Sunday, June 28, 2009

6-28-09 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

Mileage: 72 Climbing: 4032’ Route: Downtown—Mercer Island—Honda Hill—Newport Way to Issaquah—Issaquah-Fall City Trail to Sammamish Plateau—Duthie Hill Rd.—W. Snoqualmie Rd.—Carnation Farm Rd.—Ames Lake climb—Rt. 202—244th climb—Inglewood Hill Rd—212th—E. Lake Sammamish—Frontage trail on north side of I-90--Eastgate Park and Ride—Factoria—Enatai—Downtown Attrition Rate: 0%

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that multiple incidents of discourteous motorists in Snoqualmie Valley were only thing that took any luster off of today’s fine HOWC. Every year I avoid the area for several weeks after the Flying Wheels event. Apparently, this year I did not wait long enough for the animosity directed at bicycles to settle down. It was kind of startling, because there were only five of us, we were not doing anything to block traffic like riding two abreast, and still people were irritated with us despite low traffic conditions. I don’t know if this year’s Flying Wheels was particularly irritating to the locals, but I do know I am not venturing out there by myself in the near future. Forewarned is forearmed.

In two weeks, Mike and Bob will ride the “Death Ride” in the Lake Tahoe area. The ride will take them to 8700’, and over five substantial mountain passes. The two of them were really the motivating force of today’s ride. All in all, it was a pretty mellow ride for a summer HOWC. Oftentimes, when there is a small group, we ride at a much more subdued pace than typical. Not only are there fewer people to share the hard work on the front of the ride, but the competitive forces that drive a larger group ride are absent. Today’s ride was the last hard ride that Mike and Bob were looking for before they start a taper for the event, and they were there to continually remind us that, yes, we did indeed come out to ride hard. Once again, the power of the group, albeit a smaller one than usual, was responsible for all of us getting a lot more out of the ride than we would have individually. I think everybody got their money’s worth.

Today was a reminder that the further one ventures from Downtown Seattle, the less bike friendly many areas are. While we never had anybody buzz us super close, we got the message loud and clear. When I do venture out there again, especially by myself, I’ll be using my little mirror and my super bright Dinotte tail light. That way I’ll see 'em coming, hopefully taming a potential fast and close pass situation by positioning myself a little out in the lane until they slow down. Then I’ll move right and give a friendly wave.

If they still run me into the ditch, I’ll sue their ass. It will be my word against theirs (unless there is a witness), but with the Dinotte they can’t claim to not have seen me.

Just like flying a single engine airplane, on a bike it can be hours and hours of stress free riding interspersed with moments of sheer terror.

I hope to see you on the Tarmac.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Who Do You Like?

Tour de France time is almost upon us, and here I go with my first annual winner’s pick. This is nothing but my opinion and pure conjecture, but that is what blogs are for, aren’t they? Post your pick and analysis in the comment section of this blog.

I doubt he is going to be the odds maker’s favorite, but I am picking Lance Armstrong to win the 2009 Tour for the following reasons:

1) Motivation #1—he misses the limelight, and he is tired of gossip columnists writing about who he is dating. Winning the TDF puts him back on page one.
2) Motivation #2—his reputation. Whether you and I believe Armstrong won seven tours clean…or not, doesn’t matter. It seems like pretty much nobody believes his drug free claims, and that really PO's Lance. Since this year’s Tour is supposed to be the most tested and drug free ever (we have heard this before), LA figures on winning the 2009 TDF and totally silencing his critics, insuring his legacy, and moving on to run for political office. Everybody knows he’d have to be an idiot to get caught, and unless he has some super secret special sauce, he’ll be believable when he says he is clean.

Motivation is everything at this level. Half of the peloton is just doing their job so that they can get paid and not have to find real work. Armstrong doesn’t look at it as work, and he doesn’t need the money. And boy, does he know how to suffer on the bike.

3) Giro results—considering the time off from racing, the broken collarbone, and his general carousing over the last four years, LA had an outstanding Giro. The collarbone cost him not only in fitness; it altered his training calendar enough to prevent him from getting to Tour weight before the Giro. Or did he just sandbag the Giro, and the extra weight was part of it? Expect to see him 5-8# lighter for the TDF, and looking an awful lot like he used to.
4) The route—With only three mountain top finishes, if Armstrong can just stay on the leader(s) wheel and not lose time, he’ll win the Tour in the time trials. This is a big ask, and Ventoux is the key; obviously he could lose minutes there, but I don’t think so. Armstrong not being able to drop a leader in the mountains is likely, but a leader not being able to drop Armstrong is certainly possible.
5) The “Lance Armstrong factor"—Most of the riders in the peloton are in awe of Armstrong, whether or not they have raced with him. Many seem to think that LA is still the best, and he probably is, at least at the Tour.
6) Physiological—Most elite endurance sport athletes can hold their aerobic peak until around age 35, depending on genetics and long term training effects. Armstrong is 37, and if he’s lost 2% while in peak form, I don’t think anyone will notice. He still has “it”. Even at 98%, that is more than enough, if the playing field is level.
7) Experience—He knows how to win this thing.
8) Smarts—Even if he never won the TDF, he is still the most intelligent rider in the Tour. LA doesn’t make mistakes.
9) Johan Bruyneel—no comment required.
10) Astana (love em or hate em) is the best team—when push comes to shove, who do you think Leipheimer, Horner, and Kloden will work for? These guys will turn themselves inside out for Armstrong if they see he has a shot at winning. Bruyneel will be doing the pushing, and he might not even have to…
11) Contador may jump ship—it’s not too late for a move, and regardless of where he goes he’ll have a weaker team, and one not used to dedicating themselves to him. How deep will they dig for him?
12) Nevada—LA just won a race there. Just kidding!

So the way I see it going down is that Armstrong wins the opening short TT, or at least beats his GC rivals. He hangs onto whomever’s wheel he needs to in the first two mountain top finishes. The whole thing hinges on the Ventoux, and he loses no more than 30 seconds. Those 30 seconds don’t matter, because he picks up more than that on his rivals in the 40.5km TT two days before Ventoux.

There you have it. Let’s hear about your pick in the comments section. Fire away.

I have never been a huge Lance Armstrong fan, but it’s time to root for the “old guy”.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tour de Chelan Century Challenge on 6-20-09

Despite presenting the Cascade Bicycle Club with the concept for the High Pass Challenge, and working with CBC staff to develop the event, I’m not much of an event guy. I’m going to try and describe why I have added the Chelan Century to my short list of what I consider the premier organized ride events in Washington State.

My “requirements” are rather specific and demanding. First and most important, I have to feel that the ride conditions are safe and this obviously encompasses traffic conditions, road design and cycling compatibility, as well as the number and experience level of the riders in the event. Next, the route must be interesting, and for me that requires varied terrain with lots of climbing, including at least one long or epic climb. Last, but not least, the event support must be good, otherwise why put up with the hassles that can come with riding with the crowd. If you have to stand in line for 10 minutes to use the Sanican or grab a bagel, I’d rather just go it alone on my own.

The Chelan Century, the High Pass Challenge (I already did the disclosure), and the Tour de Blast are the three events that I would go out of my way to do. Unfortunately, all three are a long way from Seattle, and in 2009 the Chelan Century and the Tour de Blast were held on the same day. Ramrod would likely be included on most riders' lists, but for me, those first 50 and last 30 miles kind of spoil the outstanding riding during the 100 miles in between. Narrow roads with no shoulder, and a lot of early morning “Urgent Hour” traffic give me the creeps in the early miles. You will likely be in pacelines as you negotiate your way through this section, and the pacelines that form along 410 during those final 30 miles into a headwind are some of the scariest I have been in. Everybody is tired, and you are as well, so going it alone isn’t a great option either.

This was my first Chelan Century, and it met all of my requirements. My estimate of participants was only 300 riders, and everyone I saw seemed to be very experienced; I never saw a wheel out of line, or anybody do something stupid, as seems to happen when a group mentality takes over. There were enough bicycles to give you that “safety in numbers” effect, but not enough to ever feel crowded. Car drivers in the Chelan area are used to seeing cyclists, and the roads are just fantastic for cycling. None of the roads were super busy, and there was a wide shoulder available anytime there were more than a superficial number of cars on the road.

This fairly new event is produced by the Chelan Rotary, and you would never know that they are not “bike people”. There were a large number of volunteers given the number of participants, and every volunteer appeared to be dedicated to doing what they could to insure the safety and comfort of the riders. Food was fresh and plentiful, and there were a large number of mini-stops provided for water and a quick banana or bagel. I never waited in a line for anything; in fact, I never even saw a line. The support stop at the top of the out and back McNeil Canyon climb reminded me of the support provided by Cycle Miles at the top of every col during my 2007 Pyrenees trip. The Rotary even had the event t-shirt and jersey design dialed in. Despite the distance from Seattle, it’s easy to see why this event attracts more riders every year.

One word describes the route—magnificent. The Chelan Century route is a little unusual in that it is comprised of three loops of similar length, with all loops returning to the ride start at a lakefront park in downtown Chelan. Given the option, it appeared that some riders did just one or two of the loops. It’s just incredible how interesting and varied the terrain is, and at times it made me feel like I was back riding in Colorado. I love living in the "green zone", but it’s great to be able to access a totally different world east of the Cascades.

With 8600’ of climbing, there was ample opportunity to get in the climbing groove, and the descents on smooth roads were fabulous. While McNeil Canyon isn’t the longest climb around, it certainly ranks as epic. Gaining 2250’ over the 5+ miles of the main part of the climb works out to an average grade of 8.42%, and it would appear to be just a very hard climb. The last 1.25 miles at 10.6% guarantees that the overall grade that your legs feel is considerably steeper. This final section caps off what is an extremely hard climb, similar in steepness (but longer) than the Mt. Constitution climb on Orcas Island. Try to visualize four Montreaux (Village Parkway) ascents in a row, or use your imagination to link five Somersets...well, you get the picture. It’s a beast of a climb. There were a lot of happy faces at the top of that monster.

With one exception, all of the other climbs give you a choice as to how hard to punish yourself. With moderate grades and some good length, the Echo Ski Area and Navarre Coulee climbs were a perfect contrast to the brutal McNeil Climb. There were a lot of climbs on which it was easy to pick a pace and enjoy the flow. With the exception of the grinds up McNeil and the final climb, it never felt like we were riding all that hard, yet the three of us seemed to be making good progress compared with most of the crowd. At the end of the ride, I wasn’t really that tired, certainly nowhere near as spent as I am after the typical 70-75 mile summer Hills of the West Coast.

The whole day seemed to go off without a hitch. I had only one little frustration during the entire ride. As we started up the steep McNeil Canyon grade, my chain did not want to stay on the largest cog. Riding this monster without that cog was not an option, so I stopped to snug the rear derailleur cable adjustment. Funny how the new cable installed several weeks ago picked this moment to stretch enough to not provide enough tension for the rear derailleur to move the chain up the cassette. It could have occurred on any one of the earlier climbs, but it didn’t. The third time I stopped for a cable tweak was in the middle of steep sustained climbing, and I decided to wait for my mates in the shade. Never once stopping mid-way on a climb in the Pyrenees or Alps, here I was stopped on McNeil. Initially, I forgot that we were being timed on the climb, but I quickly decided not to worry about that. In the grand scheme of things it just didn’t seem important, besides, I was timing myself, and I was pleased overall with how I rode the climb.

Everybody doing the full three loops seemed to be aware of the final climb of the Butte lurking at mile 98. Volunteers at the turn in for the out and back climb let us know that it was “voluntary"--funny that Tim never mentioned that. Mercifully it was only a mile long, and at over 10% average grade with a max of 15%, I'm not sure anyone was complaining. Honestly, it was the least attractive climb of the day, and skipping it would still give you 100 miles if that type of milestone is really important to you. Actual total mileage was a hair over 103 miles, and in my opinion, leaving this one out would not compromise your enjoyment of the event. Judging by how few bodies we saw on the climb, it appears that many did skip it.

After all, it was an event, not a race, and opposed to some other events, this one had a laid-back feel to it. I was invited to Chelan for the weekend by my friend Tim, who has had a lakefront house in Chelan since 1994. With us was Tim’s friend Daryl, and Tim, who has ridden in every Chelan Century, provided us insight during our journey. Team HPC was well represented, and we ran into the gang a number of times. At the top of McNeil, it was really nice to be around many riding friends from Seattle, and here I was, three hours from home.

We never encountered the sometimes huge pacelines that form at other events, and there was none of that “team” mentality evident at some of the large rides. Not once did we see a large team “sheltering” their leader from the wind, protecting him, and then launching him in his quest for his own PR, or for bragging rights over someone else.

We didn’t see anyone treating the ride as anything more than it was: a well-organized, small event on superb roads winding through a beautiful area of the state. It was one of those rare days when the breeze seemed to be at your back 75% of the time, and thankfully it actually was on the way up McNeil Canyon.
I hope to see you on the road.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

6-14-09 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

Miles: 50.3 Climbing: 4350’ Attrition Rate: 82% Route: Downtown—Mercer Island—Honda Hill—Newport Way to Issaquah—Olympus climb on Squak—Wildwood climb on Squak—Newport Way—164th climb to top of Lakemont on Cougar Mountain—Forest—Coal Creek-Lake Washington Blvd—Mercer Island—Downtown

Stacking two back to back hard Squak Mountain climbs early in the ride can wreak havoc with the ride attrition rate, and the Olympus and Wildwood climbs of Squak did splinter the peloton.

We started with 10 riders on a cloudy and cool morning, the day after Flying Wheels. Going across Mercer Island, we picked up a kit attired rider who at first resisted the inevitable pass by the HOWC train. He wound up joining us, so then we had 11, at least until after the first climb at Squak, at which point he bailed. I think there might have been a little bit of “I’ll show them” involved, and when he finished the climb far from the front, it might have turned into “If I stay, I’ll get my ass kicked”.

Jeff took a long rapid transit pull on his aerobars just before that climb, and that might have had something to do with several riders cracking and departing us after Squak. Doing Olympus and then Wildwood as our first two climbs proved challenging, and several riders even abandoned part way up the second climb.

By the end of the ride, only Don and I were left, and I was glad for that, as I had left my mini-pump at home! Don hasn’t been on the bike much, and maybe it was fitting that he toughed it out and hung in there. Of course, not everybody left us early because of a couple of hard climbs. Bill and Jason split on the way back to add more miles, and Jeff did just the first climb because he is tapering for his first Iron Man next Sunday.

By design, today’s ride was shorter than the past few HOWC’s. On Thursday I am heading to Chelan, and on Saturday I will ride in the Chelan Century for the first time. With McNeil Canyon at the 50 mile mark, and an 11% climb at 98 miles, I thought it prudent to keep the route reasonable.

As an aside, today was the first Sunday ride in three years that I did not expect Tracy to be working when I came home. Yesterday, she “walked” at Husky Stadium, and had her name called out to receive her Doctorate in Education. I expressed my concern that the uninhibited frivolity of the HOWC could be compromised if I started to feel guilty now that she wouldn’t be working every single Sunday morning. Tracy has informed me that I need not worry, as she will be going to brunch, getting pedicures, reading the paper, and maybe even riding her bike. In other words, there is no need to rush home, and she is looking forward to a little relaxing. It's good to have her back!

We have always chuckled about how many riders leave the ride early, and some of the muttered excuses we have heard are pretty unique. While we have never formally tracked the attrition rate, I think I will add it to the ride stats I list at the top of the ride report post.

Not that I am trying to scare people off, or anything like that. For people who read the ride description, there are no surprises. Besides, one can always retrace the route home anyway.

Come prepared to ride hard and safely, share the work on the front, have a good time, and likely be very tired at the end of the ride. That’s what the HOWC is all about, and that’s the way I like it.

I hope to see you on the road.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

6-7-09 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

Miles: 70.5 Climbing: 5000’ Route: Downtown—Mercer Island—89th—May Valley—148th—Jones Rd.—196th climb—Sweeney—Maple Valley—216th—Tiger Mountain climb—Issaquah—Squak Mountain climb—Newport Way—Mercer Island--Downtown

With every foot of ascension of Squak Mountain, my motivation for doing the Montreaux Village Parkway climb faded. Today’s plan was to complete the “Triple Issaquah Alps Traverse”. After using the 196th climb, and then taking Sweeney Rd. to reach Maple Valley, we headed back north and then east. We did Tiger Mountain from the south, and we criss-crossed Squak, going up to the top via Wildwood, before dropping down Olympus to Tibbet’s Park. Next up was Cougar Mountain.

Physically I felt good today, and I feel quite fit for early summer. Overlaid is a little layer of fatigue, the result of four strait fairly hard weeks, during which I have averaged 230 miles and over 13,000’ of climbing per week. Throw in four pretty tough HOWC’s, and what you get are good fitness gains and fatigue, likely as much mental as physical.

So with the choice of Zoo, Montreaux, or Somerset (technically not Cougar) crystallized in my head as we rolled up Newport Way, I chose…Newport Way. Yes, of course, I was tired, but I still felt good, and I guess I just didn’t want to do another hard climb at a high pace with a competitive group.

It probably didn’t help that it was my turn to pull on the gradual uphill as we passed Eastgate Elementary before the turn for Somerset. Much to my surprise, as I was detailing the meeting spot for the riders desiring to do the climb, they all chose…Newport Way. We had another strong group, we had ridden hard, and I guess I wasn’t the only one who just didn’t need one more climb with no easy way up.

Rarely do I prefer riding hard on the flat to a nice solid climb, but just as in past weeks, I seemed to feel better and better as the ride wore on, and towards the end, I was riding hard as we rolled back. As he has on recent HOWC rides, Emil threw in some late attacks, and I had to ride hard to cover them.

It’s a good thing I am enjoying riding hard on the flat. Today was the first day of the year for our “Super Strenuous” pace. For July and August, the ride description I have posted mentions that “Riders should be capable of taking short pulls at 23-25mph”, and on some HOWC rides that is conservative. And yes, we will still be climbing hills as well. Ah, summer is here, and it’s easy to tell on the Sunday ride.

So I am now in my fifth hard week in a row. I’m committed to riding the Chelan Century on June 20th with three strong riders. I know the pace will be high, and there is 8600’ of climbing, so I have been rationalizing that I need to “build” for this day.

In reality, the weather has been fantastic, and I just wanted to do what I do, and what I like to do is ride my bike. I don’t need any motivation other than the fact that I simply love to ride. The hard part for me will be cutting back the hours on the bike so that I am well rested for Chelan.

I hope to see you on the road.