Monday, February 4, 2013
Friday, August 17, 2012
Over the years of riding, I have come up with a theory. Since first getting somewhat "serious" about riding back in 1994, and every year from then, each season I put my theory to the test and it has proved correct. During each season, I have 5 and only 5 days, where I feel on top of my form. They are not 5 consecutive days, but instead, these 5 days are peppered through my season, which usually run from November through late August.I have no way to tell when one of the 5 days will happen. A week (or two) of feeling like crap while riding, usually leads to one day of feeling great. If for some reason I get sick, the second day after I ride is usually another great day. Early May has also one day thrown in there. Maybe that's why I have had a good run at Coldspring (2nd, 3rd and 4th). But the pattern doesn't manifest on a consistent basis from year to year (except the one in May). So I wonder how pro riders peak for grand tours or manage to put together a string of good days on the bike for three weeks. That's why three week tour are appealing to me to follow. Not just the chess game that is played on the roads daily, but how a rider and his team maintain a mental focus for an extended period of time.And maybe that's the key: a mental focus. One thing that the older I get is getting easier to understand is that I'm stronger mentally, although I still get into this mental fog at times when I race (case in point the fourth stage of the Vuelta Masters this year). With all things cycling, the more you work at it, the better it gets. Oh, and taking a month off the bike is a requisite of mine. It's getting time to find the running shoes and begin to log the miles, but on a different sport. The bike now becomes a cross training tool. Until February.Pro Team AstanaOn the pro side of things, Pro Team Astana is waving the check book left, right and center. Nibali, Fulsang, and Guardini are three strong signatures to have for the next two to three years. I have always like Nibali. Doesn't talk much and rides with what the italians call "grinta", something that is becoming lost in the world of pro cycling these days. It would be great to be on a motorcycle or driving the Vittoria neutral support car and follow the "shark of the strait" on a Dolomite descend. The guy is just art. Fulsang has played second fiddle at Saxo Bank and Leopard for the last few seasons. Although talented, he hasn't had the chance to showcase his true talents (albeit on smaller races) and with the move to the Kazakhastani team(with a large italian influence), he should have the freedom he seeks. Probably the Vuelta next year will have the entire team at his disposal. Tough to see him lead the squad at the Giro (Nibali), and the Tour (eithe Nibali or Brackovijc). Guardini is fast, period. But like me, he seems to have the 5 day theory in his repertoire. IMHO, Pro Team Astana can't afford to build a leadout train for the italian youngster who is taking a step into the big leagues. Sure winning in Langkawi (lots!!) is fun, but now he'll face the tough guys of the sprints.Saxo Bank-Tinkoff BankBjarne Riss went through some stressful times early in the year (and that's to put it mildly), but the return to Contador, the signing of Tinkoff Bank as a sponsor and some gutsy rides here and there (see Chris Anker Sorensen at the Tour), the team has kept its name on the headlines, for the right reasons. Riss has signed a few riders for next year but the canny Dane has kept the releasing of the names a close guarded secret. Perhaps a return of Spartacus to his former squad? You shall speculate amongst yourselves.
Friday, August 3, 2012
Made it back to the US and unpacked the bike to find that the front brake caliper got a nice looking scratch, but other than that the bike (and the rest of the group) arrived safely and most importantly, on time. I can't believe that it went by so fast. We had started to plan the trip almost a year ago, and then at least I, trained for about 4 months with nothing but the Vuelta in mind. A few surprises along the way:1. I did three trips with my bike in one month and didn't have to pay the bike fee on either American Airlines or Delta. Everytime I was asked "what's in the bag, a bike?", I would follow with a polite smile and "nope, just sporting equipment", although the usual, "camera equipment" routine also paid dividends. The Aerus bag (you can get it a www.rideblue.com) has served me well and thus far, have kept the bike and my wallet in a good state.2. Climbing. Most of my training was focus on climbing and up to about two weeks before traveling, I knew things were right on track. Even the recce ride we did, although short, felt awesome despite the fact it was raining. But when it was time to tackle the hilly stage and the mountain one, something was not clicking. My energy (power) would slowly drain out of my body, leaving me with nothing but mental strenght to get me through and that was also reaching the low levels of the tank.3. And if the climbing was a little below par, then the opposite can be said of my time trialing. Not known for pocessing a big engine, I was quite surprised (and so was 99% of the world) when I clocked the third fastest time on the prologue. But the individual one, everything felt just right. My stomach, which I am presuming was the cause of some of my problems, finally got in line and decided to cooperate with the rest of my body. The warm up, something I usually don't do well, was more or less perfect. And as soon as I left the starting tent, finding a rhythm became easy. The thing that caught my attention was the concentration level I kept. Most experts in the art of time trialing say that dealing with the suffering and uncomfortable position are the main keys. Well, I guess with age I can handle it better because never before have I ridden like that against the clock, mostly in part because my attitude was a positive one and despite the pain, all I could think of was to give it everything.4. My teammates were great. Having them visit Panama was just a fun experience. Dave had gone once before and Glenn wanted to eat anything and everything, which was fine with me and my dad. Kerry was a trooper giving everything a try, at least. I hope they all had as much fun as I had over the trip.5. Finally, my parents!!!!. I can't say enough about how much they took care of us. Mom not only drove the car and kept us hydrated, but made sure the kits were cleaned every day and that we were getting enough food. Kerry said that I was leading the "eating classification" and he was right, because I couldn't have eaten more, yet, I ended up dropping another 3 lbs. during the ten days we were at my parents' house. Dad ensured the bikes were working in proper order, loaded and unloaded them everyday both at the house and at the race start/finish and also drove the van behind each of us making sure we were properly taken care of. A big thanks!!!! to them and Jilma for helping us out.As I crossed the finish line at the conclusion of the mountain stage, I told the girls keeping time, "I will never come back, it's just too hard", but 24 hours later my head was spinning with the logistics of next year's race. Despite the pain, suffering, the race is a well organized event, improving every year and it gives me the chance to ride with friends, make new ones and see my family. Why not give it another (several more I hope) go? So, the planning for the 2013 edition is already in the works, but first, there's a break to take from the bike, some running to do and then things will pick up again some time around December.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Saturday, July 28, 2012
This morning, while eating breakfast, the mood was a somber one. We were looking pretty tired and the weather outside was not encouraging, with rain. Thankfully the time trial was about 30 miles away and that gave us the hope that at least, the weather would improve.
The time trial course was part of stage 2, so we had an idea of what to expect, and we drove it on the way to the start/finish. A quick check at the start times and we all, slowly, got underway with getting ready for the 10kms time trial.
For the most part, we have raced on really smooth roads, although during stage 2 we were avoiding huge craters!!, and the police presence has kept us safe during each of the stages. So much that today's 10kms course was closed to traffic (more on that later). From the FRESH riders, I was the first to leave, at 9:06 sharp. The two radio stations that have broadcasted each stage of the Vuelta, in its entirity, were introducing each rider as we entered the start tent and the commentators would give the listeners a quick description of each athlete.
10, 9, 8...3..2..1 and off I went, settling into a nice rhythm. Most of you know I'm allergic to time trials, but something today was different. Dave, who's a stronger rider than I, was also on a good day, despite the fact that he didn't use any aero equipment at all. Our stomachs have acted up a bit since we got here, but today, the stars aligned and we were rolling, and fast. Kerry and Glenn started 3 and 4 minutes behind me, and Dave's category had him starting 46 minutes past 9a.Since we are staying in Boquete, 32kms north of David, where each stage starts and ends (except today's finish and the time trial tomorrow, we have driven half of the route of the "Queen Stage" everyday on our way to and from the race, and everytime we went by the town of Dolega, my dad would say, "once you hit this bridge, make sure you are at the front, because things will get ugly, right here". Was he right. The temperature today was somewhat bareable, and that was good since we are all starting to feel the effects of the race and the heat. Once again the 5 different packs rolled out on a neutral start until we got to the hospital in David where the official start was for each of the categories, spread 5 minutes apart. Executives A & Bs rolled out around 9:30am, and just like yesterday, headed west for a few kilometers on the Panamerican Highway, before making a right turn and the beginning of the climbing. 36 miles with almost 4,000 feet of climbing were on the menu and the pack was pretty controlled, although going a little faster than yesterday's start. The Friends (Mayhem, as we call them) went to the front after a Costa Rican rider set off trying to set the first intermediate sprint for their leader. After that, the pace was consistent but riders were already feeling tired and a group of As rolled off the front. As we approached the bridge that dad had warned us about, we made sure to be towards the front and it paid off, because the at the top, there was the second intermediate sprint and the pack exploded. Glenn took the sprint and we just kept rolling, in a group of ten riders. Since the yellow jersey was left without teammates, we had a chat and decided to help him and in return we would get the stage win. The pace was reasonable for a while but soon enough the three Costa Rican riders (KOM and Sprint leaders) got dropped. This was great for us and the pace went up just a bit to make sure we would not see them again. But, as the KOM (King of the Mountain) sprint was approaching, the Costa Rican rider wearing the polka dot jersey appeared from what seem, thin air. He accelerated and went for the points, with Glenn right behind. By then, Kerry and I were in a spot of bother and had to let the lead group go and kept a steady pace, picking riders dropped from each of the groups ahead of us. Dave was having a much better day today and was riding strongly, going steady all the way up. We went through three different towns and the school kids and their teachers were out screaming their hearts out for each rider that was slowly making his way to the finish. Glenn ended up second place, with Kerry in 4th and I was brining the rear in 6th. Dave finished 7th in the Cs. Once again, we had the support of dad and mom, driving both cars behind us and making sure that we had everything we needed and cheering us even though I think we each wished our bikes had an engine. When we gather back at the van at the finish line, we decided that this was probably one of the toughest days we each have had on the bike. Riders were coming in ones and twos and as we headed back to the house, we saw three guys still coming in, a good hour after we had finish. A complete massacre of a stage. Eating and hydration has taken most of the afternoon. We went out for dinner and there were some cheesburgers consumed. Tomorrow is a short 6 mile individual time trial. Hopefully another good day for us.This morning was the jersey presentation for stage 2, and since the winner of the stage was wearing yellow (leader), the second place was wearing pink (sprints), Kerry was awarded the white jersey. The team's closet was growing since Glenn got the ball rolling by getting the yellow one yesterday. Kerry had such a good time, that he decided to give stage 3 a try. Under a potent sun and climbing temperatures, the 5 pelotons of the 9th Vuelta Masters a Chiriqui, pointed west, towards the border with Costa Rica to cover a rolling 50 mile course, with two intermediate sprints and a KOM. Our group took it a little easier at the start and we were pretty much noodling for about 10 miles when the pace went from nice to nuts in preparation for the first intermediate sprint. The Friends Team, from this point on referred to as, Mayhem, went to the front to do the leadout for their sprinter who's leading the competition, but their organization was, shall I say, questionable at best, and what followed was one of the nastiest crashes I have had to avoid in all the time I have attempted to race my bike. The yellow jersey went down hard to my right, and while FRESH Racing riders were involved in some evassive maneuvers, two riders went straight to the guardrail, at speed, with one of them catapulting over it after his bike collided with it, while the other went face first. Neither could claim victory against the metal barrier.
Each kilometer was marked on the road and as the Cervelo reach cruising speed, I spotted my 1 minute man ahead, and not long after that, the Costa Rican KOM was looking at my number (223) dissappear into the distance. At the turn around point, a few people had gathered to see the race. A tight turn, where all the speed was lost, careful around the flagger, out of the saddle and back to full gas. "Breath, relax, it hurts, did I miss the kilometer 6 sign?", the voices in my head started to argue.
Kerry and Glenn were heading towards the turn around point and both looked like were keeping a fast rhythm. When Glenn reached the turn around point, he had the fastest split time and we were told that the last 5kms were "easier".
The voices in my head agreed that it wasn't easier at all, but the pace was kept high and then I rolled over the 1km to go sign, just a little more suffering. I was breathing so hard, people at the finish could hear me coming. Over the line and it was over, no more suffering (at least until tomorrow). Rode by the van and handed my helmet to mom and kept riding to cool down, when I heard the radio announcer, "rider #223, fastest time (so far!)". Made a U turn back to the van and Kerry and Glenn were finishing their efforts. As we were going over each other's ride, it came over the radio: "Executive Bs, FRESH Racing goes 1-2-3" (Manny, Glenn, Kerry). High Fives!!!!!. The podium ceremony was suspended because a storm was approaching as the Masters As were still out on the road.
Dave finished his ride with a time only 3 seconds slower than mine (15:23), but the highlight is that Dave is racing with a Colombian rider who rode the Tour de France three times, the Vuelta a Espana 5 times and the Giro once. You better believe the level is high.
As the event was taking place, a local passenger bus was trying to get through despite the fact that the road was closed. The driver got out and started to argue with the flaggers and that's when a police officer arrived on the scene. He didn't waste anytime asking the driver questions, he just pulled out the handcuffs and made sure the rogue driver knew who was in charge. Justice, Panama style.