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Monday, August 18, 2014

AT&T: Rethink Possible. Um....impossible?

Forget this cycling nonsense.  Let's have some good old fashion complaining.

Last week, on August 10, my new AT&T U-verse television service went out.  We've only had the service for a little over a month.  The hope was that it would save money and have better service than our prior provider, Time Warner Cable, who were unresponsive to complaint, had service that would go out for days at a time without explanation, and continually increased rates as a reward.  I called AT&T on August 11th and they apologized, had me go through all the usual restarting and unplugging devices and checking cables that I had already done.  They then told me that that they would be out the next day between 12 and 4.  My wife and I made arrangements for somebody to be home.  They never showed up.  When I called back they apologized and said they would be out the following day.  We were there.  They were not.  After several more phone calls and hours of my life on hold they tell me it is a "line problem" and nobody needs to come to the house, the work will be completed outside.  Last night they said there was somebody working on it as we spoke and it would be fixed by today.  It wasn't.  Today's line was that the line in my yard would have to be dug up but the company it was contracted out to couldn't get to it until August 29.  That means that in the first 6 weeks of paying for AT&T U-verse television service it would be out of operation for 3 weeks.  Nice.

Over the past week I had also had trouble connecting to my network hard drive.  I thought it was an old drive and crapped out, the way they tend to do.  I went out and bought a new one and this was not visible on the network either.  Cutting to the chase, none of the ethernet ports on the U-verse gateway (that's AT&T speak for their combined modem/router) were working.  I had four devices connected via standard ethernet cables and when I logged onto the gateway via wi-fi and pulled up the configuration page the gateway showed none of my ethernet devices but I could see that each of the million wi-fi devices in my house were assigned IP addresses by the DHCP server.  Hmmm...if all of the U-verse television equipment connects to the gateway via ethernet it's no wonder the television service doesn't work.  I called AT&T and suggested a new gateway.  Even if it doesn't fix the television problem I still need my router ethernet ports to work.  If replacing the gateway restores the television service then it saves my yard from being dug up and 2 more weeks without service.  I called and finally was able to explain to somebody what was going on with the gateway and that it needed to be replaced.  I also had to recap the saga of the past week.  Again.  He was patient, understanding, and helpful.  He told me he could have a technician at my place between 5 and 8 PM.  Guess what?  We were home, AT&T never showed up.

As I type this I am on the phone with AT&T.  I have been on the phone with them for over one hour, much of it on hold.  I had to recount the whole series of unfortunate failures on their part to get to the point:  The new gateway that was supposed to be delivered tonight, in person, was not delivered.  Elizabeth from AT&T is doing her best to apologize and is trying to send a new gateway via UPS.  Of course, it won't be here for 2 days.  We'll see....

Pseudocientifically proven.

Back to things that matter....or not....

It's Monday, and that means it's a perfect time to recap the weekend rides.  Saturday was the first day of my reprieve for the San Antonio Wheelmen.  That's right, it's not a reprieve from them, it's a break from riding with me.  We'll see if the pace slows significantly without me there.  It might, but there are some other strong riders in the group.  If turnout improves and the pace slows than those two factors may be related but we cannot discount the cooler temperatures that typically start rolling in during the next few weeks (think 90F not 100F).  So Saturday I went out to meet what is likely the fastest organized ride in the city...the Lifetime Fitness/Bike World Saturday ride.  It leaves at 0730 and getting the 13 miles over there was going to be a stretch so I opted to meet them at about mile 3 of their ride, 10 miles from my house.  I left with enough time to spin casually over there and it was a good thing that I did because I had a flat tire at mile 6 that I had to change.  This was on a Continental Gran Prix 4000 IIS tire that had only a couple hundred miles on it.  The last tire lasted only about 1000 miles.  Not much mileage out of these tires.  At $60 per tire it may be time to switch to something a little more durable.  Conti 4 Season, Schwalbe Ultremo DD...?  I still made it to the appropriate locale to rendezvous.  Not wanting to appear the leech by sucking wheels my first ride with the group I started on the front pulling alongside Mark Saroni, pro triathlete and regular on the Tuesday nighter.  We pulled up Blanco road with a little tailwind at 20-22mph and only got a brief scolding to hold 18-19 until everbody had a chance to warm up.  As luck would have it the Wheelmen route was intersecting ours today and we passed them winding our way from Blanco to Hwy 46 on some of the smaller roads west of Bulverde.  When we hit turn on 46 there was a surge from the front and I had to scramble to bridge the gap.  By the time we got to the top of the climb 2 miles up the road I came away with a KOM thanks to bridging the gap and then topping the climb first.  We had a relaxing rest stop discussing the vagaries of saddle cut-outs and perineal numbness.  We hammered a bit harder on the second half of the ride.  Mark and I rode most of the way home together afterwards before having to split and go our separate ways.  The "group" portion of the ride was 22mph for about 50 miles.  Not too bad. Refreshingly, there were a lot of folks willing to pull and nobody complaining about the pace.  

Saturday evening I got called in to work for a case that was supposed to start in the OR at 6 but, as is typical, didn't start until around 8PM.  I didn't get home until 11:30 or so and it was not clear if I was going to have to be back in at 7:30 in the morning for a couple more cases.  I had made plans to ride with Kelley, Tim, and Andy from Helotes as Kelley needed miles leading up to the Hotter 'n Hell Hundred in Witchita Falls and the ride from Garden Ridge to Gruene with the Wheelmen was neither far enough nor fast enough.  I barely made it out of bed in time to load my stuff in the car and drive over to Helotes.  There was no way I had enough time to ride over there.  I showed up at the last minute and made a quick call to the GI fellow on service to ensure there were no cases I had to come in for.  We rode 74 miles with Tim and I doing the majority of the pacemaking.  There were 5 of us in total as Eddie opted to come along.  We had a bit of a headwind down to Castroville but it was predominately a tailwind on the way home through Quihi to Rio Medina and back to Helotes.  We averaged 20.4mph over 74 miles with just 5 of us and I wouldn't say that the pace was too hard.  Normalized power for the ride was just 214W.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Feeling beat down by sinusitis

I realized a couple of things over the past week or two.  First, going back to a bachelor life get's pretty dull.  After 11 years of marriage and a couple kids you get used to a full house.  Granted, the kids can be a bit of a headache after a long day at work, but I sure missed them.  Of course I missed my beautiful wife also!

Second, having a head cold/sinusitis can really throw you for a loop.  I spent all last week with a stuffed up right maxillary sinus I couldn't clear.  There was constant irritation of strings of thick mucus down the back of my oropharynx leading to constant cough, throat clearing, poor sleep.  I was run down all last week with this thing.  Of course, I didn't fully appreciate it at the time.  I didn't feel like riding fast on Saturday, so I went long instead.  I didn't feel like riding long on Sunday so I raced.  Monday was a day off and the family came home.  Tuesday and Wednesday I just didn't have much snap in the legs, which I think is a result of last weeks illness.  I'm not completely over it, but it is definitely improving.

Tuesday's Nighter was a small turnout with threat of thunderstorms and a bit of wind.  There were only about a dozen riders who showed up.  It was the first ride with my new and improved Quarq power meter with the previous S975 spider swapped out for a current Riken model.  It is definitely more stable.  I can't speak too much for the numbers except to say that 200W feels like 200W and power on out of the saddle efforts are about the same.  Feeling under the weather I don't think I can judge it's reliability on any sustained efforts because right now I am the unreliable variable in the equation.

New and improve hardware for quantifying why you are not faster.

The ride itself was kind of unremarkable.  I was glad to see Aaron out, he usually goes to the southside Tuesday nighter.  I took a couple pulls on our way south on 1560 and Galm followed.  As we made the turn onto 211 to head back north I looked over my shoulder for Aaron but he was gone.  Turns out he broke a spoke and would be making his way back on his own.  Once on 211 the attacks started coming.  Andrew, Rafael, and Warren were the main instigators with Warren making a concerted effort to ride off the front and drop Andrew as he chased.  Andrew is quite strong and did quite a bit of work this week.  Ultimately Mark went clear off the front on his Tri bike and Andrew was able to get on his wheel.  Warren dropped back leaving Travis, Dave P, and I chasing.  We had thoughts of catching Mark and Andrew but the gap was too large.  We shared the work well and had a quick ride back into Helotes.  After the ride Aaron and I rode back up to Vance Jackson together where we went our separate ways.  It was getting dark quickly as storm clouds rolled in and before I knew it there was torrential rain, thunder and lightning.  The visibility got so bad I stopped at the Target at The Rim and took shelter under an overhang for 5 or 10 minutes waiting for the rain to ease a bit.  I could have turned off on Babcock and taken the shorter way home, probably beating the rain, but I enjoyed spinning the long way with Aaron.  He's busy with his race season trying to collect enough points to move up from Cat 3 to Cat 2.  We have only ridden together a couple of times as we tend to travel in different circles on the weekends.  I'll probably have a go the Lifetime/Bike World ride one of these weeks and that's a regular of his.

Wednesday was our gentler nighter from Lifetime at The Rim.  There were only 7 of us who showed up.  John wasn't there, which was a bit of a surprise.  Looks like he left his house a bit past 5, rode past Lifetime about 5:30 and kept right on going.  Brian and I broke with road rider tradition and both showed up in sleeveless jerseys prompting all kinds of teasing about the "gun show".  A good amount of this was self deprication as cyclists are widely known for being a little light in the upper body.  The perfect example was when Bradley Wiggins lacked the strength to open a bottle of sparkling wine after winning  the Amgen TOC (Thanks Bike Snob NYC):


Still recovering from illness, I was content to have an easy ride.  The six of us stayed together mostly trading pulls, sometimes formally rotating.  It was not a hard ride but it was enjoyable and I think the easier pace was generally appreciated in the group.  Bill had a flat in the parking lot at the beginning of the ride which we changed but he flatted again on the ride.  Probably from new debris getting into a hole in the tire.  We stopped to change the tube and Brian took advantage of the opportunity to document the "gun show" which must have been concealed carry because there's not much firepower to be seen.

I'll have to keep working on those tan lines.  Mental note: sleeveless jerseys are counterproductive when it comes to impressing the ladies and cultivating tan lines.  Then again, tan lines and impressing ladies may actually be mutually exclusive.

Of course Kelley found the perfect shirts for us:

I don't even know what to say about the kind of guy who would wear this.  I'd wear it, of course.

Here's some of the group on the ride:

Bill, Tim, Eddie, Kelley.  Yeah, Kelley brought the guns too.

Obligatory Strava data:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Breaking the Covenant

Once again my cycling world is throw into chaos.  It seems, via word of mouth, that there is again concern that the pace of the San Antonio Wheelmen rides is too fast.  The blame for that is fairly squarely lobbed in my direction.  The speed of the rides is cited as the reason for low turn out recently even though turnout typically wanes in the sweltering July and August temperatures only to pick up again when there is more moderate weather and throngs of weekend warriors realize they will never get through their planned charity ride like the MS150 unless they dedicate some time to training.  Don't get me wrong, it's a great organization and just one that came to mind.  Rides like this motivate people to ride and I think that's great.

We will try to ignore that fact that it is the Wheelmen, as an organization, that decided rides should be mass start rather than started in groups matched by speed and distance.  This creates the situation where everybody starts together regardless of speed and those riding slower get spit off the back of the group one or two at a time and are left to finish the ride on their own.  If rides were started grouped by speed then groups would stay together.  Just my two cents.  Furthermore, nobody says you have to ride my speed.  Let me ride off the front.  If I'm feeling antisocial I'll just go.  If I want company I'll sit up.  It's not hard.

All the same, I realize that the SA Wheelmen are a recreational bike club and there are faster rides around, at least on Saturday.  Maybe I'll give the Lifetime/Bike World ride a try.  It looks like they know how to handle themselves in a paceline and the pace isn't too shabby.  We'll see.

There have been a couple of sharply barbed posts recently on my blog.  They have been directed at failure to follow etiquette in the peloton regarding motor vehicle traffic and egocentric riding on fast training rides.  They were not, of course, meant as personal attacks at my riding partners.  This forum is as much a place for me to vent as for you to be entertained.  Recognizing that we all have our faults I spent Wednesday and Saturday trying to approach the group ride with a softer more cuddly attitude.  Wednesday was our group ride from Lifetime Fitness at The Rim (site of the cleverly (if a bit sophomoric) named Rim Job Strava segment, thank you very much.  It was another small group in the heat with Brian, John, Kelley, Eddie, Daniel, Bill and James.  James is a good rider from the Bike World team and I was glad to have him out.  I always hope that the folks that join us for the first time on Wednesday's ride will appreciate what we are trying to do.  It's not meant to be a no holds barred hammerfest.  That's what Tuesday night is for.  Wednesday is a quick group ride where the weakest may well get dropped but we sit up or stop periodically to regroup.  This occurs at miles 8, 13, 20, and 22, roughly, so nobody is off the back for too long.  I often end up pulling most of the first half but this is open to suggestion and if the others tell me to share the workload I will.  The ride back in on ScenicLoop tends to be a rotating paceline.  This is a good skill for a lot of the riders to work on and we should probably be doing more of it.  The best evidence supporting this notion is the frequency with which one of the rides will take a single pull of a minute or two on the front and blow themselves up, falling off the back, and not seen again until we regroup at the Scenic Loop Cafe.  Gaining the fitness to do your turn on the front and knowing how hard to go when you are there is a learned skill.

For Saturday's ride I had invited some friends to meet me at the house to add 15 miles on each end of the Wheelmen Boerne ride.  5 of us left my place at 7 and casually rode the 15 miles up to Boerne, arriving at 10 minutes to 8.  It was an incredibly small turnout which was in some folks' minds, I'm sure, due to the speeds in the peloton recently.  We will not mention that both of last weekends rides were relatively moderate.  Well, I had my own game plan for the day.  I planned to do no work.  I would ride whatever speed the peloton wanted to ride but I would not contribute to the pacemaking.  That was a burden they would have to bear.  I was largely successful.  Only when I inadvertently ended up 2nd wheel and the lead rider pulled off did I dutifully take my turn on the front but I did so at a steady speed without acceleration.  I turned back at one point to regroup with a friend who did not know the roads and was not yet acclimated to the Texas hills or heat.  After the rest stop there was a break in the peloton and I held back to help bridge a couple dropped riders back up to the group.  On the way home I stuck with my friend Dan, who was still acclimating, as above.  In short, I did not push the pace and yet the pace was still too fast for some.  I can't win.  After we got back to Boerne I did pull the group home into the headwind but I don't think anybody else wanted to and I'm sure I was working a lot harder than they were sitting in my slipstream.  I felt pretty good after the 80 mile ride.

Finally, a confession.  Since my last post there has been a dark and deeply unholy occurrence.  Today I broke with tradition.  After spending several years not racing in the States and then taking that skill to England and Europe for three years to fine tune it on the non-racing circuit abroad, and then reimporting that expertise to Texas and further enhancing it over 3 years, I seemed to have forgotten  all of the bicycle non-racing knowledge I spent a decade plus amassing.  I have always held my Cat 6 status up as a badge of honor, not getting sucked into the ego driven, Skratch lab laced world of bicycle racing.  I have successfully avoided the entangling webs of girl-less podiums, chaingang groupies, spent rubbers (tires), etc...  Well with all the nonsense going on about peloton pace I figured a little less time with the group shouldn't hurt anybody's feelings.  I allowed Warren and Brian to talk me into coming out for a criterium a few miles from the house.

I showed up.  Admittedly, I was a bit nervous.  I don't know why.  The folks I regularly beat up on during the Tuesday night ride are cat 4 riders and I hang with or drop the Cat 3 riders who are there.  An open Cat 5 race on a one day license should be no problem, right?

Well, it should be no problem, unless I'm left pulling the group for 35 minutes only to be beat in the sprint by somebody slingshotting out of the draft.  Or, getting caught up in some newbie's mishap due to poor bike handling.  There were a couple fast riders there.  As expected in a Cat 5 race the group charged hard from the line at the start.  I kept my cool and held the wheels, didn't panic.  After half a lap it settled down and quickly it was evident that the field was pretty evenly divided into two halves on the metric of ability.  I'm not sure how they broke down by other metrics such as height or eye color.  On speed, however, half of them were decently quick.  After a few laps I put in a dig and took the preme:

Delicious preme spoils

I stayed off the front for quite a few laps before realizing that I was 17 minutes into a 35 minute race and even though I could probably stay away it would burn a lot of energy and if I got caught by the group I wouldn't have much left.  I sat up, fell back to the group, and held second or third wheel.  I may have taken a pull or two in there but I was pretty much countering attacks and seeing what hands the others were playing with.  I pretty easily matched all the digs by the others but sprinting is not my forte so I did not want to get caught up in a field sprint for the win.  On the last lap I waited until half-way up the gentle slope on the back stretch before standing and hammering to open a small gap which gave me a bit of space from the field over the top but, more importantly, meant I was going over the top at 24mph and they were cresting the hill at 21mph.  When I accelerated on the gentle downslope I just continued to pull away from the field and was able to sit up and coast over the line.

I don't know if I can still claim my Cat 6 status but I had fun and I enjoyed the win.  I also enjoyed nobody telling me I rode too fast.