Saturday, October 27, 2007

Anyone interested in some nose bleeds?

Having just finished a hard ride, I roll home and plop in the couch turn on the tube and subsequently fall asleep.    Sometime later, in a semi-lucid state, I hear this commercial, “Would you like in some nasal sores, nasal fungal infection, glaucoma or cataracts?”  My interest is piqued, so I crack one eye open. 

It continues, “Well, then step right up and grab a bottle of Veramyst.  This stuff is your answer to treating your nasal symptoms such as congestion, sneezing, and a runny nose.”   

Wait.  Did I hear that right? 

“Be sure to ask your doctor if Veramyst is right for you.”

Say what?!?!  Am I supposed to ask my doctor if nasal fungus is “right for me?”  I am not a doctor, but I think I can figure that one out. Ok, so maybe that is not exactly how the commercial went, but I could swear that’s how I remember it. 

Regardless, isn’t that what all the drug commercials are saying nowadays anyway?  Aren’t all of them saying stuff like, “Don’t use [insert product name here] while operating a motor vehicle, or if you have kidneys which need to function.”  Well, obviously, they really don’t want the public to know that their product has all kinds of horrible side-effects, so there has got to be a law compelling them to do it.  Right?  I am sure they’re not killing sales out of respect for full disclosure, or out of sheer altruism. 

Maybe they are doing it to shield themselves from lawsuits.  “Your honor, despite our warnings that his eyes would fall out if he used our product, the plaintiff continued to use our product.  And, as you can clearly see, the plaintiff no longer has bloodshot eyes.”    bigburger.jpg

I have noticed though that other types of companies are not talking about their side-effects.  Can you imagine watching fast-food joints try and hawk cheeseburgers?  That would be excellent:  “Warning, excessive use may cause high cholesterol, heart attack, stroke, and in remote cases, death.  Some people have been known to have very large bowel movements 1 to 2 days after ingesting a triple cheeseburger.  Ask your doctor if cheeseburgers are right for you.”  

Of course, this would never happen.  What doctor in their right mind would write a prescription for that!?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Believe in the Bike?

Last week I was reading in Bicycling magazine about how Tyler Hamilton got to keep his Olympic gold medal because the authorities lost his drug test B-sample,...and about how he’s on the Operation Puerto list,...and how he was recently booted off his team because of doping, etc.  I began to think, "What is wrong with this guy?"  "Why was I such a fan?" and,  "Who in the world could sign him ever again?"  That's when I come across a mention of this group of Tyler supporters who’s mantra is “BELIEVE.”  Believe in Tyler?  I would hope people were more objective than that, but hey, if people can believe O.J., why not Tyler?  I figure if they want to believe that Tyler is some hapless victim of the well-oiled anti-doping police, then more power to them.  Everyone needs to have a hobby.  But then the story goes on to say that BELIEVE no longer is reserved to mean believe Tyler’s claims of innocence.  It has instead evolved into something much greater.  No, it doesn’t mean believe in yourself, or believe in God.  It has evolved into believe in the power of the bicycle.

Say what?!  Please people, if you want to be stupid go right ahead.  But come on, at least you can come up with something better than that!  Shoot, when I was three, my Mom told me that I could believe at least in myself.  Heck, remember the ant that moved a rubber tree plant?  Or the “little engine that could?”  Even a choo choo train has enough common sense to believe in himself.  So now we have devolved into believing in a bicycle?


aerotic.jpgGranted, in a moment of weakness you might catch me kneeling before an Isaac Joule Aerotic, or genuflecting to a 14 lb. Specialized Tarmac SL2, but let’s get some perspective.  I am not a religious zealot, but I can tell you for certain if there is a higher-power that we should believe in, it is certainly not a bike.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Road Rash Ain't So Bad

There are certain life-changing elements in this world that so exceed their purpose, that lift up all things around them, that propel humanity to such great lengths, that I refer to them as “magic.”  These are the things that raise the proverbial “bar” so high, that to forego their influence sets back human evolution by decades.  Let me give you a few examples:  In food, those things that have achieved magic status are, roasted garlic on garlic bread, nutmeg in Fettuccini Alfredo, and peanut butter in chocolate chip cookies.  Don’t believe me?  Give it a try, and you’ll be taken to a place where you can’t help but wonder how you had previously lived your life in such relative despair.  In wound care, there are two items that have attained magic status.  These are Tegaderm dressing and PolyMem QuadraFoam.

I was introduced to these items a few years back after executing a dive so perfectly, it would make Greg Louganis’ own mother lament, “Why can’t my son do that?”  Unfortunately, my ‘dive’ happened to be a 30 MPH bicycle end-o while descending Mt. Hamilton.  

A few hospital visits, and copious amounts of bandaging later, I was completely sold on the value of proper wound care.TegadermTegaderm looks like nothing more than clear plastic wrap.  However it is a hellava lot more expensive and works a hellava lot better.  After cleaning the wound (no alcohol please), all you do is apply this stuff just like you would a bandage.  Then you leave it alone.  It sticks to your skin, but doesn’t stick to the wound.  No more agonizing bandage changing.  Anyway, the wound never dries.  This lets it heal while minimizing scarring and avoiding all of the problems with peeling, sticking, and cracking scabs.   Don’t ask me how it does this, just accept it as magic.   

The only real ‘problem’ with Tegaderm, is that it leaks.  Sorry if I get gross here, but the puss, yellow crap, and any other kind of liquid that oozes from your sores will find its way out from under the Tegaderm and onto your clothes.  Enter QuadraFoam.

PolyMen QuadraFoamPolyMem QuadraFoam seems like nothing more than a pink sponge.  However, it is excellent at absorbing all the exudate (aka. ooze), and if you believe the manufacturer, it “provides a warm, moist, healing environment that promotes formation of granulation tissue and reepithelialization.”   I don’t know what that means, but I believe them.   

Road rash is certainly something we all would rather do without.  However, if you ride more than a few thousand miles a year, you are bound to accumulate your fair share of it.    Plan ahead people!  Get some Tegaderm at the drug store or on-line, and some QuadraFoam anywhere you can find it.  This stuff isn’t as cheap as a bandage, but doesn’t work like one either.  No joke people, once you try these, you’ll never go back.  They are Magic.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Free speed. Enough said.

This blog is definitely boring.  Neither funny stuff, nor ranting about the screwed up world is included.  But don’t give up on it.  This blog will enable you to get to the next level.  If you have Cat 4 talent, this blog will make you a Cat 3.  Cat 3 people will be capable of achieving the kick-ass status of a Cat 2.   If you are a Cat 2...well, I can’t help you.  You already know this stuff.

Those of you who have raced with me, know that I am a pretty good rider.  I won’t lie and say that I’m an  average Joe, but neither will I claim that I even approach the talent level some of the guys I race against.   I am pretty good.

That said, over the years I have been reasonably successful in races, despite almost never having the climbing ability to stay with the climbers, nor the sprinting ability to beat the sprinters.  Some of my best races are ones where I have been either dropped and clawed my way back to the pack, or have been ‘lucky’ enough to have been away in a break so I do not have even have to try and out muscle the sprinters.  I attribute my luck in these matters to certain core beliefs I have when approaching bike racing.  These are what I feel enables us pretty-good-guys to still have a blast on the bike, despite not having first pick from the gene pool.

Recently, I found this video on YouTube.  It is of Jens Voigt talking about the Tour of California.  Jens has always been one of my favorite riders; not because of his talent, but because of his riding style.  He doesn’t show up to a race to ride – he shows up to a race to race.  Here, he gifts us with a few words of wisdom.  Fear not, for the truth awaits.  Don’t pass it up.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Could I be a Pro?

On one of the cycling email lists that I partake in, one of the guys had done some calculations on how fast Levi Leipheimer could complete a local TT that we hold each year.   I started pondering, “What would it take for me to get on the podium with Levi?!  Dedication, hard work, and the right diet and fitness program, right?"

Immediately I ran over to my computer (actually, I was already sitting there, so there was no “running” going on), broke out my calculator, CyclingPeaks software, and the Critical Power calculator that I got from the Google Wattage group a few months ago, and began to envision free trips to France and hot babes bending down to kiss me on the cheek as I dawned the way-too-big yellow jersey.  The more I typed, the more my dream lost focus though.  Soon, the babes morphed into a cloud of numbers and math symbols.  

Lucidity returned as my kids started to fight over who is making faces at whom.  I continued to calculate. 

I now know why I am not an international pro. It turns out to get the same power-weight ratio as the elites, I need to increase my threshold power by 93 watts.  At my peak, I maybe can get 20.  Another 70 on top of that is surely out of the question.  However, there is still hope.  I could increase my power-weight ratio by losing weight.  As long as I can maintain my current power, and I choose only the real hilly pro-tour races, I could simply hide in the peloton on the flats, and then go with the climbers on the hills.  Good plan; now let’s run the numbers.

Since my race weight is currently a scant 117 pounds, this may be a challenge.  You see, I am already freakin’ hungry just trying to lose 3 pounds.   Turns out I need to lose 33!   Tough task…  At 84 pounds, not only would I look like one of the Olsen twins, but I would lose power in the process.  Technically, I would be in a coma.  I certainly could not maintain my fitness while in a coma. 

I think I’ll go play X-box with my son.

Reconstituting Marshmallows

I have a problem that started small, but seems to have developed into a potential life-changing event.   You see, I have this bag of marshmallows that I left in the garage one day.  It subsequently melted and solidified into a gob of goo.  Although the marshmallows have retained their original form, they are glued together from all directions.   Pulling them apart is a mess; marshmallow goes everywhere (and when I write about it, my keyboard gets sticky).

I’ve spent about 2 hours trying to un-stick them from each other, and from the bag.  Now my microwave is acting strange and my oven has giant mounds of charcoal bits stuck to the bottom.  Freezing didn’t help either.  Luckily, my freezer is no worse of wear.

Does anyone know how I can get these back to their original form?  I am at my freakin' wit's end!  Geez, if the factory can make them separate, why can’t I?  This is starting to look like a failed effort.  I would hate to give up, but I am thinking maybe I need to buy another bag. 

There has got to be a lesson in all of this:  Use the right tool for the job?  Buy a new one vs.. fixing a broken one?  When your wife tells you not to put the bag in the oven, DON'T!?  Don’t leave marshmallows in the garage? 

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Performance Notes from 2007 ACSM Annual Meeting

Before reading, please heed the warnings below.
Warning: There is no entertainment value here.   Just facts.
Warning #2:  Ignorance is bliss.  Since the info below is based on science, beware that you may learn something. 

One of my favorite web sites for Sports Medicine and Nutrition is  One of their contributors, Will Hopkins, recently attended the 2007 American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) conference and brought back some notes.  Some study results were not yet substantiated, and some results were of low significance, so no conclusions yet.  The stuff I could truly understand was quite interesting.  Not that it was new information, but that known and emerging information continues to be supported.  Here is a synopsis:

  • 4-1 carb/protein during exercise is a good thing.  (6% and 1.2% solution respectively)  Double the protein is not-so-good.
  • Caffeine is good. You may need less than you think.
  • Anti-oxidants (like Beta carotene, Vit C and E) showed no increase in performance. (They're still good though - just for other reasons.)
  • NSAIDs (like ibuprofen) and mega-doses of Vit C reduce muscle soreness, but Vit C also delays recovery.  ("...the reactive oxygen species in inflammation have a positive role in adaptation," which is what Vit C is trying to inhibit.)
  • Q: How do you know when you are overreaching (good) and when you are overtraining(bad), when both yield performance impacts?  A: "...the closest thing is a downturn in mood state, especially in the depression dimension"

To read the details, including how to use this info to be a better cyclist, go here:  Note that in Mr. Hopkin's notes, there are also some unsubstantiated studies that show amazing results (I did not include those in my summary), 

Sunday, September 09, 2007

I am such a dead man.

Those of you who know me well are probably aware of my deepest and darkest secret.  Although I am somewhat embarrassed to admit it, I feel that with a recent medical discovery, I must acknowledge the issue and try to let people with the same problem feel comfortable in coming forward.  Acknowledging the problem is the first step in recovery.


You see, I am an early riser.  Get your mind out of the gutter!  Not in that way (though I was in my younger days).  Nowadays, I wake up way-too-early in the morning and ride my bike to work.   I justify this behavior because I get extra miles in, save some commute time, and save the ozone all at the same time.   Unfortunately, the world is not all sunshine and roses.  There is a dark side.  It turns out that in trying to save a little time for my family, I am not only a hazard to myself, but probably a contributor to the health care crisis in the United States today.


It turns out that scientists recently discovered that getting out of bed before 5 am is bad for your health.  That’s right, doing so poses a 1.7 times greater risk of high blood pressure and 2 times greater risk to development of hardened arteries.  Not only that, but there is “a possible link between vascular disease and early birds who began the day with vigorous exercise.”  OMIGOD!  I’m not joking here folks; check out the news report.


Should I wake up early?  Should I ride to work and save the planet?  What am I doing to myself and to society?    Then I got to thinking, what about people who participate in 24 hour races.  Not only do they begin the day with vigorous exercise, but they must be infinitely more at risk than early risers, because technically, they never even went to bed!  Maybe, this is a question better left unasked.


Pondering this led me to a more revealing and far-reaching problem.  What is the point of this story, is to educate us, or is it to confuse us?   I’ll tell you: These people don’t want answers, they want more funding.  They don’t want an informed public, but a semi-informed public; not smart enough to know the answers, but just smart enough to know we need more studies.  


Think about it, even on should-be non-controversial issues like space aliens and Bigfoot, they leave the door open.  Do you ever hear a scientist say something like, “There is no Bigfoot,” or does he really say, “We haven’t found any additional evidence confirming the existence of Bigfoot.”  Do they ever say, “People claiming to be abducted by aliens are freakin’ nut-jobs,” or do they say, “With the billions of stars in each galaxy and the billions of galaxies, the chances of their not being life on other plants seems infinitesimally small.”  …Just enough ambiguity to keep us guessing - and them working.


In case you are wondering, the physician that led the “early riser is a dead man” study called for more studies.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On the road again. Really!

Boogie oogie oogieHere he comes,
riding down the street,
hairy legs like a monkey,
smilin' at everyone he meets!

OK guys and gals, I am officially back on the road.  Nobody wanted me to do it, but I simply couldn't handle the that trainer any longer.  I missed the road, the sun, and the camaraderie.  This is not to say I have recovered though.  Right now, I am concentrating on riding without crashing.  Not that I particularly wanted to crash before, but now I really, really do not want to go down.  I figure I have two more weeks of healing until my bones can handle it.  Until then, big group rides are off-limits.

gorilla.pngDuring my 5 weeks off the road, I lost about 20 watts and gained 5 pounds.  Not too bad, all things considered. I also made some other significant changes.  If you didn't catch the monkey reference, it is true: I am going fully fuzzy.  That's right; I haven't shaved my legs in 5 weeks.  Yet, I am OK with it.  My wife tells me it’s perfectly normal for a man to have hairy legs.  Besides, when I get my butt kicked by other furry guys like Aaron, Dominic, and Tracy C., I figure if they can do it, then I can too.   

I haven't yet made any other real changes, but I figure along with the hairy legs, I was thinking of

  • mounting a rear-view mirror on my helmet
  • carrying a camelback, and
  • getting a kick-stand (really convenient for those coffee shop stops)   

Friday, June 15, 2007

Guaranteed Health Care: Be Careful What You Wish For

So one week after my encounter with a rogue tree branch, I make my way to the doctor’s office to get an x-ray of my collar bone and a follow up consult.   Surprisingly, I was recovering quite well.  At least until I got there. 

I show up, hand them $20 and they start to abuse me.  For a warm-up, they shuffle me into the x-ray room, hand me a lead blanket to protect my privates, and then contort my body into unnatural positions, tell me to hold my breath, and shoot me with radiation. 

Twenty minutes later, I am directed to an examination room where I can nurse my now re-swollen shoulder.  When the doctor shows up, he vigorously shakes my hand, further aggravating my injury, and welcomes me with a hearty, “Good afternoon!”

Staring at the floor, I mumble something like, “ouch.” 

“So, Mr. Spano, I reviewed your x-rays,” he says whilst pulling, twisting and generally mis-configuring my shoulder, as if he is in a tug-o-war with me.  Holding back my tears, I hear him continue, “Nothing has moved.  So, we’ll see you in four weeks, OK?” 

At this point, I don’t know what is more swollen, my shoulder, or my eyes.  Then I realize, “That’s it?  A $20 co-pay so I can get mutilated and told to come back in a month for another ‘round?”

The prodding, poking, and pulling has reduced me to a puddle of a man.  “Uh…can I? you think?...I was wondering if I can see the x-ray?…maybe…can you show me if it’s healing?  I want to ride my bicycle.”  Ouch

“Oh, and can I have my arm back?”

He looks over his spectacles, assessing my seriousness.   He gives me a stern look, spins about, and clicks away at the computer.  “You see, it is broken here and here and over here.  It’s in multiple pieces.”  He spins back.  “Do not blah, blah, blah, ride your bike until it’s healed.  If you fall down, then blah, blah, blah.  Blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah.”  

I didn’t really understand anything after that.  All I really remember him saying is “…ride your bike until it is healed.”   Maybe seeing the doctor was a good idea.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Another Cyclist Confesses to Using Drugs

Recently, I have been doing some smarter training.  Trying to periodize, I am training hard and resting hard – at least on a semi-macro scale.   It seems to be working.  My bike’s power-meter keeps measuring an ever-increasing threshold power.

So Wednesday morning, I am on my daily, way-too-early-in-the-morning commute to work.   Mother Nature is not happy.  The air is cold, and the wind is blowing.  Gusts of wind are arching the trees. 

The wind doesn’t affect me though.  I am riding full-force into the wind balking at Mother Nature.  “Is that the best you got?!”  I come to realize that it’s not the wind that is causing the trees to bend, but my superior riding skills.  They are bowing to me as if to acknowledge my training is paying off and I have reached cycling demi-god status.    One tree though wasn’t content with my arrogance.  Instead of letting me ride peacefully by, it decides to drop a limb in the road. The limb clips my wheel, and down I go.  I’ve been dis’ed.

Anyone who has seen me crash knows like a weeble, I pop back up.  Within seconds I am back on the bike and ready to go.  No so today.  I tried to get back up, but my body wasn’t moving.   I could hear myself groan.  I remember thinking, “OK, I am just getting old.  I’ll rest a minute, and then get up.  No rush.” 

When I finally stood up, I felt a sharp pain in my left shoulder.  Holy $%!T!  I better not have broken a bone.  I have broken a bone before, and the incessant pain is not something that me, or my wife, want to go through again.  You see, I turn into a total ass.  Imagine a guy having PMS 24x7 for 4-6 weeks.  That’s me.  Ironically, I am hoping that a tree branch has been driven through my shoulder.  Give me a stake in the shoulder over a broken collarbone any day!  I reach over feeling for blood.  None.  This is not good.  Collar Bone

Off to Emergency I go.  Yup, it’s broke.  The doctor gave me a cocktail of Vicodin (codeine) and ibuprofen.  It still friggin’ hurts.  Is codeine a banned substance??  Probably.

The last few days have been a roller-coaster for me.   I’ve been spending my time mostly whining and feeling sorry for myself.  In between these episodes, I have been trying figure out how to maintain some fitness during my ‘vacation.’  My head tells me that in the grand scheme of things a broken collar bone is not a big deal.  I do not know why my heart is telling me that it matters.  Maybe it’s the fear of losing fitness, maybe it’s the fear of changing my daily routine, or maybe it’s the fear of having to ride a trainer.

  Bicycle Trainer  

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Why do I ride anyway?

So let me ask, what is the point of this?  Everyday I get on my bike and turn the pedals 10 thousand times.  I spend 12-15 hours a week, and countless $$, and for what?  Well, let’s assess the three reasons I can think of.

For my health.  I am told that if exercise “at least three 20-minute bouts of continuous aerobic [bla, bla, bla],” then I will be healthy and stave off the imfamous killer heart attack.  When I ride I do way more than that, so I should be SUPER-healthy.  Unfortunately, I ride in traffic!   But for my helmet, I should be dead.  Twice. 

Is cycling in traffic healthier than a heart attack?  Hard to say.  I know many more cyclists that have died cycling, than people that have died of heart attacks.  Shoot, I even heard of a two occasions where guys died of heart attacks while cycling!   I say it’s healthier sitting on the couch eating two bags of Orville Reden-butter’s, than getting run over.

So I can race.  That’s it.  Nothing gets me going like waking up at 4 in the morning, driving two hours, sitting on the nastiest port-o-pottie on the freaking planet,  and then paying some guy $30 so I can go get the crap beat outta me for the next three hours!  OK, so maybe racing ain’t the reason.  

Because it is what I do.  When I dream, it is usually about riding.  When I have nightmares, it is usually about riding.  When I wake up in the morning, two things come to my mind: coffee and riding.  Ok, first it’s, “I gotta pee,” then it’s the others.  After ten years of riding nearly every day, I think it just a habit of mine.  I guess I don’t like change, I just don’t know any better, or the endorphins cloud my mind enough that for two hours I get to forget all my problems and just focus in on how good I feel.   

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Are you a cycling a-hole, or are you just dangerous?

Recently, I had the opportunity to ride with a bunch of absolute a-holes.  When I expressed my feelings to our team mailing list, there was concern that I was broad-brushing entire groups of people as ‘dangerous,’ while ignoring the fact that each person is an individual.  This got me to thinking…

Why would someone think I was implying 'dangerous,' when I did not use the word?  Can you be an a-hole without being dangerous and conversely, can you be dangerous without being an a-hole?  In my mind, the difference is in attitude.  To explain this, and to help us all come up with a common set of definitions, I decided to develop the a-hole test.  This way each person can find out if they are indeed an a-hole, fix themselves, and start anew. 

To take the test, answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to each of these questions:

  1. While riding in a pack, do you swerve to avoid hitting Botts Dots, thus avoiding a potential flat tire and hence a dangerous situation?
  2. While riding in a pack, do you look to you left to indicate to the riders around you that you are moving left, and then proceed to move over?
  3. While riding in a two row paceline, instead of riding directly behind the rider in front of you, do you take advantage of even more energy savings by drafting between the two riders in front of you?
  4. If you are 20 miles from the race finish and someone is moving in front of you (effectively stealing your place in line), do you maintain your position by holding your line and forcing them to initiate the dangerous situation?
  5. In a fast Criterium, when the pace finally slows enough that you can start to think, do you float up to the faster riders at the front to position yourself for the final sprint.
  6. In any race, do you try to maintain your position near the front, but brake to avoid being at the front?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of the questions, then you likely care more about your position in the field, than you do the safety of others.  You therefore are officially an a-hole. 

Bonus: If you took the test and didn’t understand why your ‘Yes’ answer was indicative of inappropriate behavior, then you may not be an a-hole.  You may be just dangerous.  Congratulations.  

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Never Again

Literally every year I am questioned about the time I rode the epic race, the Everest Challenge.  Even though this year it won't be until September, I am already started getting questions about it.  Whether or not you consider yourself naive enough to attempt this race involves a personal examination of your own mental and emotional state.  To help you in this endeavor, I will post my race report from 2002, and then you can make the decision yourself.

"The Everest Challenge is the toughest race I have ever encountered. For those of you who have not heard of it, it is advertised as 120 miles long, with 15,465 feet of climbing! Of course, that is only the first day. The second day is 86 miles with 13,563 feet of climbing. If the 105 degree temp doesn't kill you, then the altitude will. Results are based on your
accumulated time.

This race broke me. I was totally destroyed, both mentally and physically. I remember starting the day ready for action/ After 3 hours of intense climbing, my body told me that I had just finished the Mt. Hamilton RR. Unfortunately, my mind told me I still had some racing to do. As far as I could tell, at this point I was second in my category. Luckily for me, a really strong rider, Louie Amelburu (winner of the 2001 Spring Mountain Omnium, and a number of other 35+ races), totally fell apart at the top of the second climb. This was at about the 4-hour mark. I figured I was now first, and that as long as I continued to hammer, I could get the State Climbing Champ jersey..

Well, hammer I did. When I finally got to the base of the last climb, I was tired. My legs were totally blown. I was climbing this endless false flat into the wind at 6 mph! (It turns out that this false flat was actually an 8% grade, but after staring at all the other climbs I did, this actually looked flat to me.) Regardless, I pressed on. I kept telling myself that
everyone else is hurting, and that I could push through. After another hour or so (at 6 mph), I was totally dejected. I wanted to quit. I wondered why I was there. I was counting the miles left. As far as I could tell, I only had about three miles to go. I got off the bike. I was at 8000-9000 feet of altitude, and could not even turn over my 39X27!! I walked, I looked back, then I rode some more. I finally made it to the last feed station. Desperately, I asked them, "How far is the finish?" They responded. "Just 12 miles left! Good job."

12 MILES!!!! I summoned all the math skills I could at this point ad realized that I had ANOTHER 2 HOURS TO GO!!! I could not make it. I didn't know what to do. I was totally broken. I ate and drank all day, 'till I was nearly sick, but I had no strength. I decided to press on.

I ended up stopping three more times. I got off the bike, looked around, questioned reality, and rode some more. I wanted to quit so bad! Finally I came upon the 10K marker. I pressed on. The last kilometer was torturous. I know deep down that the race organizers set this up on purpose, and I was pissed at them for it. The last kilo was full of rollers. 15% grades! (At 9,000 feet with 15000 feet of climbing in your legs, 15% is A LOT.) I walked the bike. I could not even ride out of the saddle, for my legs were too wobbly. I finally made it over the finish in 6 hours and 24 minutes or so.

The people at the finish offered to take my bike. They offered me a drink. No joke, I could not even respond to them. All I could do was stare. After 30 seconds or so, I was able to speak. "Sugar water," was all that came out. (I actually wanted PowerAde, but could not think of the words.) About 10 minutes later I was finally coherent enough to think straight. I then realized that I was not in first place. Mark Weiderman (the Cat 3 winner of this year's Tour de Gila five-day stage race) had beaten me to the top.

I rested a while, ate and drank, and descended.

Only one more day.

I found out the next morning that I was second by a little over 4 minutes. The third place guy was some 54 minutes behind me. Realistically, I had second locked. My plan was to do what I could to finish. I needed to make up four minutes on Mark to take the lead, but he was a much stronger rider than I. The only thing I could do was ride my own race and see what happened.

Basically, we promenaded for about three miles, and then hammered. The race split into fragments, with a group of Cat 1 and 2s (and Mark) riding away from me. I did what I could, but stayed within myself. This day was more of the same; pain and suffering. I ate and drank like my life depended on it.  My stomach was full nearly all the race, but I continued to eat and drink anyway. It was so hot. Although they were a bit disorganized at times, each one of the feed stations was literally an oasis in the desert. The descents felt like there was a giant hair dryer blowing over my whole body. At about 3 hours into the day, I started the final climb. It was 20 miles, and went to 10,100 feet! I paced myself and thought of quitting, but continued on. On a happier note, my wife and kids drove by in anticipation of meeting me at the top. They rooted for me, and my son even handed me a bottle at the next feed station. Awwww. I grinded up the hill in my 27, looking for another
gear. I had to stop of few times, to make sure I did not destroy myself like I did the day before. I was glad when it was over. The second day took me some 5 hours and 25 minutes. I was done.

My body was so depleted. Despite eating and drinking before, during, and after the race, I still lost 5 pounds.

The officials still had not received my time at the bottom by the time we drove home, but given that I had an hour lead on third place (and beat him again this day), I am sure I got 2nd overall. I picked up my prize for finishing top-three (Rudy Project Sunglasses), and drove home (Actually, my wife drove. I just sat in the passenger seat and tried to remain conscious). "

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Why do little guys suck at time trials?

OK, so maybe they don’t suck, but they certainly aren’t particularly good. (We’re talking generalities here people...)

If you look at cross-section of cyclists, it seems that smaller riders can climb, larger riders can time trial, and sprinters are sort of a mixed-bag. Why does this seem to be the case? I had a monumental thought this morning - actually, a number of thoughts - and actually liked some of them.

Let’s address big rider flatland performance. We’ll start by pointing out that flat time trial performance is enhanced with more power and less drag. The force to overcome any particular amount of drag is directly related to the coefficient of drag multiplied by the frontal area. Of course there are other factors, but we’re dealing in generalities here, so let’s keep the problem bound to the major factors. (However, if you insist on precision, then go to a wind tunnel. You’ll come up with the same conclusion. Of course, if you’re that anal, then you’ll probably feel better about it only after dumping a whole lot of money anyway. Or you can use the equation here for calculating drag.)

Where was I? Oh yeh. Remember from Geometry class that Area is squared, while Volume is cubed. Consequently, given two equal riders, as one gets larger, his increase in mass (volume) will go up much faster than his increase in area. Even more so when you consider that frontal area in a TT position does not increase as fast as the body’s area. Assuming that the mass of the rider is directly related to the power (i.e. he is not just getting fat), then our answer is apparent. In short, as the rider’s mass and power increases, the drag he must overcome increases, but much more slowly. Hence, given two equivalent riders, the bigger one will have an easier time overcoming drag.

Before you start thinking, “Why is so-n-so a fast time trialer? He is not big.”  Remember, we’re dealing with equivalent riders, and NOT considering training, bike set up, or genetic freakdom.  There is a lot more to being a fast time-trialer than size. I am simply pointing out that in cycling size does matter.

Why do I suck at everything?

After posting “why little guys suck at time trials,” and “why big guys suck at climbing,” a guy comes up to me and says, “I really liked your blogs, but what I want to know is why I suck at everything.”  I looked him over, and as gently as I could stated, “Your Daddy was a pansy.  Your Momma was a pansy.  They had sex.  And now you’re a pansy.”

OK, so maybe I didn’t say those words exactly.

However, it does bring up an important point: Genetics play a role in our abilities to ride a bike fast.  It is certainly not all about training.  The fact is, we can train harder and smarter, but there will always be people who go faster than us.  AND, if they are dedicated (as you know almost all bike racers are), then they too will train harder and smarter.   Hence, insofar as fitness preparation, goes things tend to equalize in this tug-of-war.  But genetics remains on their side.

Of course, those of us lower on the evolutionary scale can make up some fitness differences with tactics and tools.    Tactics can play up to a 30% role in the right conditions, and almost nothing in the wrong conditions.  Key here is to out-smart, and out-play the competition.  (Contrary to popular belief, this is not as simple as sitting in and sucking wheel.)  Tools (bikes, parts ‘n stuff) can also play a role in helping us perform better.  If we lump race preparation and hydration in the tools category, it plays a much larger role.

I am not saying that the genes that control the body’s physiology will determine the ultimate winner of every bike race.  I am saying that in the real world, where the participants are equalizing the other factors, it is the few that we cannot control that gives select people the edge.

Do not lose heart.  So long as I am doing my best, I actually enjoy getting the crap beat out of me at races.  It tells me that those other guys are doing their best too.  The fact is that winning a race is nice, but does not yield any respect from me. (Actually, consistently winning yields quite the opposite.)  Respect comes when you do your best with what you were given.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Almighty Echelon

For those of us in road and crit racing, echelon is one of the most important concepts to understand.  (Actually, “free lap” and “sag wagon” are two of my personal favorites.)

We all know what a “paceline” is; multiple cyclists riding in a straight line, one behind the other.  Well, an echelon is really nothing more than a diagonal paceline.  (Technically, a paceline is a straight line echelon, but whatever…) The key to the echelon is that the diagonal be moved right or left depending on the existence and strength of a cross-wind.  Let me draw it out for you.  echelon.jpg

Say 5 riders are in a breakaway.  There is a cross-wind coming from their right.  To maintain the most speed and maximize the draft for all the riders, the group should form an echelon so that the tip is to the right, while each rider is back and to the left of the rider in front of them. (see diagram)

Notice that the riders are overlapping wheels.  I know rule #1 in group riding is not to overlap wheels, but to effectively form an echelon, this must happen. Just like a straight paceline, there are problems if the riders are not cooperating, have not experienced this formation, or are otherwise clueless as to what is going on. Consequently, if you are intending to use this tactic, there are some things to consider:

  • With beginning bike racers, don’t use the term echelon.  They will probably think you are speaking French and just stare at you blankly. (If they don’t know the term, for safety’s sake, you probably don’t want to ride one with them anyway. 
  • After the lead rider pulls off (actually rides straight backwards), the second rider needs to avoid increasing the pace of the group.  For the lead rider to get back in line, he will have to go all the way to the back, move behind and to the left of the last rider, and then move up into position.  If the group were to accelerate, this rider may well get dropped.
  • When moving into the lead position, keep a constant rate and move a little to the right.  This enables the entire field to shift towards the wind, effectively opening up a spot for the lead rider to assume the last spot.
  • A larger group should use a constantly rotating echelon.  This is where the lead rider pulls off as soon as he gets to the front.  This forms two lines of riders, side-by-side, and working like a conveyor belt.   Because the rider moving into the last position is protected from the wind from the riders in front of him, the pace can be higher than a single line echelon.

Following are two bonus tips.  These are more advanced - not that they are hard to understand or implement, I just call them “advanced” because it makes you think that you are getting a really good deal by reading on.  Besides, even some seasoned riders don’t seem to understand them.

  • When in the lead position, stay as close to the wind direction as practical.  In the example above, the lead rider needs to ride on the right side of the road.  If the rider were to ride away from the wind (i.e. the left side of the road), then there would be no way for the other riders to line up on his left. 
  • Conversely, if you do not want to echelon, but instead rip the field apart, then absolutely ride towards the left.  As people will not be able to protect themselves from the wind, you and your team can minimize any help the others get from the draft and, in stronger crosswinds, cause the field to split.

Cold weather blows

Trying to be a good eco-citizen (and increase my training miles at the same time) I have been commuting to work on my bike these last 6 months.  Yet, for some reason Mother Nature doesn’t seem to appreciate it at all.  It has been getting colder and colder every passing day.  Here I am doing my best to reduce emissions and she is trying to freeze my ass off!    What’s up with that?!? 

The other day I reached my breaking point.  After a particularly cold day, I figured it was time to take action.  Did I buy an extra layer of clothes?  Hell no, that would only help me stay warm.  What about the rest of society?  Instead, I did what any reasonable person would have done in my situation.  I ran to the bathroom and collected as much aerosol hair spray canisters as I could.  I sprayed them all up into the sky.  After emitting as much CFCs as I had available, I felt much better that I had done my part in creating a bigger hole in the ozone, and hopefully contributing to global warming.

OK, OK.  Before you get your tree-hugging panties in a bunch, I did no such thing.  (Though I did consider it,) I figured I alone couldn’t do enough damage to our environment to significantly affect the weather.  Oh well.  Maybe all us outdoors types can agree to combine efforts to help rip the ozone a new one?  If we time it right, maybe we can make it a little warmer in the winter, and then lay off for a while to give things time to normalize before summer comes around.  Just a thought…

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Why do big guys suck at climbing?

OK, so maybe they don’t suck, but they certainly aren’t particularly good.  We’re talking generalities here people...  If you look at cross-section of cyclists, it seems that smaller riders can climb, larger riders can time trial, and sprinters are sort of a mixed-bag.  Why does this seem to be the case?  I had a monumental thought this morning - actually, a number of thoughts - and actually liked some of them.
Let’s address big rider climbing performance.  We can all agree that climbing performance is enhanced with more power and less weight.  Of course there are other factors, but we’re dealing in generalities here, so let’s keep the problem bound to the major factors.   Let’s start with two identical riders with identical body-mass indexes and power outputs.  As one is magically shrunken to a more diminutive size (no, were not talking about going on a diet here), conventional wisdom would indicate he can climb better, as he weighs less.  You see, the less a rider has to carry uphill, the faster he can go.  However, this does not answer the question of why little guys can climb.  You see, as our hypothetical rider gets smaller, he loses weight, but also loses power.  

We are dealing with two factors, weight and power, which are related to each other.  Since we’re dealing with a ratio here, the logical conclusion one has to ask himself is not, “Why do big guys suck at climbing, but why to big guys have a lower power to weight ratio?”   
Here is where the facts tend to complicate things.  The major factors which work against the small rider are bike weight, and wind resistance.    Bike weight is the same between the small and big riders, so the small rider actually has to devote a higher percentage of his power to carrying the bike uphill.  Also, as a rider gets smaller, he also gives some aerodynamic advantage to the larger rider.  True, as his size decreases his area (hence drag) will decrease, but it does so at a slower rate (remember my last blog: area is squared, while volume is cubed).   And, yes, aerodynamics does matter on climbs, I can personally attest to that.  So where does the smaller rider get an advantage?  I am thinking that they have a mechanical advantage.  Not from the bike, but from the body.

Ever notice that in the sport of powerlifting that the larger guys have a higher absolute power, but the smaller guys can lift a higher percentage of their weight?    Well, it’s true.  Of the elite lifters, smaller guys can bench a little over 3 times their body weight, while the larger ones can do “only” 2.7-2.8 times their weight.   (Back when I was lifting, I weighed 125lbs, but was bench pressing 245lbs; just under double my weight.  This was something that none of my peers could do.)  I have heard that this is due to the fact that individuals with shorter limbs have a slight leverage advantage.  It seems that as a percentage of their total bone length, their tendons tend to connect slightly farther from the pivot point of the joint.  I don’t know if that is true, but if so, would translate into less work for the muscle to accomplish the same amount of movement.  This would provide some compensation for the previously mentioned issues.  

I have a supplemental theory.  I think smaller riders tend to be better climbers because of natural selection.  It’s as simple as this:  We already know that smaller riders have a slightly tougher time in the wind. Hence, in order to compete in this venue, a smaller rider must be slightly stronger (relatively speaking) than a larger rider.  Since those small riders tend to stay in the sport, and the ones off the back don’t, once we go riding in the hills, the only small riders that are left tend to exceed the others in a power/weight ratio.  We then generalize that small guys can climb.

Truthfully, I have no idea why big guys suck at climbing.  Obviously, as a rider gets larger, their weight tends to increase faster than their sustainable power increases.  Why that is the case is still up for dispute.