had planned for the day, and that was sad, because it contained some very famous terrain. From Canazei, we had planned on a big loop, taking the Passo Fedai (2057m) to the Marmolada Glacier, and then after the Col di Rocca, climbing and descending the huge Passo Pordoi (2239m). After returning to Canazei, the plan was to climb Passo di Costalunga (Karerpass), before descending all the way to Bolzano. It would have been an epic day.

I really wasn’t disappointed, and really didn’t mind riding in the rain, but I was ready to get in the car. The rest of the day’s scenery would have been invisible, and it would have just been going up/down for the sake of up/down, and there would be plenty more of that. Adventure is important, but safety is paramount.

We didn’t ride all eight of the famous 2000 meter passos of the Dolomites. But we did ride several more than once, and I can’t say I was disappointed. As I mentioned before, it will give me motivation to return to this stunning area. Tim and I tried to console ourselves with the knowledge that the day’s short climbing day was really a “rest day” that would better prepare us for the next day’s challenges.

Cortina or Canazei, or perhaps one of the smaller villages, would make a perfect “base camp” for a stay of 5-7 days of world class cycling, hiking above tree line, and rock climbing. I shall return, and hopefully I will get to share it with Tracy.

Given the weather conditions at 7000’, we were starting to wonder what it would be like at over 9000’ on the Stelvio and Gavia. It was all supposed to turn gorgeous by the time we get to Lake Como for some rest, but that would not help us on the monster day we had planned for tomorrow.

Difficulty 6
Quality 5
(let’s face it, it was cold and miserable)

Route NA
(didn’t really see it!)
Scenery NA (ditto)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

European Cycling -- Sunday, June 15

Misurina-Passo Cimabanche-Biagio-Col Rosa-Cortina d’Ampezzo-Passo Falzareto (2105m)-Pocol-Passo di Giau (2233m)-Selva di Cadore-Caprile-Larzonei-Arraba-Passo di Campolongo (1875m)-Corvara-Passo di Gardena (Grodner Joch 2121m)-Selva di Val Gardena (Wolkenstein)

65.55 miles
Climbing 9405 ft

We awoke to crystalline blue skies, white puffy clouds, and crisp mountain air. Due to the propensity for European late breakfast hours, it had warmed considerably (given the altitude) by the time of our departure. The late dining hours were to develop into somewhat of a problem as our trip progressed.

It was a partly sunny start, cloudy by the time we reached Cortina, drizzling on Passo Campolongo, raining steadily on the Passo Gardena, our final ascent, and a constant deluge on the descent. At the top of Gardena, it was 35 degrees and sleeting. It warmed up to 39 degrees by the time we reached the day’s end at the ski town of Wolkenstein (Selva di Val Gardena).

Despite the cold and wet weather, I managed to stay relatively warm. In addition to summer clothes, I brought almost my entire winter kit, and during the first four riding days in the high mountains, I would deploy every single piece! For the Gardena descent, over my Team HPC jersey I wore a fleece jersey, my winter fleece jacket with a full wind block front , and my rain shell. The following day I would substitute full fleece tights with a wind block front for the fleece knickers I wore today.

Today was to be a day of five passos. It would have been six had we stuck to our plan to lead off with the Tre Cime di Laveredo (2344m), the scene of a fiercely contested mountain top finish in this year’s Giro d’ Italia. Given the weather forecast, the fact that it was an out and back, and the difficulty of the rest of the day’s itinerary, we decided to pass on this one. Part of the Laveredo climb involves 2.5+ miles of 12% average grade, and this might have also factored into our decision. Besides, I had to save something for my next visit!

After approaching Cortina from the north, and climbing the Falzareto, next up was Passo Giau from the “easy” north side, which was still hard. Giau from the north was 5.7 miles long with an average gradient of 8.2%, and featured one section at 14.5%. As we descended the south side of the pass, I was thinking of the riders who had climbed this stage in the 2008 Giro, and then had to finish on Laveredo. As opposed to my “survival” pace, they were racing—and doing it for three weeks!

In any case, the Giro riders’ ascent was our descent, and it was spectacular. We were above tree line, and one could look down at the road below and see that there were no cars approaching for the next 3-4 hairpin turns, giving us confidence that we could trace any line we desired through each turn. It reminded me a lot of the Col du Mente in the Pyrenees. The view from the top of Giau is supposed to be “the most beautiful view in the Dolomites,” according to Lonely Planet’s Cycling Italy, but I can’t confirm that because by then the clouds had socked in around us.

Passo Compolongo was fairly short but steep. In fact, it appears that all of the Dolomite passes are steep…some are just shorter than others.

Just before the top of Passo Gardena, Tim and I passed three riders. As Tim and I were donning our winter gear, the first of the three rolled up. He had said something to me in Italian as I went by him, and of course, I had no response. Not only do I not speak Italian, I was in the NTZ (no talking zone)! Aware of the communication gap, and wearing a wide grin, he jubilantly started repeating the only English words he knew were important to him at the moment, “Sixty-two years, sixty two years!” Tim had a brief conversation with him in German, but I didn’t need to understand their words to capture the joy he felt in his heart.
With some trepidation, Tim and I dropped down the west side of the Passo Gardena—the side we had just yesterday climbed in balmy, sunny conditions. We were actually glad we caught up to a large, slow moving vehicle, as it deterred the few cars following us from passing on slick roads with poor visibility.

Our quaint but recently renovated hotel in Wolkenstein was way up high on a big hill, and I hit my maximum wattage for the day on this final “climb.” For dinner, we took a short walk to a local restaurant, and I ate a whole pizza, Italian style.

It was another long day on the bike, but I felt a little better today, a trend I was hoping would continue.

Difficulty 10
Quality 10
Route 10
Scenery 9
(one point deducted for what we couldn’t see!)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Team HPC Powered by Cycle U group ride

We have had great luck with the weather for our 2008 Team HPC Powered by Cycle U group rides, and today was no exception. Sunny skies, mild temperatures, and light winds made it a little easier to roll out of bed and meet at the Happy Hooker at 7:30am. That would be the fishing pier in Myrtle Edwards Park, and that is where Coach Tammy from Cycle U gave an excellent clinic on cycling position for climbing and descending.

After the clinic, 20 of us including Tammy, rolled out of the park and headed out to Cougar Mountain. In an attempt to try and support as many people as possible, I offered two routes so that the riders could decide how hard they wanted to work, and how big of a challenge they desired. I was concerned that the “Solid” route might be too challenging for some, and the “Challenging” route might be not challenging enough for others, but my fears were unfounded.

Everyone rode well, and both groups had plenty of time to add optional climbs after completion of the basic route. That’s one of the great things about Cougar Mountain—the climbs are packed into a very compact area. Factor in the facts that the roads are generally wide and smooth, traffic is light, and, lest we not forget, these are some of the hardest climbs in King County (throw in nearby Squak Mountain and you have pretty much all of the hard climbs in the county), and you truly have a climbers’ Nirvana.

Several riders on the Challenging route completed what I think of as the Big Four: Zoo, Montreaux (Village Parkway), Pinnacle off of Cougar Mountain Drive, and Somerset from the north. We could have thrown in Horizon Crest, and completed the Big Five, but we’ll grind that out on an upcoming Hills of the West Coast ride. Other climbs thrown into the mix today included 164th (multiple times), Newcastle Golf Club, and Cougar Mountain Drive up to the school near the top of Cougar Mountain. Did I forget any others? You see, while I’d love to give you a complete report on all of the action on every climb, that’s not possible since we didn’t have the use of a helicopter to give us the Tour De France view. Feel free to email your comments to me and I’ll insert them into the blog, or simply post your own report as a comment to this blog entry.

Eventually, we regrouped at Lewis Creek Park on the top of Lakemont Drive, descended 164th as a group, and did a bonus climb up to the top of Somerset, this time via the “easy” way. Mileage and climbing totals varied according to the specific route permutations, but several riders managed to crack 6000’ of climbing for the day.

Be sure to mark Sunday 8/10/08 (same time and place) as the date of the next, and final, HPC Team Ride for 2008. Next month’s theme is Climbing and Descending II, and that means more of the good old ups and downs.

As an aside, we now have nine team riders paid up and committed to the Team HPC bibshorts that we will order at the end of the month. Once we hit 10 orders, we’ve hit the minimum, and it’s a go. If you thought our kit looked sharp today, imagine how we’ll look when our shorts match our jerseys. For information on how to order, please see my post on the Team HPC message Board:

I hope to see you on the road.


European Cycling 2008 - Saturday, June 14

Ponte Gardena-St. Ulrich-Selva di Val Gardena-Passo Gardena (2121m)-Passo Valparola (2192m)-Passo Falzareto (2105m)-Cortina-Tre Cochi (1805m)-Misurina

58.39 miles
11009’ climbing

On Saturday morning we loaded up Tim and Laura’s Jeep, and at 7:30am, headed south through Austria. The clouds lifted as we crossed the Alps, and the south side of the Italian Alps was bathed in sunshine. The sun held for most of the day, but we finished under a sky of high clouds.

Tim and I had worked out our route via countless emails, and I was quite ready to ride the roads that we had deliberated over in such great detail. We launched ourselves into the wild and ferocious Dolomiti of Italy from the town Ponte Gardena. Tim felt it was appropriate to start our riding together with a climb, which we did. What I didn’t expect (Tim left out this detail) was 5200’ of climbing, culminating in Passo Gardena at the famous Val Gardena ski area, for a total of 20+ miles of climbing! The off and on periods of moderate traffic we encountered during the first 10 miles would prove to be the highest volume of cars we would experience on the entire trip. Our goal was to ride up all eight of the classic 2000 meter passes of the Dolomites, and we had just ticked off our first one.

After a steep descent, next up was Passo Valparola, 8-9 kilometers of steep climbing, with long sections of 11-13%, most near the top of the pass. This was quite a test piece, and it was likely the hardest pass of the entire trip for me. I quickly developed a bonk, possibly from not eating enough on that initial 20 mile climb. I usually try to eat small amounts frequently, but that isn’t always possible going uphill. In any case, it was quite a suffer-fest for me, and I climbed at a crawl on the upper section.

Thankfully Laura was there at the top, as she would be for the entire trip. She was simply amazing, and she worked very hard to make things easy for Tim and me. All we had to do was ride the bike! This 10k/Day Tour would ultimately prove to have all of the advantages of a commercial tour with none of the disadvantages!

Luckily for me I was able to recover from the low patch I had been in, and it was helpful that we didn’t have any major climbing for a while. We joined the Passo Falzarego near the top, and then dropped into Cortina d'Ampezzo, of 1956 Winter Olympics fame. Falzarego and Valparo are two more of the 2000m passes, and if it felt we were cheating a little on Falzarego, I definitely felt I earned the Valparola. In any case, rode up both Falzarego and the Gardena passes the next day from the other direction!

Cortina has a magnificent setting, ringed on all sides by steep mountains. It reminded me a little of Chamonix, near Mt. Blanc in the French Alps.

Next up was Tre Cochi, at 1805m. Not technically a passo, it still felt like one, given that it is 8km long and quite steep with, once again, sections of 10-12%. Maybe it’s not a passo because passos are not allowed to deceive you the way this climb did. Our destination for the day was Misurina, and I figured on a nice descent into town, and this is what we had after the top of Tre Cochi, at least until the final left turn and resulting 12-13% climb up to town!

As the attached photo amply demonstrates, the town of Misurina is incredibly beautiful, surrounded on all sides by stunning mountains. The photo is of the view south across Lake Misurina, and I was reminded of the Canadian Rockies. Thankfully, our hotel featured half board, and we had a wonderful dinner and breakfast the following morning. The first dinner courses were buffet style, and I had two bowls of pasta, pizza, fruit, a few french fries, and various other items I can’t even remember. For my main I had a big plate of spaghetti carbonara, and then there was dessert…I think you get the picture!

My first impression of riding in the Dolomites is that it was hard. The climbs may be shorter than in the French Alps, but the steepness of the gradients makes up for it. Tomorrow was to bring a brutally difficult route in some brutal conditions.

Difficulty 10
Quality 8 (2 points deducted for traffic during the first 10 miles)
Route 10
Scenery 10

Sunday, July 13, 2008

7/13/08 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

We had a light crew of 9 people day, despite the deep blue skies and light wind. Perhaps the fact that a lot of ride regulars (and Team HPC members) had partnered up yesterday to do a fast One Day STP might have had something to do with it ;)

The ride out to Issaquah was one of the mellowest stretches of riding I’ve ever experienced on the HOWC, certainly since we took the pace to Super Strenuous three years ago.

Just as on last week’s ride, it seems like other riders want to do strange things upon catching sight of the bright red Team HPC jerseys. We caught a solo rider at the top of the hill leading up past the Honda dealership in Factoria. He then rode with us as we wound our way up towards Eastgate Elementary School. As we started down Newport Way, he whipped around us as we chatted away, pulled in at the front…and then slowed down. What is it about this time of the year that makes people do strange things? It must have something to do with the fact that summer has finally actually arrived!

Visions of Squak Mountain might have had something to do with the subdued pace on the 20 mile ride out to the base of our first climb, a route featuring 1000’ of altitude gain up Olympus Drive, past the trailhead, and then around the final loop at the top.

Despite Bill beating me to the top, I was pleased with my effort that resulted in a new PR for me on that climb. Besides, I was racing the clock :)

We did another 1000’ climb up the same side of Squak on Wildwood Dr. that ultimately topped out at the same circle loop at the top.

Next up was Cougar Mountain. Riders split into three groups and found common ground again at a re-group at Lewis Park on the top of Lakemont Dr. The majority of riders chose the very difficult Zoo route, with the remaining riders taking on either Village Parkway (Montreaux) or 164th.

By now we had three hard climbs under our belts, and the weather was heating up. We polished off the climb up to Newcastle Golf Club, and then headed back to town via 89th, Mercer Slough, and then across Mercer Island and the I-90 bridge. The pace of the ride steadily increased all the way back, we were going pretty hard by the time we hit Mercer Island and the bridge.

Just as was the case last week, we had a group of strong, very solid riders, and it seemed like everybody was still going very well at the end of the ride. We wound up with 57 miles and between 4600’-4800’ of climbing, depending on which way you went up Cougar Mountain.

Please jump in with your thoughts, comments, and suggestions, or just to fill in some details I missed.

I hope to see many of you at next Sunday’s Team HPC Powered by Cycle U group ride.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

European Cycling 2008 Tuesday June 10th-Friday June 13th

From Seattle to London, I had as good a flight as you can have in coach, having scored a bulkhead aisle seat on the big daddy of all planes, a British Airways 747-400. My connecting flight was held on the runway at Heathrow due to thunderstorms in Munich, but even that worked to my advantage. It allowed the next scheduled flight to play catch up and land only 35 minutes after my flight. This was fortunate since my bicycle made it onto that aircraft, but not the one I was sitting in. BA must be the last airline that treats passengers well, and they even gave me a 45 euro debit card for the inconvenience.

Flying to Munich to spend a few days at the new home of my Seattle friends Tim and Laura was a good way to kick off my Euro adventure. Tim is a patent attorney, and he and his wife Laura are spending 3-5 years in Germany. Tim works for one of his former clients that he advised while at his Seattle law firm. They live in Sauerlach, about 12 miles south of Munich, and right on the S5 rail line to downtown. Laura is not working at the present time, and she volunteered to drive their car in support of Tim and me as we cycled our way across the mountains of Italy and France. Perfect!!!

After assembling my bike the next morning, I embarked on a ride to lay down the first of 686 miles and 96134’ of climbing I would do while in Europe. I headed south through rolling hills, riding toward the true foothills of the Bavarian Alps hovering in the distance. Despite, or maybe because of, having the benefit of using Tim’s handlebar mounted GPS, I managed to turn a planned 35 mile ride into a 59 mile ride! When I spied the same mountain from the same exact angle, I became just a little suspicious, and struggled to orient myself and fight my way home through the fog of jet lag. Worth noting is that this is not the first, nor will it be the last, time I have been led astray by a supposedly infallible GPS unit. As with a lot of technology devices, there is still a lot of room for improvement…to reduce the chance of operator error!

I enjoyed superb, almost traffic free riding on little country roads. Tim and Laura do live in a cycling paradise.

On Friday the 12th, I took the train to downtown Munich for a little exploration and tour. The first price shock of the Tour hit home at Karstadt Sports. At 2 Euros a piece, Power Bars cost $3.15, and I walked away with 12 Power Bars and 3 jugs of Power Bar Sports Drink for a cool $144. From that point forward, I figured it was best just not to think about it, relax, and focus on the riding.

I had the "traditional" lunch of bratwurst on semmel bread at a market vaguely reminiscent of Pike Place Market in Seattle. The real obvious difference was that a lot of traditional Germans seem to prefer to drink beer for their lunch.

Our major goal for the trip was to ride as many of the classic hard climbs of Italy and France as possible. I'll list them as I do a day by day review, but we called the trip the "10k/Day" tour because our goal was an average of 10,000' of climbing for every day we spent in the high mountains. To do this would require riding just about every HC climb in the French Haute and Maritime Alps, as well as some incredible climbs in the Italian Alps and the Dolomites.

Shortly I’ll be posting photos here, as well as a link to many more.


Since I have returned from Europe, I have felt absolutely fantastic on the bike. Following a week of low mileage rides to recover, I endeavored to enter one of my favorite phases of my cycling “season”. After all of the winter base building, and then the spring focus on climbing to get ready for my big trip of the year, I always try to make summer the time when I ride for just pure fun. No agenda…no big focus…no real strategy or plan. Just go out and get on the bike.

On last Sunday’s Hills of the West Coast ride, I felt great, and was both physically and mentally ready to ride hard, and all of us did. I actually felt really strong climbing at a high pace, and I’m not totally sure I understand why, but I like it!

While in Europe, day to day sustainability was my primary goal, in order to successfully complete a really aggressive plan that Tim and I had laid out. In other words, I had to survive today in order to ride tomorrow. I never rode harder than an endurance pace, except when the climbs were so steep that I had no choice. I really couldn’t have ridden any harder even if I wanted to—the day to day buildup of fatigue would not have permitted it.

I’m not a physiologist, so it’s hard for me to understand how endurance type riding, albeit a huge volume of this kind of riding, translates into more strength at the “upper end”, i.e., the Vo2 max system that needs to be developed in order to maintain a hard effort for 3-10 minutes.

Feeling the need to quantify if for myself, I headed out to Cougar Mountain yesterday to put in a few hard efforts on some climbs I am very familiar with. First off, I headed up Horizon View/Summit, the steep road just to the east of Eastgate Elementary school. We use this climb frequently on the HOWC, and I think my best time has been 10:18. That pace normally puts me in pretty decent standing with the rest of the Sunday crew. Much to my shock, I went 9:15 today! I then proceeded to take 11 seconds off of my PR on the shorter climb up to Newcastle Golf Club.

I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming or fantasizing, and then I started to think about the obvious. How can I keep this fitness and form as long as possible?

The bicycle can be a great fountain of youth, and I know we all strive to maintain, or even improve our fitness as we age. Forget about racing and competition, it’s simply very satisfying to feel better than when you were younger.

So I welcome comments, suggestions, and advice, and if you ARE a Physiologist, an explanation!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

7/6/08 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

Having just returned a week ago from a pretty intense European cycling trip, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about today’s Hills of the West Coast ride. After a recovery week of low miles and no intensity, I didn’t know if I’d feel like “making the effort” to ride hard with the group.

Thankfully, I felt like riding hard, because even though I chose one of the easier routes that we use, by no means did we ride “easy”.

We did one of the routes that I used frequently when I started the ride five years ago. We worked our way south through White Center and Burien, and then dropped down for the scenic Three Tree Point climb. Marine View Drive took us to our first rest stop at Des Moines Waterfront Park, and then we kept heading south on Green River Drive to Auburn. We climbed out of there and turned back to the north on the steep SE 304th St. climb, and then followed quiet roads to our second stop at Soos Creek. After climbing some short, somewhat steep hills, we dropped straight down a steep grade into Renton, cut through Boeing, and then took Rainier, Seward, and Lake Washington Blvd. back to the I-90 overlook. Ultimately we made our way back to Downtown Seattle, where we had departed at 7:30am from Pier 70.

Despite the early start, we had 14 very strong riders show, and the attrition rate held low. We lost Emil due to a mechanical, and Reg had to turn back early due to a family commitment. Everyone else hung in there on what I would call a day featuring quite a hard pace over a route with fewer long hills than normal. We wound up at 65 miles with about 3800’ of climbing.

The weather forecast promised a lot of sun, and wind out of the south changing to a northerly sometime during the day. Even though it was cloudy for almost the entire ride, they got the wind part right. I actually think it switched right as we hit our most southerly point, and we wound up riding into a light wind pretty much the whole ride.

Given the wind in our faces, a special thanks go out to all who helped out on the front on the ride. One effort that really stood out was from Luke, who spent an inordinate amount of time laying down a hard pace while cutting the wind for all of us.

A ride story of note: When we were soft pedaling to get the group all together at the Boeing entrance, a guy on a Colnago went by us feigning a nonchalant attitude. Well, I guess we showed him, as well as another equally determined rider in a Byrne kit, the power of the HOWC group. We blew by him several times, first on Rainier, and then again after he passed us as we waited to re-group where Rainier hits Seward. Another pass occurred on the “Seward Hill”, despite his very best hard efforts to stay ahead. Mr. Colnago hammered the descent to Seward Park to get ahead once again, and then Luke finally cracked him for good on Lake Washington Blvd. I give him a lot of credit for the valiant effort!

As usual, the ride seemed to go by at a whirlwind pace. Please feel free to comment on the ride, and fill in any details that I may have omitted.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

6/29/08 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

From Jeff (Ride Leader for the 6/29/08 Hills of the West Coast ride:

"Ride recap: It was indeed very hot--pushing 90 at the end! The consensus among altimeters was about 4500 feet total elevation gain(for those who did all of the climbs.) Major hills: Tiger mountain x2, 112th/Licorice, 79th from Coal Creek to the top of Newcastle with the optional bump to the golf club afterwards. I arrived in Puerto Vallarta on Monday and it was actually cooler than Seattle! Good to see that we're back to "normal" here and it looks like we'll have good weather for the 6th".

As I had just returned from Europe the night before (with my bicycle still in a European baggage department), my participation was limited to watching the ride start from my living room window. I counted 13 riders, and it sounds like it was a good ride.


Those of you who know me know that I'm a bit of a late adopter when it comes to technology. That's why it's taken me so long to finally put together a blog.

I've been leading the weekly Hills of the West Coast ride in Seattle, Washington, for the last five years. That ride has connected me to great people and has helped to broaden Cascade Bicycle Club's support of high performance cycling in the area. I thought it would be fun to take the time to share about the HOWC ride, about the High Performance Cycling Powered by Cycle U program at Cascade, and about cycling in general.

I welcome input to this blog and its contents. If you have ridden with us on the HOWC or on the Team HPC rides and have comments on a day's ride or on a particular event, please email me at