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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Killing it with my boys

Well I might have lied last week.  I thought it was the last Helotes Tuesday Nighter of the year.  It wasn't.  We went again this week.  There was a little less daylight than last week but we all had lights and there was still some daylight at the end of the ride.   What a great ride...

It was a good turnout for so late in the season.  It probably helped that I had posted the ride on Omnisacyle's Facebook page, it's a non-denomination site for cyclists on different teams and clubs to exchange the goings on of the cycling community such as what rides are planned.  Last week we had discussed it being the last ride of the year so I wanted to reach out to everybody to let them know that we were still riding this week.  Justin also came out to ride, which I was excited about.  This is the fastest, most competitive weekly ride I do and I wanted to share that with him.  We also got Zeeff and Aaron to come out, who are not regulars on the ride although Aaron makes it once in a while.  I think Zeeff and Aaron ride more often on the southside Tuesday Weekly Worlds which is often credited as being the hardest Tuesday nighter in the city but I think ours is on par.

We rolled out promptly at 6PM as usual.  We had our casual ride down to Galm Rd.  This is almost a necessity as much as it is a warm up because traffic is usually heavy and the there are bits without too much shoulder, loose sand on the shoulder, etc.  Once we turned onto Galm riders started to flex their muscles.  It started with a flyer off the front by Zeeff, one of the Bicycle Heaven riders.  He's a powerful rider and he opened up a gap of a couple hundred meters, joined by his teammate Rob.  They were reeled back in within a mile.  This catch was led by Ed and I, although Ed probably did the majority of the work.  I took over for most of the remainder of Galm Rd with Ed coming around in the last half mile or so, leaving me second wheel.  That sort of thing happens occasionally on this ride.  I'll b pulling, Ed will come around me but the rider on his wheel doesn't follow leaving me to fill the gap.  I've just pulled for 5 minutes but there I am, second wheel again and on deck for the next pull.  If I don't slide over into second wheel a gap opens up which annoys everybody (except the guy who didn't follow Ed in pulling through) and allows a rider to slip off the front because of somebody else's laziness rather than the strength of that rider.  We each do what we have to do and it is no secret that there are only 4 or 5 riders who are the work horses of the Tuesday night ride and take on most of the pulling.  While the others fall off the back by attrition, we are left to battle it out between ourselves.  Riders will try to buck this trend by sitting on the back of the group through the first 10-15 miles by they almost inevitably get caught when the group splits and they don't have the strength to bridge the gap on their own.

On 471 we started off pretty calmly, another heavily trafficked road.  After a couple of miles Carlos came around the group on his aerobars and only a small handful or riders jumped on his wheel.  I was riding about 5th or 6th wheel at that time and the lead rider didn't make the jump onto the wheel of the attackers allowing a small gap to open.  The group was moving at 28mph when the attack occurred, and I had to accelerate to 32mph for a quarter mile to close the gap.  By the time we made the turn onto 211 it had come back together.  I started the pulling on 211 but soon enough Rafael Silva came around on his triathlon bike pounding out a ferocious rhythm.  Nobody was on his wheel and the guys on my wheel didn't seem interested in jumping onto his wheel.  If we let Rafa go at this point we'd never see him again.  He's that strong.  I jumped on his wheel, once again second wheel after pulling, and when he started to wane halfway up the first hill on 211 I came around him and finished off the hill, roughly 2 minutes at 385W.  I was gasping for breath over the top but I knew that I would get a rest on the downhill.  It wasn't much of a rest as Ed was the only one who, mercilessly, saw the pain I was in and came around to help out.  Once again, nobody jumped on his wheel so there I was, second wheel after a hard pull again.  Ed put in a monster pull and I took mine before veering to the side, flicking my elbow, and going to the back.

I know I've mentioned several times about being stuck second wheel after pulling, like I was forced into that position.  It's not really a fair criticism because nobody forced me to be there.  I accelerated to fill a gap that was opened when a rider came around from behind.  I guess in my mind I am filling a gap that should not exist and somebody needs to fill it.  If nobody is willing to close that gap then riders get a break.  Nobody in the peloton should do more work than necessary to stay with the lead group while, ideally, contributing to the effort of that lead group.  But, if that lack of effort allows other riders to slip off the front then they have clearly not done enough and have screwed over other riders in the process.  That won't win you many friends in the peloton.  I'd rather be the guy who closes gaps and pushes the pace than the guy who watches the leaders ride off into the distance because I couldn't push out those extra couple of Watts to keep a gap from opening.  Look between your legs, they're hanging right there.  Use them.

The group rotated well for a mile or two and then we hit the final and longest climb on 211 with Rafa in the lead and me on his wheel.  He was going pretty well but when his speed started to trail off I came around on his left bringing the group with me.  After a short distance I could sense that big things were afoot and noted Ed gathering speed from the back of the group to come around on the outside.  I did my best to accelerate and get on his wheel but couldn't quite find the power.  Justin (and maybe Zeeff, I can't remember because of the deep oxygen debt I was experiencing) was the only one who was either willing or able to try to bridge the gap and he made it about half way across.  I was leading the remainder of the field with Stefano on my wheel and the rest behind.  As we crested the hill it all came back together and we coasted down the back side at 35mph into the sharp right hand bend onto Hwy 16.  Zeeff punched it at the bottom of the San Geronimo climb opening a small gap on the group but it was not sustainable and we all came back together before barreling down 16 into Helotes.  There were 6 of us in the lead group: Rafa, Ed, Stafano, Zeeff, Justin, and I.  That's a larger group than we typically have at this point.  We were rotating pretty well, although Rafa on his Tri bike did about a third of the pulling.  Sometimes he gets going so quickly on that machine that nobody on a traditional road bike can come around him for any appreciable length of time.  He never complains about the workload.  I hope he knows that, in those situations, I'd gladly come around and help if I could.

We were really flying.  The wind was predominantly out of the east and we were heading into it.  It wasn't much of a wind but you can't attribute our 29.5 mph average speed for 6.5 miles from the top of San Geronimo to the top of the final hill on a tailwind.  When we hit the bottom of the final hill I was second wheel, behind Rafa.  Zeeff came around on the right with a powerful acceleration from a few places back.  I jumped to try to get on his wheel.  Justin was the only other rider to try to contest the sprint.  I managed to catch Zeeff's wheel two-thirds of the way up the climb as he put in another dig to try to shake me.  We were side by side when he put in a final punch and took the win by a few meters.  Justin put in a heck of an effort but couldn't stay with that final acceleration.  It was a wonderful ride.  Justin and I picked up third overall on the Helotes Tuesday nighter route at 24.8 mph.  A lot of fast riders have hammered this route on Tuesday nights for years, so that is no small feat.  Zeeff must have rolled out of the start seconds before us because although he took the win he didn't record a faster time.  He should have, though.  He earned it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Grinding gravel and other assorted rides

What a week. I've got a bunch of rides and pictures to share. So let's get started.

I was pretty lazy Monday, Columbus Day. I had thoughts of going for a recovery ride after the 116 mile, ~10,000 foot, ride last Sunday. On Tuesday I went out to the Helotes Tuesday Nighter. Ed was out again along with some of the usual suspects. I was really glad to see Nic out there. He's a crazy strong junior rider for Bike World Racing who has a bright future ahead of him. We had a decent ride, it started off pretty casually, as usual, to Galm Rd. Then the pace picked up. The real fireworks started on 211. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten around to documenting any of the riding as it happened so it is difficult to remember many of the specifics. I do recall that one of the triathletes, Kent, went off the front of the group in the first 3 or 4 miles of the ride. We let him go, certain we would reel him back in. We did.  Ed, Nic, Greg, Robert, and I were rotating pretty well at the front keeping the pace up. The group split up on 471, a little earlier than usual. I might have had something to do with that, I can't quite remember. 10-12 of us got to 211 together. Over the first couple of climbs most of the group was shed and it was Ed, Nic, Greg, Tim, and I up the last hill. There might have been another rider or too in the mix. Again, it's a bit hazy. I was putting in a good effort on the front up the last hill, checking my mirror to make sure the hurt was sufficient when Ed decided to come around from the back of the group at 21mph (I was pulling at 19). It hard as heck to jump and grab a wheel when you're on the front pulling, but I did it. I was the only one to make the leap and Ed and I crested the hill together. We made the turn at San Geronimo together and he nearly dropped me over the San Geronimo climb. He may have sat up for me a little bit there, I like to think he didn't.   I tried to make sure I carried my share of the burden on the way back into town because it was clear that both of us had the same goal in mind- to stay off the front for 7 miles back into Helotes. We traded pulls, half a mile to a mile in length all the way back into town and stayed clear of the chasing group. With the days getting shorter that may have been the last Tuesday night ride of the year. It was a good one.

I had written about my speed wobbles last week. I noted a minuscule amount of play in the headset which I wasn't able to get out by tightening the bolt. I brought the bike over to Bike World on Wednesday and James was able to instantly show me that the plug in the steering tube was sitting too high to allow the headset to be further tightened. He was able to quickly fix it. I am interested to see if that was enough to cause the wobbles, however it didn't stop me from ordering a new bike. I've been welcomed to Bike World Racing so it is only natural I would buy from the shop, which is a Trek dealer. Without spoiling too many of the details, it a Trek Emonda SLR 9. It'll be here in about a month and a half. Full review pending.

I was also able to make it out for the Wednesday evening ride, but just barely. I couldn't quite make it all the way to the gym to meet the guys at the parking lot so I met them about a mile into the ride. It was a pretty casual ride. We didn't push the pace, I tried to keep the effort steady at about 220-250W. The normalized power for the ride wound up being 237. Not too bad. A decent display of moderation, which is not my specialty.

Thursday was a day off but Friday ended up being a short day at work, which was nice. The cumulative fatigue was quite high. Every ride for the past two weeks was hard in one way or another and I needed to just go out and spin. I decided to head down to the Salado Creek Greenway. For all my time in San Antonio I have never been on this bike path, at least not the north end. I was on the south end of the greenway for the first time only a couple of weeks ago. I found out that there is no great way to get to the Salado Creek Greenway from my house. The end of the trail is on Heubner Rd which is 4 lanes, two in each direction, divided by a median and no shoulder to ride on. I didn't have too much fun getting there and it wasn't even peak traffic. Apparently people getting to the trailhead was not part of the master plan when this was built. I'll have to look at a map. Maybe there is a better place to hop on the path that is more accessible to somebody not driving there. The trail itself was nice. Well maintained. There are a lot of curves that make the path interesting but limit speed. That is good fore safety on a multi-use trail but makes it a bit inconvenient for commuting on when you're running late.

Salado Creek Greeway
One disconcerting thing was the number of deer around the path.  I have a bad history with deer.  They are all out to get me.  That isn't paranoia if it's true.  Deer run into the side of my car.  Deer run out in front of me when I'm riding.  Back in 2006ish I was taken out by a deer that ran across the road and took out my front wheel.  It was disconcerting that I happened to be wearing that same jersey.

This one was planning a devious attack.  Just finished sharpening it fangs and hoofs. Bloodthirsty, I tell you.

Prior damage from attempted homocide by a deer.

There also doesn't seem to be a decent way to get from the north part of the greenway to the south.   Nokoma north of the airport to Mcallister Park? That seriously limits it's use as a commuting route to work.  Maybe one of my cycling friends has some tips on the best way to do this.

A quick non-cycling story:  My daughter has discovered that she can suspend a sheet from the top bunk to create a makeshift hammock that she actually sleeps in.  It's pretty cute.

The epic ride of the week was on Saturday.  Justin wanted to go ride a gravel grinder ride out by Bandera.  Apparently, about 3 weeks ago Lance Armstrong and some of his fellow riders from Mellow Johnny's and a handful of San Antonio riders had ridden this 60 mile route and it looked interesting.  Justin had loaned me a beautiful Ibis Hakkalugi cyclocross bike, built up with full ultegra and a nice wheelset with Chris King hubs,  since I own neither a cyclocross or mountain bike at the moment.  It was an hour drive and then a bit of a cluster getting the day use parking paid for at Bandera State Natural Area.  Finally, around 9AM we were on the (unpaved)road.  The bike was awesome and the roads, for the most part, were all you could ask for in unpaved roads.  Our route was probably 70% gravel.  We were cruising along quickly out to the town of Utopia.  It was Justin, Dan, and myself.  Dan also doesn't own a CX bike so he was out on his mountain bike.  He had told us he was a bit out of shape due to a lot of school work recently.  I didn't realize how hard he was working to keep up with us.  After a quick stop in Utopia to refuel it was clear his tank was empty.  Justin and I decided the best option would be to trade bikes.  Dan and I switched pedals and continued on.  The mountain bike was certainly slower.  IT was heavier, the gearing was too low for the terrain we were on, and the tires were over-inflated leading to an incredibly rough ride, especially on South Seco Creek Rd.  We had a couple fun water crossings on the way back.  With about 15 miles left to go Dan sent us off ahead, in full bonk mode.  I know I've been there before so I felt bad for him.  Justin and I continued on but we were starting to feel it too.  The last 3 or 4 miles is a gradual uphill slog on dirt and Justin and I were struggling to maintain 15mph.  My heart rate tells the tale of two bikes.  On the cross bike my average heart rate was a cool 124.  On the last 25 miles of predominantly gravel it was 157bpm, although I swear every time I looked down it was in the mid 160s.  That's up around threshold for me.

I had only a brief rest from a ride that left us feeling wrecked before heading out for dinner and a night at the San Antonio ballet with a beautiful woman.

Yeah, that my wife, also known as Animal.  She's no slouch on the bike and despite some setbacks she'll get back there.  Dinner at Ocho was great and the ballet was well done.

This morning I had planned to get up and ride with Aaron early in the morning but after my long ride and night out I wasn't feeling too spry in the morning.  I slept in for an hour or so.  Option B was to go meet the Wheelmen for a ride that was leaving from Leon Springs, about 4 miles from the house.  That sounded like a nice relaxing option.  Just what I needed today.  At that point my wife announced to me that I would be bringing Noah.  She and my daughter were going to see my neighbors perform at a church function and she didn't think Noah would do too well sitting through that.  There is no easier way to turn a relaxed ride on a single into a sufferfest than to add a tandem with child stoker kit and, naturally, a child.  I was feeling yesterday's efforts and I wasn't sure if we'd be able to stay with the group for long.  We made it the 27 mile out to Bulverde at 19.4 mph average speed.  I definitely burned a couple matches on the way out.  Some were necessary, trying to keep momentum going and wrestle the tandem up the hills to stay with the group.  One, the biggest one, was entirely unnecessary.  Andy was doing a great job pulling on the front, about 21.5 mph.  He'd been up there for about 5 minutes and I'm sure he was tiring.  I spotted a rider up the rode and couldn't resist the urge to pull the group around the lone rider on a tandem with a 7 year old.  I moved forward, bumped up the pace a bit and made the catch.  I pushed my heart rate up to 175 during that effort.  That was my max for the day and with the fatigue from the day before that was probably about as high as I would be able to push it anyway.  I'm sure everybody responds differently to fatigue but I know I can only reach my max heart rate of 185 when I am well rested.  We stopped at the store in Bulverde and Noah and I had some Snickers ice cream bars and a coke.  I use my boy as an excuse to spoil myself.  At this point I announced my intent to head home the way we had come because the group was going across Ammann Road to Fair Oaks Ranch.  Ammann is several miles of continuous rollers which are too steep to keep momentum going.  I didn't really want that kind of abuse but I allowed myself to be talked into going along.  I'm sure the group would have moved a little faster without me but I appreciate them encouraging us to join and even sitting up occasionally on the couple of occasions we were slogging over some of the hills.  Noah did awesome, putting in 56 miles, his longest ride to date.  Not bad for a 7 year old who is under 50 lbs soaking wet.  There were no complaints from him, only from me.  The two rides this weekend left me pleasantly exhausted.  My legs are aching as a type and I'm looking forward to a rest day tomorrow, otherwise known as my day job.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Nasty speed wobbles, Le Grande Fromage returns.

I had little riding this week because my wife had to go out of town to a conference in Dallas.  She did not get Ebola, as far as we know, so I consider that a success.  I was able to get out Tuesday and Friday for short rides before being nearly rained out on Saturday.  This all led up to an epic ride on Sunday with my favorite modern fox and Andy.

Tuesday, witnessed the triumphant return of Ed "Le Grand Fromage" to the Helotes ride.  Freshly returned from France and enjoying the slight easing of temperatures he came out to once again stamp his authority on the peloton.  He stamps his authority with his smell, his bike prowess is merely icing on the cake.  It was a modest turn-out as the days are getting pretty short. After the customary neutral zone warm up the ride was off and running.  I pitched in on the pacemaking on Galm and 471.  As usual, the real action takes place on 211, although I am pretty sure that the group was already split in two at that point.

After the first of three climbs on 211 we were down to 4 riders.  Ed, Stefano, Rafa, and myself.  Stefano was making a rare appearance after spending most Tuesdays on the south side.  We were working pretty well as a group, although there was some sitting out a pull or two.  Ultimately it was Rafa who was left to do the lion's share of the work.  It was impossible for us to come around him and add anything to the pacemaking, what with him being a world class triathlete on an aero bike and all.  As the pace slowed a little bit on the last hill on 211 I moved to the front and led over the top.  When we got down the other side at the bottom of the San Geronimo hill  Ed and I pulled away from the other two.  We did our best to stay ahead of the other two but with Rafa on his try bike and Stefano stuck in his draft taking the air off his rear wheel it was only a matter of time before were were reeled in.  Rafa came around so fast it was difficult to get on the back of the train but we managed it and finished together.  Great ride, what Tuesday night is all about.

I was on Daddy-duty Wednesday and Thursday but I managed to get home early on Friday and went for a short ride before the kids got home from school.  It wasn't much of a ride but it was good to get out without an agenda and just spin a bit.

When I woke up Saturday morning it was cold and raining with a nasty wind, thunder, and lightning.  All the rides were cancelled.  We had a lazy morning around the house.  By the mid afternoon I was ready to get out and ride.  I brought Noah and the Tandem over to Helotes to meet Greg and ride up Scenic Loop.  We also happened to meed Justin and Casey there, who had the same idea.  Casey was testing out some new gear on her bike and she and Justin spun along at their own pace.  Greg hung back and spun at Tandem with Child Stoker speed.  It was slow going up Scenic Loop.  It was deceivingly chilly out, about 60 degrees but with a brisk north wind and a lot of moisture in the air from the morning's rain.  It was slow going up to the end of Scenic Loop but we made up for that when we turned around and came back with the tailwind.  Noah was pretty chilly after the ride and we stopped to get hot chocolate, which makes everything better.

That all led up to Sunday's epic- Medina to Camp Wood and back on FM 337.  115 miles with nearly 10,000 feet of climbing.  I got most of my things ready the night before but was still a few minutes late for my 0630 rendezvous with Justin at his apartment.  We headed up I-10 with a quick stop for coffee and a breakfast sandwich.  At that point it started to rain a little bit and our hears sank a little.  It wasn't supposed to rain today.  We rechecked the forecast and satellite images and were suitably reassured that it would clear.  Andy met us in Medina and the rain had already stopped.  We were left with a low hanging fog which was high enough that in the valley it was pretty safe.  As we went up the climbs we ascended into the clouds and I was glad to have my front and rear flashing lights.  The rain was the first rude awakening of the day.  Actually, waking up was.  The next rude awakening was down the first descent.  The roads were wet, there was limited visibility, and some sharp turns.  I took the descend cautiously and was met with speed wobbles: that difficult to control shimmy that can develop for any of about 2,637 reasons, according to the blogosphere.  This only happens on steeper descents so I have to believe that it is due, at least in part, to weight shifting forward.  It is also more likely to happen on poor road surfaces.  It was worse with my Mavic Kysrium wheelset and I thought the wider bladed spokes were to blame.  This was the first time I had experienced it with my Enve 3.4s.  The real kicker is that it is not only a matter of speed.  Knowing that the possibility for wobble was there, and with limited visibility and wet roads I was quite cautious.  The trouble was, even applying the brakes could induce the wobble.  It was very disheartening.  I took all the descents quite carefully.  We rode through Vanderpool, over the two climbs to Leakey, and finally over the climb to Camp Wood.  My favorite climb is the second one between Vanderpool and Leakey.  It is long and winds around rather than going straight up.  The climb out of Leakey is also a good one.  Once you get to the top of that there are 2 or 3 miles of rolling hills on top of a plateau before descending into the Nueces Valley.  Yet another bit of rudeness for the day:  from the top of the descent into the Nueces the road turned from typical Texas crap to a veritable pile of pig dung.  It was some of the worst chipseal Texas has to offer and they laid out 12 miles of it for us into Camp Wood, which we would have to turn around and ride back on.  24 miles of nut rattling, taint tickling joy.  At least we were able to stop in Camp Wood for a wonderful gas station lunch.  The chip seal really takes it out of you.  At mile 80 we were back in Leakey and the miles were taking their toll.  The rode from Leakey to Camp Wood is the shortest segment and knocks out 2 of the final 3 climbs.  From there it is 20 miles with one climb but that last climb is a real kick in the pants.  The clouds had lifted by now and we were rewarded with a bit of a view and then, miraculously, the sun came out at the top of the final descent.  I had been getting more comfortable with the speed wobble and thinking that if I relaxed and let the bike ride all would be well.  Great plan until I got the wobble again at 47mph.  My sphincter is still in spasm from that one.  As I looked at my clock it was 3PM with 11 or 12 miles to go.  I put it in my head we would finish by 3:30, then I put my head down and hammered.  It's hard to hammer after 105 miles and 10,000 vertical feet but I did my best.  We did the last 11.5 miles at 22+ mph and made it back to Medina before 3:30.  A small victory to finish a brilliant day on the bike.  Unfortunately, I think the speed wobbles means it's time for a new bike.  Especially having seen Andy cruise down these desencts without incident on his Madone and Justin hit 57.2mph fearlessly on his Ibis.  Something isn't right with my ride.  I would generally be looking forward to a new bike but this is not a new bike on my terms so it feels a bit hollow.