Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hills of the West Coast Report: Is Seattle a Destination Resort?

Miles: 60 Climbing: 3450’ Route: Issaquah—Fall City—Snoqualmie—Tokul Road—396th—North Bend—Rattlesnake Lake—396th—Mill Pond—Snoqualmie—Fall City—Issaquah Participants: 6 Attrition Rate: 1

More tourists must be visiting Seattle this Memorial Day weekend, or at least more than the number of locals who have left town. Maybe this is because Seattle is so much nicer than many other places in the US. There was definitely more traffic today than on any other Memorial Day Sunday HOWC in the past, at least in one area.

I’d been looking forward to taking the ride up to North Bend and then the climb to Rattlesnake Lake. Since moving to Issaquah, this has become one of my super favorite routes:

Of course, I had only ridden up to the lake during the week and there had hardly been a car in sight. I suspected things might be different on the weekends, but I figured Memorial Day weekend would be a good time to check out weekend traffic; doesn’t everyone leave town? Doh! It appears that everyone goes to Rattlesnake Lake to boat, hike, or picnic. Two of us (I was one of them) turned around part way up the climb, as the traffic just made us uncomfortable. It’s not that it was dangerous, but it’s an up and back climb and given the option I decided I’d just rather not do it today.

We waited for our friends at the Cascade Golf Course, which is situated at the bottom of the climb up to the lake. Back in the day, I used to play a lot of competitive golf, but it’s been eight years since I have even hit a golf ball, much less played a round. Until I walked around the corner of the pro shop at Cascade, I don’t think I’d had a golf thought in my head for years. Around the corner I went, and there was the course, all green and tranquil looking. At that instant, I knew that I would return to playing golf some day. It’s funny how life really is cyclical. Speaking of cycles, I used to ride the motorized version, but now it’s all about the bicycle for me.

One of the other little highlights of the day was our mini-peloton catching and dropping a rider near Mt. Si who was riding a full-bore S-Works time trial bike. No, he didn’t look like he was going all out at the final day Giro TT, but he was taking fairly frequent looks back at us as we were catching him. He knew we were coming to get him! I’ve never ridden a TT bike, but I’m told that a fully decked out aero bike is worth 2-3mph once you get above 20 on the flats.

I plan on riding to Rattlesnake Lake often, but I may be doing it during the week only. I’ll give it one more chance with the HOWC. If it doesn’t feel right, instead of taking our break up top at the Rain Bongos at the Cedar River Watershed Center, we’ll hang out at Cascade Golf Course.

I plan on riding on Memorial Day tomorrow like I do just about every year. Normally, the morning traffic is quite light. I think I’ll leave a little earlier than I usually do.

5-22-11 Hills of the West Coast The Decimated Dozen

Miles: 55 Climbing: 2735’ Route: Issaquah-Hobart/Landsburg/Black Diamond/Auburn-Black Diamond Rd/Lake Holm/Moneysmith/152nd/256th/196th/Cedar River Trail/Cedar Grove/Issaquah-Hobart Participants: 12>7>5>4 Attrition Rate: 43%

We were gathering at Tibbets Park when Chris Ragsdale and four others rolled up. Chris hasn’t made the HOWC since I moved the ride to Issaquah, so it was nice to see his group. As it turned out, they had bumped into a rider headed to the HOWC. We sorted out a merger after discussing what we were doing on the HOWC.

Our group of 12 headed south from Issaquah on the Issaquah-Hobart Road. While the pace was clearly at the top end of what I call the “Lite” pace we try to ride at his time of the year, I didn’t think we were going that hard. As long as no one lingered at the front and everyone stayed on the wheel in front of them, I thought we would work well together.

I had just finished a turn at the front as we rolled uphill just south of May Valley. As I rolled to the back, everything looked good. The grade steepens as one approaches the “pinch point” bridge, the scene of a not so great past encounter for me:

A few seconds later I was at the back of the line and doing what I needed to do to ride safely in a pretty quick paceline, when I looked around the rider in front of me and saw a big gap in front of the next rider, who was dressed all in black. I’d just done some time on the front, and my reward was to get dropped off the back as a group of three without even realizing it. The gap seemed to grow exponentially as we rode up through the left hand curve where the pitch is steeper yet. At this point I called out, “If you don’t yell ‘Gapped,’ you’ll never see those guys again!” Silence. His legs were silent as well, as he made no attempt (not that he could have) to close the gap. Maybe he was expecting one of us to go around him and pull him back to the bunch, but I don’t believe he could have hung and I doubt either one of us could have closed the gap anyway. It would have taken a BIG effort and there would certainly have been a price to pay later in the ride.

I can only speculate that the rationale for this silent treatment was that he was embarrassed and didn’t want to be identified as the guy who left the door open. Later on, someone mentioned that he had pulled pretty hard when he was on the front (just before he blew up), so maybe he was trying to make some kind of point. That’s funny! When Chris is on the ride, most people are happy just to survive. We were barely four miles into the ride; what kind of point do you make then?

In any case, the front group missed the light at Cedar Grove and the group came back together. Chris started in front, followed by Brian, me, and the rest of the gang.

As opposed to the Man in Black, Brian did a classy thing. While still on Chris’s wheel, he turned around and told me he was going to be off the pace and that he was going to the back. Presto, bingo, no gap, and I was holding onto Chris’s wheel for dear life (well, not quite that desperately). As we rolled south, Chris was slowly but surely ramping up the pace, and I saw multiple gaps opening as I looked back in my little mirror. It’s not likely that Chris was trying to drop everybody. Of course, should he choose to do so, Chris can open up a can of whoop-ass and ride anyone off of his wheel. That’s how you set records while winning 24 hour endurance races. I think that Chris simply doesn’t know his own strength. I mean, 23-24mph doesn’t sound all that fast, but we were riding into the wind…and uphill. I was looking at 280+ watts just to stay on his wheel.

In a short amount of time, there was Chris, me, and maybe one or two others in the front group. It’s not that other riders couldn’t have been there. If someone ahead of you lets the door open and doesn’t do what Brian did, it is just very, very hard to catch back on to a group that has Chris on the front. So I called for a stop just before Route 18 to let our group of 12 re-form. To me, there were only two ways the ride was going to work out well for everybody, and I was fine with either. We either had to back the pace down a notch, or we could split into two groups. I had promised that we would ride at the “Lite” pace of 20-22mph on the flats, and we were clearly ramping up to a “summer” pace. It wasn’t fair to the newcomers on the ride to subject them to something unexpected.

Everyone talked it over, and Chris and his gang decided to stick with their original plan of riding climbs on Cougar and Squak Mountains. Seeing as how I think only one of his group seemed to be solidly hanging with the group, I could only imagine the havoc Chris would wreak in the hills. Actually, I can, and I am sure that instead of waiting at the top, Chris just rolled back down the hill and rode up again.

One of the nice things about organizing the ride is that you get to “write” the rules, and sometimes the rules are composed on the fly. As it turns out, the Man in Black was with our group of five (two of the original group were MIA and accounted for at this point). South of Route 18, the Issaquah-Hobart road goes through a series of short and not overly steep rollers. We slow pedaled and waited for the (still) silent Man in Black several times after a short hill. It was obvious to all that we had four riders who could ride well together and one rider not capable of handling even the advertised Lite pace.

Normally when this happens, said rider will thank the group for the ride and mention that he knows the way home. If not, I’ll figure out a way to talk to the rider in private and convey that things are only going to get harder. All the cards are out on the table. Should the rider continue, he is aware that he may get dropped.

In this case, I decided not to play by those rules. As we slowed up again to wait for MIB, I asked our group what they wanted to do. I didn’t hear any strong opinions, so I proposed that we would just keep on riding and not sit up and wait again. I mentioned that I would explain my rationale later in the ride. Since we had not made a turn since leaving Issaquah, I knew that the dropped rider could find his way home. At this point, I didn’t feel like I owed him any favors, and that is what I told the group when we stopped later in the ride.

I only got to chat with Chris briefly on this ride, and we talked about some of the races he is doing in 2011. Chris will have support from Team RAAM at a number of big events this year. The biggest is Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP), a 1200km race he is riding in for the first time. There is always a bit of a learning curve for specific events or races but I like Chris’s chances, but then, I always like his chances. I’ll stick my neck out; I think he will win PBP. If he avoids bad luck (mechanical or otherwise) it is almost a certainty that Chris will be with the front bunch of 40 or so riders that usually pull away in the late hours.

Those Euro Dudes won’t know what hit them when the Ragsdale Tsunami rolls through them at the end of the race. He won’t be taking any prisoners; don’t expect him to sit up and wait for anyone. That’s his rule.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Common Sense...Missing in Action?

Riding around Lake Sammamish is one of the few relatively flat rides on the Eastside. It’s a route that you only have to do once to recognize the preferred direction. As a matter of fact, if you look at the Bellevue Bike Map, it’s pretty obvious that you want to do this loop counter clockwise. As pertains to West Lake Sammamish Parkway a caption on the map states, “Use west-side shoulder of parkway for southbound travel only.”

East Lake Sammamish has an eight-foot shoulder on both the north and southbound sides of the road. West Lake Sammamish is a narrow two-lane road with a rough concrete surface. A combination of overhanging trees and a curvy road don’t offer great sightlines for cars to pass cyclists. There is a nice eight-foot shoulder on the west (southbound) side, and absolutely no shoulder on the eastbound side for almost the whole length of the road. The westbound-side shoulder is wide enough that northbound walkers and cyclists occasionally use it. I’ve never ridden north on West Lake Sammamish. Why would I want to subject myself to that?

As I headed north on East Lake Sammamish; I noticed a racing club headed south in a single-file line. They looked to be out for a social ride, as their pace was pretty low. A little while later as I was rolling south on West Lake Sammamish, much to my surprise I spotted a mini peloton—with follow cars!—headed towards me. It was the same group from East Lake Sammamish, and it was hard to miss them, as there were seven cars stacked up behind the 12 cyclists riding single file.

As they were directly opposite me, I heard someone say, “Car back,” and I have no idea as to why this person said this at that moment. I should have shouted to them, “Actually, there are seven cars back. Do the polite thing and pull over and let them by.”

Traffic was light this morning on both East and West Lake Sammamish, so you wouldn’t think there would be a problem with a group riding without a shoulder; there should be places to pass even on West Lake Sammamish. However, it’s not easy getting around 12 cyclists, and it only takes one tentative driver who refuses to pass and therefore stays behind the group of riders. This of course means that other cars will stack up behind the first car in line.

These 12 riders from a local racing club had every legal right to be out moseying along on West Lake Sammamish. But a legal right doesn’t make it right, and one has to wonder what the following drivers were thinking of cyclists in general at that moment.

There is the right thing to do, and then there is the smart thing to do, and that would be to never ride in a group (or single for that matter) in the northbound direction on West Lake Sammamish. I imagine that there were several riders in that group of twelve who were as uncomfortable with the situation as I was. Of course, there likely were other riders who were perfectly content, and perhaps clueless as to what was going on.

I could give them the benefit of the doubt and accept that maybe not one of those riders had ever ridden around Lake Sammamish and no one had ever looked at the area cycling map. Actually, that is almost impossible to believe, as clubs tend to do the same routes over and over…and over again.

“Group think” is often at play when cyclists ride together, and it only takes one bonehead to taint the whole group, even if everyone else is in the know. I imagine someone took the initiative and started riding clockwise. Why couldn’t one person have spoken up at the start of the ride and said, “Hey everybody, the ride will be a lot more pleasant if we do it counter-clockwise because of road and traffic conditions.”

How hard would that have been? Too hard, I guess.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lance Armstrong: Best of the Best...Regardless...Revisited

On December 18th of 2008 I posted a blog titled “Lance Armstrong: Best of the Best…Regardless”

Looks like I was wrong when I speculated that the 2009 Tour de France should be one of the cleanest tours in the last two decades. I wrote, “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?”

It’s starting to look like he didn’t win, and he did have everything to lose. Returning to the limelight and drawing attention to himself did not help Lance Armstrong.

My opinion of Lance Armstrong and his achievements remains the same. Regardless of the final outcome, I think that he is still the greatest Tour de France rider of all time, and my reasons for this are outlined in my 2008 post.

Things are getting very ugly for Armstrong. Tyler Hamilton is certainly not viewed as credible, but it will be devastating if rumors about Hincapie’s testimony are true. Armstrong may be stripped of his tour wins and will go down as the biggest sporting fraud in history. Cancer survivors will be devastated. Not everyone will be upset. Yes, many people perceive him as arrogant. Many of his fellow riders have described him as cocky.

At least the French will be happy.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

2011 Inaugural Hills of the West Coast

Miles: 61.5 Climbing 3300’ Route: Tibbets—Newport Way—Coal Creek—119th—89th—Coal Creek—Jones Rd.—196th—SE Wax—168th—148th—Moneysmith—Lake Sawyer/Witte/Maxwell/Cedar Grove—Issaquah-Hobart—Tibbets Participants: 9 Attrition Rate: 11% (one) Soldier of the Day: N/A as we mostly shared the front (but Steve H. gets a big honorable mention for singlehandedly pulling the group at the end of the ride from Cedar Grove Road all the way to Tibbets)

Today's ride was the first HOWC of 2011. Yes, we are late getting started this year but the wait was worth it. As opposed to riding on one of the many miserable spring days we have had and wearing “mud measles,” we were out in the glorious sun.

Since moving to Issaquah at the start of the year I have been doing a lot of rural riding, mostly by myself. I’ve really been enjoying it, and subconsciously wondering if I still want to lead group rides. Maybe the doubt was partly due to the weather, but I attribute it mostly as to being out of the rhythm I developed over years of leading rides from downtown.

Well, after Sunday’s ride I know that I do still want to lead rides, specifically the HOWC. I just had to get started and get back into the saddle! The HOWC has been a way to meet some great people, to challenge myself, and to learn from other riders. We had a mix of regulars and new people of the nine who showed up for the start at Tibbets Creek Park, and it was good to catch up.

As we were climbing up the somewhat steep 148th to Moneysmith, we went by a guy pushing his bike out in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t give it a thought at the time, but retrospectively it feels good remembering how significantly younger he was than me and a few others in our gang. Maybe I’m not the only one to derive some small measure of self-satisfaction from this!

Professional cycling has had a lot of black eyes lately, but cycling itself has been on the rise. I think I know one of the reasons. Perhaps the best sports are the ones that can be enjoyed in the most varied ways. If two opponents are not somewhat comparable in ability, a game of tennis becomes very awkward at best. A great thing about cycling is simply how many different types of participating there are. Eddie Merckx won the Tour de France five times, but he probably enjoys a spin to the park with his grandkids just as much now.

Golf is a game that can be enjoyed at all ages and levels of competition, or as simply hitting the ball around as part of a nice walk.

Cycling may be the most versatile sport of all. Some aspire to ride in the Tour de France, while others look forward to riding to Alki Beach on their beach cruiser. For me, I just hope I get to lead many more Hills of the West Coast rides.