Sunday, August 23, 2009

8-23-09 HOWC Report Passing the Torch

Miles: 71.4 Climbing: 4039’ Route: Downtown Seattle--Mercer Island--Factoria—Honda Hill climb—Eastgate Elementary—Newport Way to Issaquah—Highland Trail climb to Sammamish Plateau—Issaquah Fall City Rd—SE 40th—W. Snoqualmie Rd.—Tolt Hill Rd.—Rt. 203 north—Carnation Farm Rd.—Ames Lake Rd. climb—202 north—244th climb—Inglewood Hill Rd.—216th climb—212th—E Lake Sammamish—Issaquah—Sammamish Parkway—I-90 north frontage trail—Eastgate P&R—Mercer Island—Downtown Seattle Attrition Rate: 0% of 12 riders

Emil led his first HOWC today, and he pretty much took care of things from start to finish. For the first time in the six years of the HOWC, I actually had the crazy thought that this ride could still be going on 100 years from now. Long after all of us are gone, will some future generation be reading this blog’s archives to see how the Oldtimers survived the ride? I don’t have any kids, so it will be up to others to insure that the legacy of the ride continues. Down the road will there be a little Jeff, or little Luke or Emil to spearhead things? While it’s kind of a silly thought, it’s also kind of a nice one for me.

Based on intuition derived from six year’s experience leading the ride, I would have wagered early in the ride that at least two of our riders would not be with us at the end. I would have bet poorly, as both Jim and Mario dug really deep and hung in there. All of us dig deep on the HOWC. Churning up a steep climb or pulling into a headwind hurts everybody, no matter how strong a rider might be. It must have been pretty rewarding for Jim and Mario at the end of the ride to realize that yes, indeed, they pulled it off. I hope they come out again, as they are both good guys, and you just know they won’t quit.

It’s also rewarding to see how things progressed during the ride in terms of skill level and safety. We had a few people freely admit that they were not very experienced with group rides, and the HOWC is not really a good place to learn the basics. Our first paceline was a little ragged, and at our first stop at Tibbet’s Park, Emil made a few suggestions as to how to tighten things up a little. By the time we got to the opportunity for a long uninterrupted line on West Snoqualmie, we were operating like a finely oiled machine. The machine averaged almost 24mph for about five miles of riding directly into a pretty stiff headwind (at least by Seattle standards), so it was a good effort, but it was more satisfying to see all of our riders going smoothly. Even as fatigue built in all of us, I thought the group rode more cohesively the longer the ride went on.

I had kind of a weird day, in that early on my legs didn’t feel great, and I thought it prudent to hang in the draft and see how things developed. I was pleased that I was with the front group up every climb, and that I made every move. There were gaps behind me, but never in front of me. The legs hurt, but they were working. Late in the ride, I felt good enough to do some decent work on the front, so my reward for perseverance was to be pleasantly surprised at having a pretty good day when I didn’t expect it. Overall, I would say the pace was hard, but not super maniacal hard.

Thanks go out to Sami, Steve, and Nick, the three of whom did a lot of work on the front throughout the ride. Mark C. did some nice pulling before he left the ride to head home for a family obligation. Very late in our 72+ mile ride, Nick pulled us strongly back home across the I-90 Bridge, and just stayed there when we hit the uphill ramp. Pretty impressive, considering we had already knocked off 68 solid miles.

My best guesstimate is that I have ridden somewhere close to 10,500 miles on the HOWC. I had a flat today, and I’m pretty sure it was only my third one, and one of those was due to a presta valve separating from the tube. I can’t blame it on the “fragile” Vittoria 320tpi open tubular, as the rather large imbedded glass shard would have cut through just about anything. On Thursday, my friend Justin and I both received a ticket for “Not obeying the rights and duties of a motor vehicle operator,” which is a kinder and gentler (non-moving violation) version of running a stop sign. The officer was correct; we did indeed roll through a downhill stop at about 5mph, although he did point out that we did much better at the next one at the entrance to Seward Park. It’s a little ironic that both Justin and I have really made the effort to do our part to clean up cycling’s image by following the rules, and I even do my best to keep things clean on the HOWC.

Emil would like to lead the HOWC through the winter, and it’s great to have him onboard. I’m out of town next weekend, but Luke promises a special ride next Sunday, our last ride of the season at summer pace. Forget about 100 years from now. I think it best to take it week by week, and we have had some great Sundays.

I hope to see you on the road.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

8-16-09 HOWC "E Ticket Ride" for a First Class Weekend

Miles: 57-62 Climbing: 4000’-5000’ Route: Downtown—Mercer Island—Coal Creek Parkway—May Valley—132nd climb on Tiger Mountain—Issaquah—Wildwood climb on Squak Mountain—Montreaux (Village Parkway) climb on Cougar—Montreaux directissima option to the school on top of Cougar (60th)—Pinnacle climb option—Forest—Coal Creek—Mercer Island—Downtown Attrition Rate: 15%, but we had a few riders deep in the Hurt Locker

Luke led the HOWC this past Sunday and here is his take on the day:

I had this ride’s route set before I rolled out the door in the morning. I really didn’t care who showed up or how many. HPC in the Park (Rainier) is Thursday and I needed to tune-up. It seemed back loading three tough climbs on the HOWC would get the job done.

We had a rare double flat and dealt with a route diversion due to some construction early on. When things did finally get rolling for that long stretch on May Valley, the paceline was whipping around a lot more than I like. Funny thing. The group agreed to short pulls, no more than a minute. I counted 11 pulls the entire stretch of May Valley!

Climb #1 was the “Far North Tiger” up 132nd. This climb gets really steep near the end. After climbing a very hard ramp the turn reveals a nice view coupled with an unexpected continuance of the punishing grade. A few guys almost blew up on that part.

Climb #2 was “Wildwood on Squawk”. This is the most even gradient way to climb Squawk. It still delivers over 1000’ of climbing and is pretty tough so close to the previous climb.

Speaking of hard climbs after hard climbs, Climb #3 was “Mountreaux+Pinnacle”. For the core of six or so riders who stuck out all three climbs, this is where the suffer-based camaraderie emerged. Lots of chippy comments as we did the “+” - extending Montreaux up those two steep ramps to the utility crossing strip. Lots of big smiles as we finished off Pinnacle and enjoyed the view. Credit to Warren and Death Ride Bob for pacing this phenomenal workout.

This was one of my favorite HOWCs thus far in the season. A great workout on a beautiful day with good people. Bring on Mount Rainier!

I did two group rides this past weekend, and I was a passenger on both. David did a great job on the Team High Performance Cycling ride on Saturday, and Luke ran a very smooth operation on Sunday. Leading the HOWC over the last six years has been a fantastic experience, and I must thank the Cascade Bicycle Club for giving me the opportunity. Every so often it is really nice to do the ride, but not have to be responsible for leading it. Thanks to Jeff, Luke, and soon to be HOWC ride leader Emil, we have a deep bench of strong riders who are eager to step in and safely lead the ride. Thank you, gentlemen!

Luke covered all of the bases today with a very hard and diverse route, “summiting” all three of the Issaquah Alps (Tiger/Squak/Cougar). Luke continued a theme I have been working with this summer: trying to offer a super hard route, but with options to cut out a few of the extreme sections. Some days, even super strong riders are not really into it, and it’s also great to have an alternative for someone who is just barely hanging on. As we all know, a cracked rider is a slow rider. The HOWC always gives even very strong riders plenty of opportunity to toast yourself, but we find the ride often goes more smoothly if we give an option to stay away from the toaster.

We had a really strong group overall today. The ride went smoothly even with a few riders in the Hurt Locker, mostly because they were able to take a “break” now and then. I felt good pretty much all day, and was climbing pretty strongly. I skipped a few of the 20+% grade sections, not so much to save the legs, but just because those type of climbs were not what I was looking for on Sunday…not that I really seek them out very often anyway. I got exactly what I needed and wanted from the ride, and I think the same can be said for most of the riders.

Usually when you lose someone, they are behind you. We managed to lose Reg when he was in front of us. He had gone ahead by zipping onto a bike path on Mercer Island while we waited at a light. I tried reaching him on his cell phone, and we waited for five or ten minutes. When we came upon him just past Mercer Slough, I was wondering if he caught a helicopter ride, but Reg said, "I figure if you guys are going to hammer, I’ll get a head start." Is this kosher?

About the only criticism I can level is one that Luke has already pointed out. Namely, the May Valley paceline went off at a very hard pace, but it wasn’t the smoothest train I have been on. I had a few ideas as to how to make it better, but I kept my mouth shut and just enjoyed the E Ticket Ride as a very content passenger.

Thanks, Luke and David.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

8-9-09 Hills of the West Coast Gorillas in the Mist

Miles: 77.5 (more if you did the “extra leg”) Climbing: 4000’ Route: Downtown Seattle—Mercer Island—Honda Hill Factoria—Newport Way—Issaquah—Issaquah-Hobart Rd.—May Valley Rd.—148th—Jones Rd.—196th hill—232nd—224th—search for phantom Soos Creek Trail—various roads using my nose as a compass—Petrovitsky to the east—Whoops, Petrovitsky to the west—140th—Cedar River Trail—Renton—Rainier—Seward—Downtown Attrition Rate: technically 17%, but we had some cracked riders

For six years I have been leading the HOWC, and if there is one thing I take pride in, it’s the GPS in my head. About the only time I have been lost on a bicycle was in the French Pyrenees, when I took a wrong turn near the top of a climb, and went about a mile before I turned around. Then, it was a Cycle Miles Tour GPS that led me astray; today, I just messed up.

We were planning on a nice ride out through Snoqualmie Valley, but when we got to Cougar Mountain, every hilltop was shrouded in mist. Not wanting to risk the climb up to and over the Sammamish Plateau only to find pea soup fog, we changed plans and headed south. Since we had already been well to the east, I decided to cut off the loop that I use that takes us to the very south end of the Soos Creek Trail. Without going into the morbid details, we couldn’t find the trail from 224th. But it had to be there!

Yes, we had more hairy legs in the bunch than clean shaven ones, but I was the true gorilla in the mist today. Looking at the King County Bicycle Map, I still cannot understand how the 12 of us could not find the trail—one I have been on a thousand times—that intersects 224th, at least on the map. I’m going to have to go down there by myself to sort that one out. Not finding the trail in itself would not have been a big deal, as we actually discovered some nice riding roads in the Lake Youngs area. Trying to orient myself by looking at my tiny hand drawn map sketch while riding? Well, that was my true FUBAR.

Somehow I got myself turned around (more likely I had the map turned around), and we headed the wrong direction on Petrovitsky. I have all of the many routes we use on the HOWC in my head, and I only brought a map because I had never been on 224th. A lot of good that did! Ultimately, I got myself oriented and the group back on track, and the reality was that it was actually a good route, one that I will use again on the ride.

The ride was also unusual in that for what seemed like 60+ miles of the 77.5 we did, the group was fragmented into little groups. While sometimes the HOWC in the summer flows with the rhythm of a fine symphony, today we experienced more like the staccato burst of a machine gun. The ride is advertised as Super Strenuous in the summer, and those who have been on a typical summer ride have a pretty good idea as to what that entails. We need two key ingredients to pull it off: first, we need a strong group of 4-6 (unless Chris Ragsdale shows up), to share the work and lay down the pace-making. Then we need the rest of the gang to be capable of hanging on to the wheels. On a good day, I am one of the pacemakers. On a bad day, I am one of the wheel suckers. Forget about the climbs, we can wait around a little bit and re-group at the top. What I am talking about are the roads in between the climbs.

Having to make a few U-turns to retrace our route didn’t help, but we really didn’t have a very cohesive group today. Despite not riding as hard as we usually do, after we left Issaquah, about 2/3 of the group was off the back right from the get go. Our front group was slowly rolling away from stops, etc., but in my little mirror I would see the group split almost immediately every single time. If it would have happened early in the ride, I could have easily addressed it, but by the time we were in the MON (middle of nowhere), I couldn’t just let people get lost (even more than we were). That’s just not what we do on the HOWC. If I had it to do over again, I would have called a stop on May Valley before we headed south, given anyone who wanted to an opportunity to cut loose, and directions back to the ride start if required. At that point, anyone who elected to continue with the group would be responsible for staying with the group.

Don’t get me wrong, we had people digging deep and doing their best. You certainly can’t discount that, and the way to get faster is to ride faster with stronger riders. But we also had a group (including myself) who came out to ride hard with as few interruptions as possible. We never really got into full hammer mode, as we were aware that the harder we rode, the longer we would wait.

It wasn’t one of the smoothest HOWC’s on record, but we still had a good ride. I apologize for being a gorilla in the mist and getting us lost, and I apologize for not keeping the ride focused and rolling along like it normally does.

It just goes to show that even after six years of trying to run a really consistent hard group ride, I still have things to improve upon. Some lessons were learned today, and I’ll do my best to keep them in mind as I try to make the HOWC show as fun and safe as possible.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fukeneh, Tom and Tracy go to Canada

What do Australia and Canada have in common? Both countries have a large land mass with a relatively low population. Could this be the main reason why the inhabitants of Australia and Canada are so incredibly friendly and outgoing, especially with strangers? It seems that these countries are also amongst the very few in the world where people seem to like, or at least tolerate, Americans.

Back in June 2003, I started a cycling trip in Whistler, BC that ultimately took me across BC to Jasper and Banff, and then back to Washington via Kootenay Provincial Park and northwest Idaho. I’ve been to Whistler several times, but had never spent enough time there to really scope it out. Tracy and I spent seven nights at the Whistler Westin in July, hiking, cycling, and hanging out.

Whistler is an incredibly cosmopolitan place. We have never been around so many friendly Australians, except in Australia itself. Combine Australians and Canadians with a strong representation from Europe and what you get is a recipe for a great party. The town reminded us of Chamonix, France except for the fact that about 50% of the Whistler population was speaking some form of English.

Summertime Whistler has a very young median age. It was great to be in a community where the norm was closer to a thin athletic body than a morbidly obese one. Oddly enough, once we were in BC, we didn’t see one Washington license plate. It was still easy to spot the occasional American in the crowd, but they were not likely from Seattle. Tracy and I are pretty fit and thin, and we felt like we meshed better with the young Whistler crowd vs. the typical American crowd, at least size-wise.

Economists talk about supply side and demand side. The demand side for calorie consumption is pretty high in a town with all of the sports and recreation opportunities that Whistler provides. In Canada, as with most of the rest of the world, the supply side is addressed as well. Restaurant potion size is under control, and there doesn’t seem to be quantity size based competition for the consumer food dollar. Smaller portions=smaller people. Here we were, pretty close to our home in Seattle, and for us it was very easy to imagine that we were in Europe or perhaps New Zealand, given the similar terrain.

Whoa, let me get on topic before I digress even further; after all this is supposed to be a blog about bicycling.

Mountain bikes (especially “downhill” bikes) are literally everywhere in Whistler, and this might be a turnoff for some people. Supposedly there is a $2000 fine for riding a bike through the main village, but if so, there must be a lot of wealthy riders in Whistler, as they ignored the law. Other than resort skiing, I have never understood the fascination of going downhill, certainly not without the fun of earning the descent with a great climb. The up has always been more important than the down for me.

Just 19 miles north of Whistler is the small and laid back town of Pemberton. Pemberton would be an excellent base camp for road cycling and fantastic hiking, if the glitz (and higher cost) of Whistler is not that interesting to you. The most notable ride is up Cayoosh Pass, a solid HC climb, and harder than anything in Washington State. You could make the argument that Hurricane Ridge is harder since it is longer, but Cayoosh is much steeper. It feels like a big climb in Europe.

As a matter of fact, Cayoosh Pass from the south is quite comparable to Alpe d’Huez. Consider the stats:

Alpe d’Huez: 8.6 miles in length at 7.9% average grade for a vertical rise of 3700’—first two miles at 9.7%

Cayoosh Pass: 8.4 miles in length at 7.9% average grade for a vertical rise of 3500’—first two miles at 10.25%

I have climbed both, and the biggest difference is that an average of 1000 cyclists ascend Alpe d’Huez on a summer day. On Cayoosh, hardly a car went by, and I was the only bicycle.
With Pemberton lying at 650’ elevation, and the surrounding peaks reaching up to 9500’, there is a sense of a spectacular vertical relief difference. The mountains surrounding Pemberton (and Whistler) are huge, heavily glaciated, and stunningly beautiful. There are some flat valley rides, as well as an easy climb over Pemberton Pass to the tiny town of D’Arcy. Tracy drove up and met me at the top of Cayoosh, and we hiked up to the Upper Joffre Lake, which lies in a spectacular cirque ringed by massive glaciers.

Road cycling in Whistler itself is mostly about the excellent system of bike and pedestrian paths. We walked and rode these paths to get to the various lakes scattered around the Whistler valley. As long as you aren’t in a hurry, it’s not a problem to deal with the bikes, kids, and unleashed dogs, but serious cycling it is not.

Just as in Seattle, Whistler was experiencing a record heat wave. On the bike it wasn’t a problem, as I started early, and I like the heat anyway. Around town, the heat was made more tolerable with a few ice cream cones, and I must admit that we chose a restaurant one night simply based on the fact that it was air conditioned. There were a few nights when the heat was cut by intermittent showers...the precursor to the area's terrible slew of wildfires. What it all comes down to is that Whistler (or Pemberton) is a great place for a summer outdoors based holiday. Other than the horrendous traffic through Vancouver and the return border crossing, it’s pretty close to perfect.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

8-4-09 The HOWC Takes Flight

Miles: 58-60 depending on options Climbing: 3600-4000’ Route: Downtown Seattle--Mercer Island—Enatai--Medina—Kirkland—Juanita with Holmes Point option—Brier to 212th—212th to Edmonds—Pine to Woodway—Richmond Beach—175th with Innis Arden climb option—Shoreline—Ballard—Myrtle Edwards Park—Downtown Seattle Attrition Rate: 0%* (only 6 finished out of 17, but no one cracked)

Every year we do a ride on Sea Fair Sunday, and this year was no exception. I always take the ride on the same route; the only route I can think of that minimizes traffic hassles. With both the I-90 Bridge closed from 12:15-2:45 and Lake Washington Blvd. closed all day this means only one thing—don’t go near the lake, at least past early in the morning. We have not used what I call the North Counter-Clockwise Outer Loop for a while, and it was enjoyable to ride it today.

Early on, Warren, Justin, and a few others set down a pretty serious 26-28mph pace on the flat, and with few big climbs on the agenda today, that was most of the time. It was pretty obvious that some of our 17 riders were hurting. I had been riding towards the front (but not on the front!), and I asked the gang to ease off just a little more after stops to let the group re-form, and that seemed to help the folks on the rear of the ride. The climbing pace was pretty high energy all day long, but with the usual plethora of difficult climbs lacking on the agenda, re-group waiting at the top of climbs was never an issue.

Just at about what felt like a critical point, the ride turned a little more social, and a little less frenetic. Had the early frenzy continued, I believe we would have had a few DNF’s, but as it turned out, all we had were some people who, as is typical on the HOWC, dug deep and hung on.

Due to the anticipated traffic congestion, many people rode to the start with the intention of leaving the group at some point before the finish. Only 6 of the original 17 finished, but the ride had turned quite social long before the numbers dwindled. Notably, I never saw one rider put a wheel “out of line”, and the ride had a nice safe feeling overall.

We were back at the start line before the Blue Angels took flight.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

2009 Tour de France Postscript

Now that the 2009 Tour de France is over I thought I would throw out a few random thoughts and opinions. Please feel free to comment with some of your own.

For me, the 2009 Tour was yet another boring race in a series of boring TDF’s. About the only drama was waiting to see if Armstrong would crack. LA put in a fabulous effort, and to me it’s obvious that he is still the smartest and toughest guy out there. As far as the route, it was originally perceived as severely difficult. As it turned out, it must not have been, given how little suspense the route lent itself to.

Not only were the Pyrenees marginalized, the stages in the Alps were the most boring to watch in years. Not one “classic” HC col was used. Why didn’t we see at least one col such as the Galibier, the Croix de fer, Alp du Huez, La Madeleine, the Izoard, the Iseran, etc.? When all was said and done, the only two major and famous cols ridden in the entire TDF were the Ventoux and the Tourmalet, and the finish 70km after the top of the Tourmalet made that incredible climb irrelevant.

It would have been nice to watch a mountain top finish on the mighty St. Bernard, but the riders started the climb right out of their hotel doors, and once again the peloton rode “tempo” over the col.

Just what the hell was Andy Schleck thinking during this tour, especially on the penultimate stage finishing on the Ventoux? Worrying about trying to help your brother get on the podium by coaxing him to grab your wheel is more important than trying to win the Tour? Even if Schleck’s chances of dropping Alberto Contador were minute, I still would have rather watched that than Andy Schleck looking over his shoulder to see where Frank was the entire way up the climb. Maybe he should mount a bar end mirror!

Phil and Paul talk about young Andy Schleck definitely winning a Tour someday, but it won’t be until the 26 year old Contador is retired or tests positive. Contador is in an entirely different class, and he would already have three in a row if they would have let him start in 2008. Losing Johan Bruyneel will hurt Contador, but it’s likely that he will land with a very strong team.

As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Contador goes to Saxobank. Yes, I know he has an offer from Garmin Slipstream, but Saxobank has deep pockets, and Riis could not have been pleased with Schleck’s on the road thinking. Contador proved he’s not a team player, but he's also proved he can win, and that’s what counts. Riis is a very smart tactician and I have no doubt he could build a strong team around Contador. If Contador goes to Saxobank, look for the Schlecks to “decide” to ride for another team.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Andy and Frank Schleck are both class acts, and it was nice to see Specialized Bicycles get a legitimate second place finish at the TDF. I am a big fan of Specialized, and it has been sad to witness their bad luck on the Pro Tour over the last few years. The company seems to have the best intentions, but also horrible luck in getting involved with riders who ultimately are tainted by doping allegations. Schleck and Contador rode clean, didn’t they? It was a cleaner Tour, right? Surely Armstrong wouldn’t have taken the risk of being caught? With Danilo Deluca (second at this year’s Giro) testing positive, as well as a stage winner of the Tour, who really knows what is still going on.

Yes, I know second is not first, and yes, I know it’s not about the bike. Contador was so superior to the other riders that he could have won the race on a singlespeed Huffy tricycle.

It’s been almost 20 years, back to the Lemond and Hinault days, since we have had a rider win the Tour, then fail to win, and win again the next year or down the road. It’s that kind of back and forth battle that I find lacking in the tours over the last, well, the last 20 years.

Lance Armstrong will win the 2010 Tour de France. He has to, because if he doesn’t, not much seems to stand in the way of Contador winning many Tours in a row. It’s obvious that Armstrong doesn’t like Contador, and that the feeling is mutual. Armstrong is the only rider smart and strong enough (even at 38) to have a chance of beating Contador, and there is no doubt he will be motivated.

One thing we know for sure is that LA loves the limelight, and he won’t want it focused on Alberto Contador. My bet is that Armstrong figures out a way to beat him…or is at least close enough that we actually have some give and take real racing in 2010.