Friday, August 28, 2015

Pretentious points

Everybody remembers the first time they wore actual cycling shorts for a ride: secretly excited because they were the sign of being legit (or at least pretending to be), but actually a bit self-conscious because cycling shorts are kind of ridiculous.

As a whole, cycling is pretty ridiculous, really. I pay silly prices for items that, to the untrained eye, look like regular things. Take socks. I race in straight-up black Swiftwick socks. I think they retail for $16. That's hard to explain. Wool socks are more expensive still — and harder to explain when you can go to Walmart and buy wool socks for a few bucks a pair.

When you get into the "cycling lifestyle" stuff, you're pretty much off the deep end. I'm talking Rapha, Assos, Capo and the like. They're all-in on this idea of riding bikes as an identity, and they wave the flag frequently and proudly. It's ridiculous, but they're owning it.

That ridiculousness makes it easy to ridicule, because it's so unabashedly out there. But, in reality, I dig it. That's me. I yearn to do nothing but ride my bike and see cool things and have very nice legs.

So I did what any guy in my situation would do: I ordered some Rapha gear. Duh.

Rapha probably gets the most scorn because it's so very over the top — both in the imagery and the prices. But it's also so pretentious. There is much seriousness in Rapha cycling. This is our thing that we do and love and live by. The best example is the video below. The subject is a ride with Andy Hampsten, who is my favorite old-school rider. It has everything you want to see from a British brand that sells $50 T-shirts.

The Rapha Continental: Santa Rosa, California with Andy Hampsten from RAPHA on Vimeo.

Guy with a mustache? Slow motion things? Standard mini-film music? All yes. Alllllll yes.

But that actually looks like fun. All of it. Even the part where you sit around afterward and act all awe-struck while an old guy tells stories.

So yeah, I got some Rapha gear. Mostly because it was on sale, but also because it looks good.

Much like Apple and other high-end brands, Rapha checks the presentation box. All of the packaging is high-end and premium. There's an embossed envelope in the package with your shipping receipt, as well as a return label, just in case. Also, if you crash and damage your kit, you can send it in and they'll repair it free of charge. That's not too shabby.

Will this make me faster? Probably not directly. I'm really looking forward to riding in it, though. That's a good thing. Will it make me do things in slow motion with dramatic music and guys with mustaches charging up hills?

Well, one can only hope.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

As good as it gets

It was almost chilly when I coasted down the hill to start the ride this morning. Almost. Once I started pedaling and my heart rate got above 75 or so, all was well. And it was like that for the next couple of hours. Low 60s, breeze from the northwest and tons of sunshine. And the sky was so blue. 
 Way north on 72nd Street, looking southwest

 Just southwest of Fort Calhoun, on a super-quiet road on top of the ridge

 Corn's just about done

This is probably the height of signage. It's maybe even ahead of my all-time favorite: a Dead End sign on the road leading to a cemetery.

I ended up with about 2:30 on the clock, most of it on gravel. My legs are tired now, though. But fall is the best time for riding, and even though it's not officially fall, it's close enough.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Come on, you guys

Oh, man. Finally at the end of race season. Just miles and miles and weeks and weeks and more miles and whatever. 

This is awesome, basically.

On Wednesday night, I joined the Bike Masters ride for the tail end of a season of attacks and chases and sometimes some under-the-breath cursing. I told a few guys early on that I was going to turn off by Elk City and hit a couple of the gravel roads.

"You should come along, it'll be sweet!"

- nervous chuckle -

"No, really."

- uh ... more chuckling -

I told them again as we neared the turn, and encountered silence. COME ON, YOU GUYS!

So I turned off and the pace dropped and it was magnificent. Down the Elk City climb, across the highway and onto the long, steady climb up to the ridge. It looked like this:

Is this not WAY better than that lame-ass road that goes up to Arlington? Yes, of course it is. Anyway, I met up with those guys after they turned around and caught a bit of tailwind fever and blasted out my legs.

They didn't want to grab any other gravel roads on the way back, either, but I'll get them to have an adventure at some point. Maybe. Seriously, folks — go explore sometimes.

Wait, I think my mustache is tingling. That must mean Rapha stuff will be here soon!

(Yes, I'll put together my cyclocross bike soon ... ish.)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Done, dusted and kinda tired

Well, that's that. The 2015 road season is done, and it's time to move on to ... 'cross, I guess. At least a little bit. I should put my bike together. 

Mostly right now, though, I want to just ride my bike and relax and not be stressed about things. I hate going into races unprepared, and that's pretty much how I felt over the last six weeks. Part of that is my doing, part of that is just how things work sometimes. So I'll take a little break and then go into cyclocross unprepared. It'll be great!

Anyway, the weekend. Bellevue on Friday was basically a disaster. It's a big Cat. 3/4 field, a tight course and a short race. It's basically just explosions for 35 minutes. I followed a good move early, but it didn't go away. And then I hung in after a couple more moves and made the split with the lead group. 

Great! But then it wasn't. I was tail-gunning when I definitely should not have been tail-gunning, and I paid for it within a lap or two. So then I was off and chasing, which was awful. The second group caught up and I stayed with them for a while. The leaders came flying through just after the start of the last lap, and that created some impressive havoc, as well as a loud and screechy crash. (Pro tip: Don't grab both brakes and try to stop instantly.) By that point, the money was gone up the road and I wasn't into trying to sprint through who knows what at the finish. I was 12th. Meh. 

Saturday was different, thankfully. It was a smaller field, so there wasn't much room for error. Basically, I hung with attacks and surges and stayed in the front group. From there, two guys got up the road and were followed by a couple of others who bridged across. But when it settled down, those two guys stayed up the road, a trio of Minnesota(ish) teammates were next, and then my group of four was after that. 

It was a good group, though we had a passenger (blue helmet) who took no pulls for about 10 laps, then attacked. Granted, the point is to win and better your position, so I wasn't too mad. Things got a little chippy, which was more funny than anything else, but for the most part we rode together. Once it was clear we weren't going to bridge, I decided to hang in and wait for a prime to be called. I got it (hey, $50) and hoped that nobody in the group got any ideas. 

And then it was time to finish it off. I knew the passenger would want to go, because two of our four guys would be in the money. Basically, we just tried to keep him in a spot where he couldn't get loose without some serious work. Ryan Atkinson took off while the passenger was boxed in, so I let him get a good gap. The passenger finally came around and start chasing, and we sat on him until he blew up. And after that I just tried to put as much room between him and us as we could. 

But it didn't work out. The passenger is a junior with way more jump than me, and by the time we got back around, he was ready to sprint. He got both Pat and I and took that last money spot. Damn. I ended up ninth. 

Enjoy this last picture, just because, from Jeremy Cook:
It was a fun season. I think you always want more results if you can get them, but things went OK for the most part. Like I said earlier this week, I'm going to grow a beard, wear some would, ride some gravel and then get next year dialed in. 

If you don't hear from me by January, stop by and check in, yeah?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Light 'em up

Just to get this out of the way right now: I'm gonna attack tonight. (There's a race tonight, in case you didn't know. I'm not armed or anything.)

It'll probably be on the hill, since that's where any advantage I have lies. It might be full-gas or it might be enough to make people work. Or I might burn all of my matches at once — I've been known to be an arsonist — and torpedo any chances I have for doing something later. I hope that's not the case, but my legs have felt iffy lately.

After the attack, I'll hopefully be in a good spot to have a good result. And if I'm not, maybe I'll have to do it again.

This is the mindset heading into the last two crits of the year. It'll all be done tomorrow, so I may as well go for it.

And then, seriously, I'm growing a beard, wearing lots of wool and just meandering around on my bike for a couple of months.

UPDATE: I attacked. It didn't go well. I guess that happens, huh?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

But this time ...

This is not a post about how the road season ends in two days and I'm happy to have survived yet again. Really, it's not.

Nope, this is about next year. Because I think I have it figured out.

In early May or so, in each of the last three years, I got pretty grumpy about things. Well, mostly about one thing — the schedule. I was staring down the barrel of a spring and summer full of things that did not involve maximum enjoyment for me. Namely, not enough bikes. Way too much baseball and other things that weren't bikes.

That is a drag, because I love baseball and other things that aren't bikes (usually). So I want to avoid that in the future. Seriously, it's a drag. (Also, I have a failed sense of my athletic prowess, because I'm old and way past my prime, so I should probably just ease up on that a bit.)

But I have time before baseball to race, and I have time after baseball to race. And at the end of the season, where we are now, I'm actually feeling pretty good. That timeframe of "when baseball starts" to "OK, it's time to make it hurt" allows for about two months of training to ramp things up again.

Or, so it makes some sort of sense, I'm going to be ready to go fast for something like Old Capitol at the end of April, then just worry about training lots while baseball is going on (and not being bummed about missing races), and then be ready for this last stretch of fun races. Two peaks, basically — planned that way and carried out that way and hopefully a lot more fun.

But the races themselves, I think, need to be different — especially in the spring. I'm thinking yes, traditional road events, but also other things. CIRREM was super fun, right up until the part where I didn't like bikes and just wanted to lay down. So I should do that. And there are other things I haven't done that I should do — maybe a springtime race in KC or something. More gravel. Anyway, bikes are fun and racing is fun, so I'm gonna go have fun.

This seems doable. In the short term, I need to figure out what kind of cyclocross season I'm going to have. I'd like to come in guns blazing, but I kinda just want to ride bikes this fall and see if I can do anything worthy of a Rapha cover shot. Like this:

Eh, we'll see. I also like Oktoberfest beer (IT'S OUT NOW AND IT'S DELICIOUS) and meats and cheeses, and those are perfect for fall. Really, it could go either way.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Strange encounter

We're into the last couple of weeks of the road season here, and therefore the last couple of weeks of summer. School starts next week, meaning everything gets a lot tighter.

In these last two weekends, lots of guys are looking to put a cap on their seasons with a strong showing in Bellevue and Papillion. That includes me, because I need all the good news I can get on the race front. Rather than putting stock in trying to make one last dash at fitness, it's mostly time to just sharpen up. There are no better ways to do that than getting into a nice, fast ride. Like, say, Wednesday Night Worlds.

I used to be a regular on this ride (because I ran the shop from whence it came), but since leaving I've been on-and-off in attendance. But it's generally better to go because it makes you fast. And even when suffering mightily, it's a good time — because there are few things better for me than making my bike go fast.

It's been strange this year, though. Like, "visiting from out of town and nobody knows you," strange. Nobody is saying much, and small talk is strained. Conversations are short and clipped. Eye contact is avoided ... or ignored. It's a tense ride, so some of that is natural. It could be that because of the history everybody has together — maybe we're all just sick of each other. Maybe it's just not really very friendly anymore.

Or maybe I'm letting my imagination go wild. It's possible. I've done it before. And each ride has an exception, but the overall vibe isn't providing a lot of rainbows and love.

When guys hop onto the ride, nobody says much. And guys who have known each other for years are avoiding conversations. And new guys ... well, good luck. Nobody there is going to help you. Hang on and pray, if that's your thing.

I've been thinking lately about trying to build an effective plan for next year. I mentioned that last week, but I'm starting to wonder whether WNW fits into the plan. Because going fast is fun, but doing it in complete, icy silence is less so.

At least we're almost done for the year.