Saturday, July 31, 2010

A tale of two rando rides [out of Olympia, Washington]

100k (July 8, 2010)

When Paul (Dr. Codfish) Johnson described the Seattle International Randonneurs' populaire on July 8th as a good introduction for non-initiated friends to the sport of randonneuring, I thought, "Hmmmm. Maybe Amy could take her recently-acquired Surly Crosscheck on a 62-mile romp through central-Western Washington." Never mind her longest ride to date had been about 10 miles, and that she dislikes hills with a vengance. At least now she had a bike better suited to this sort of adventure than her garage-sale Huffy.

We arrived in Olympia on that Saturday morning just in time (sort of) for Paul's pre-ride announcements in the parking lot of Olympia's Fish Tale Brewery. Once the ride commenced, Amy and I promptly took our places "off the back" from stream of 40-some-odd riders. A few early rollers had Amy wondering if this was really a good idea.

cookies in rainier, wa
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
The first contrôle was in the small, smelly town of Rainier. WA. Amy and I got our brevet cards signed at a little cookie shop (the shop was small, not the cookies), and Amy considered hanging out there for the rest of the day while I would continue to the finish, then go to fetch her. But fortunately, she continued on instead.

This 100k ride was relatively flat (especially by SIR standards), but the ensuing hills did not agree with Amy's respertory system. It was like an athsma attack would happen every time the road angled upwards

encouragement ...
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

The half-way point was at the Skookumchuck River dam, where John Vincent and Millison Fambles manned the controle. Amy was hoping to catch a ride from one of them back to Olympia, but instead they encouraged her to continue, saying the worst of the hills were over. In the meantime, fashionably late starters Robert Higdon and Jane Hudson arrived!

Amy's actually a strong rider when the terrain is flat. And when she gave herself "permission" to walk her bike up hills, things went fine. We leapfrogged Robert and Jane, then donned "Cyclos Escargot" jerseys at the Scott Lake Store contrôle (~10 miles from the end). We took off before Robert and Jane, thereby making it likely they would receive "lanterne rouge" honors.

robert and jane
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

Nice welcoming crew outside the Fish Tale Brewery. Amy ended up pleased that she stuck with it through the end. 'Twas quite an accomplishment for her first rando adventure. In retrospect, I wished I had ridden a fixie (as Robert did), but of course didn't think of it in time.

200k (July 22, 2010)

The brevet two weeks later also started in downtown Olympia, in nearby Sentenial Park, and headed almost due South. I was able to latch onto some relatively fast pacelines most of the way to Centralia (averaging nearly 18 mph!), and didn't linger long at the first controle. The route continued on Alpha-Centralia Road (which was also part of the SIR 600 route 14 months earlier), then South to Mayfield Lake and Mossyrock.

don and elaine ...
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

By that time, my average speed had crept down to 16 mph (still good by my standards). Warm weather created a large demand for ice there at that mid-way controle. From there, the route continued back West-Southwest to a rural-intersection info contrôle, then up to Chehalis, Centralia, and finally Olympia. I rode mostly solo for the remainder of the brevet. And even though my average speed continued to decline, I kept pushing. I wanted to break the 10-hour barrier for the first time on a 200k, which was made more difficult, not only by the heat, but by the fact that this ride was actually 213 kilometers (which I didn't realize till North of Centralia). It was also made more difficult by leg cramps that occured around 90 miles and again 110 miles. After walking them out and then continuing, I finally arrived at the Fish Tale Brewery. "Did I make single digit hours?," I asked organizer Josh Morse. "Yes," was the answer. My time was 9 hours and 57 minutes. Average speed: 13.5 mph.

Seems like I'm doing a lot of Seattle International Randonneurs rides lately instead of ones put on by the Oregon Randonneurs. Trust me, it's just timing and scheduling (juggling work, tango and velodrome events). But it also means that my next 300k and 600k will happen North of the state border.

Rest of my SIR 100k Populaire photos are here on Flickr.
Rest of my SIR 200k Brevet photos are here on Flickr.

Monday, July 12, 2010

rough around the edges

A report on my first 6-Day races at Alpenrose

About a month or so ago at the local velodrome, I naively asked my cycling coach (who primarily works with track racers) if there was gonna be a novice category for the upcoming Alpenrose 6-Day races. (The centerpiece of the 6-day is the madison, a two-person-team event that involves hand/arm slinging your partner around the 45-degree banked turns of the track on alternating laps.) Rather than give me the concise and later-obvious answer of “No,” Brian offered to be my partner.

After a couple sessions of practicing madison exchanges, we showed up (along with 12 other teams) at the Alpenrose Velodrome on Monday evening, June 28th for the 1st day madison pursuits. These timed pursuits (with two teams on the track at a time) established a ranking which was used to group riders into categories. As it turns out, there was an A group (fast boys with qualifying times within seconds of each other), a B group (all of them faster than me), and a Women’s group (all 8 ladies students of Brian). That evening’s pursuits were followed by the week’s first madison. We survived! … cleanly making most of our exchanges. And I went home thinking that Brian was going way beyond the call of duty as a coach.

cat B exchange
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
The 2nd night of the 6-Day started with a couple omnium events for each group before their respective madisons. One of the races for the B’s was “point a lap”, which is really not my thing … racing against 9 other faster guys who are motivated to finish each lap as quickly as possible. I remember yelling up to Jen Featheringill (who was in the stands) something about not knowing what I was doing here, and she’s said “You’re there to suck wheel!” During that evening’s B madison, I remember being passed on the inside by one of the Godfrey brothers on the final approach to the finish line. ‘Twas kinda like being on an L.A. freeway.

The 3rd night was kinda like the 2nd … two mass-start races for each group before the final madison. For the first two races, I basically tried to simultaneously go fast while staying out of people’s way. And during the madison, there was one time when I was in a crowd of multiple exchanges that felt a bit dicey. But things basically went okay.

Nights 4 and 5 (July 1st and 2nd) were rained out, so Saturday’s start time was pushed up an hour so racing could begin with an additional (and rather memorable) morning madison. About 3 or 4 laps into that first “B” race, my front tire slipped in turn one, and I was suddenly down. Not only that, 3 other riders fell as well, including my coach. Whistles blew, and I somehow moved (too quickly, according to Luciano Bailey) to the infield, not knowing if I was okay or not. Turns out all my limbs still worked. Brian, however, had a messy broken finger, for which he stayed amazingly un-phased (even smiling at times) while it was treated. My turn in the medic’s chair was next, and I more-or-less assumed that my 6-Day was over. (Everything I thought was “more-or-less” at that point.) After my more obvious abrasions were treated, Bike Central mechanic Dean came over and told me my bike was ready to roll. I asked him how damaged it was, and he said all I needed to know was that it was rolling straight and ready to go. What I learned later is that Brian had asked Dean to put a new rear wheel on my bike, cuz he wanted me back on the track. This also meant that Brian would be riding again, as I sure as heck wasn’t gonna be doing the final 45-minute madison without him.

Turns out my helmet was cracked, so I borrowed team-member Emily Charbonneau’s for the next B group (mass-start) race. Don’t remember what kind of race it was, except that it was a relatively short one of 10 laps.

And then the final madison … this one 45 minutes long! Brian and I finished, although during it we had to alter our exchanges so that I pulled on Brian’s left wrist rather than his hand. I missed a couple of exchanges, but was most bummed on the two laps when Brian took off like a bat-out-of-hell (he is a master sprinter) and I wasn’t ready in time for the subsequent exchanges.

Brian was amazingly upbeat and cheery through the whole day’s events, even though I knew he was riding (and coaching) though considerable pain. He’s gotta be the most tough-as-nails guy I know. But on top of that, he’s also always strategizing and thinking big-picture.

post race conversation
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

Brian’s assessment while cooling down after our last race was that I was “a bit rough around the edges”, but that I did well. About the crash, he said that I was probably going a little slow in turn one, and that when I made a little steering correction, the wheel slipped. At the end of the day (after the A group’s final one-hour madison), Brian asked what I thought about the 6-Day, but then quickly added that it would probably take a week of processing to come up with an answer. Well, that was nine days ago, and I’m still not sure. I do know that the 6-Day became as big a deal as the 1000k rando ride three weeks earlier, even though it’s at the total opposite end of the cycling spectrum.

Another memorable impression from the 6-Day is how kind and encouraging several of the B riders were afterwards. Of those, Eric Nachtrab of Portland Bicycle Studio was particularly friendly all week long.

Brian had said earlier that one always comes out of a 6-Day a better rider than before. I hope that’s true. But I also know by bike handling skills still have a lot of room for improvement (as does my still under-powered motor).

As I write this, the bruise on my left waist and hip area is still sizable, and the abrasions on my right side fairly sore. But getting in and out of a car (or in and out of bed) is finally getting easier. Ironically, pedaling hasn't been a problem. In fact, a leisurely 100k ride last Saturday felt just fine.

Big congratulations go to teammates Camille Hook, Heather VanValkenburg, and Zak Kovalcik for impressively winning their respective categories at the 6-Day races.

More photos by my friends Amy and Michael from the last day of the 6-Day are here on Flickr.