Saturday, May 31, 2008

Swami Saturday in SD

The Swamis Ride in SD is one of the best in California. Try it out if you're visiting down here some day. Saturdays at 8:15'ish from B&L Bikes in Solana Beach. Like all group rides, there are places to go hard and places to chill and chat. Being an outsider, I don't know these places, so I missed out on the two sprints ...not that I'd have a chance anyway, what with the ride full of pros, national champs, and assorted other cycling luminaries.

Well, at least the trees appear to be healthy and well irrigated!

Back at the excellent, cycling-friendly Java Depot coffee/smoothie shop nearby where the ride started, I noticed the nice 2-foot-tall photo prints on the walls, including this one above. The C-Walk legend reaches this far south!


A few SoCal masters riders ventured south of the border recently for the La Vuelta Ciclista Mazatlan including the well-known, pointy-elbowed sprintster shown above. (thanks for the pic, MQ!) Next race, he rides that beast he's on while we all use our bikes!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Serious Inflation News!

Yeah, we've been paying more at the pump and in the grocery stores, but this tidbit from today's WSJ has got me really worried now...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mt. Hamilton Classic

That word, "classic", gets tossed around too freely with respect to bike races. If a race hasn't been around for at least 30 years, then it's not a classic. Redlands and Sea Otter? Good races to be sure ...but sorry, not classic. Island View Classic crit!?! Puh-leaze!

But age alone is not enough, just as history is not simply the passing of time. No, to be a true classic, a race has to have stories. Or legends, if you want to be dramatic about it. Among old-timers and cycling aficionados, the mere mention of the race's name should bring forth a flood of memories and images. I suppose that's a blog post for another day, but in my opinion, you can list the true classic California events using one hand...

  1. Nevada City Crit

  2. Berkeley Hills RR

  3. Manhattan Beach Grand Prix

  4. Cat's Hill Crit

  5. Mt. Hamilton RR

That last one, the Mt. Hamilton Road Race, was held this past weekend. The course alone is almost enough to qualify this race as a classic. It starts just east of San Jose, where you immediately begin an 18-mile climb up to the Lick Observatory (pictured here) at over 4,000 ft. elevation. It's not steep, as a bit of math will show, but it takes a toll. Following the climb, you plunge down a twisty and technical descent that inevitably proves too much for some racers. Most years, a rider gets flown out in a medivac helicopter. The annual pre-race speech from the officials includes a warning that any riders who pass under the rotating blades of the medical helicopter will get DQ'ed. Oh, otherwise I'd do it. So after surviving the climb and the descent, you can look forward to a 40-mile rolling head-wind slog to the finish in Livermore. This scenery along this stretch is spectacular if you ever look beyond the wheel in front of you.

Not sure why this profile shows only 55 miles; it's at least 60 and feels like twice that!

Historically, the Pro/1/2 men's and women's races had a KOM prize for the first to crest the mountain, and one of the legends of Mt. Hamilton is that winning the KOM will doom your chances of winning the race. The effort expended to reach the top first will haunt you a couple hours later and most years the legend holds true. Interestingly, last year's KOM winner (Scott Nydam) would go on to win the slightly-less-prestigious KOM jersey in the 2008 Amgen Tour of California!

Anyway, this year thanks to the generosity of KOM sponsor Vertical Empowerment, all the categories and classes had a KOM competition, which was one of several reasons I chose to ride my age group (45+) instead of the p/1/2 as I'd done in the prior two editions. Despite the legend, I really wanted to win that KOM.

I was surprised to see we only had a small field of about 30, but the group included a number known motors from VOS Racing as well as Alto Velo. Plus the always dangerous CX-star Henry Kramer, and former Pro Mark Caldwell, who's won just about every race in NorCal in one decade or another. Also nice to see SB's Karl Weber in the field.

One last smile for my sweetie before embarking on three hours of suffering! Question is, was she taking a picture of me, or Henri to my right?!

Sometimes, some races, you just have an abundance of confidence and it fuels you as much as the glycogen in your muscles. This was one of those days for me. My climbing has been good and I was completely rested, plus I knew the course like the back of my wrinkled, sun-damaged hand, so I figured I'd race from the front. After gradually escalating the pace with a couple surges, and finding that nobody really wanted to play, I attacked hard about three miles in and was followed by only two guys, AV's Kevin Susco and last-year's winner Rick Martyn of VOS. Rick chose to sit on but promised to pull through on the other side, which was ok because he had strong teammates back in the field who would surely help control any chase. So Kevin and I shared the work on the first two sections and we gained a couple minutes on the field, who we'd occasionally see a few switch-backs below.

By the start of the third and final section, Kevin had also stopped working so I decided to try it alone. We were about five miles and 2,000 feet elevation below the top, so I knew that time-wise, the effort would be comparable to climbing OSM and most of Painted Caves, something I've done, oh..., about 1,000 times give or take. Unfortunately, when you're already very near your limit, the cost-benefit ratio of going just a tad harder is not always favorable. So it was that I found myself maxed out and just barely pulling away from this menacing duo. And then it got worse when a few more riders joined them. Normally I love a climb with switchbacks and curves (Mt. Hamilton Rd. is said to have 365 curves!) but when you are being pursued, switchbacks give your chasers ample opportunities to check your status, and mine was that of a big fat carrot. My mission in life became clear: get the hell out of sight. My focus was limited to each single straight-away, burying myself to reach the turn before the chasers came into view below. And then do it again. This was more like intervals than a time trial, but if you are being chased by a man-eating tiger, who cares what your heart rate is doing! YOU JUST GO. Amazingly after a couple minutes of this survival-mode suffering, I was able to pull out of sight, so I started focusing on the big white domes above and settled back down into TT mode.

So yeah, I got the KOM. The solo descent was awkward for some reason. In years past, I followed wheels and got down much quicker. It's a mixed bag--following somebody helps you judge the severity of the turns, but it can also pull you out of your comfort envelope and you might take risks you can't handle. On this day, I was glad to not feel compelled to keep up with Henry or Caldwell, two of the best descenders on the planet.

Once down in the valley, I snagged a much-needed bottle from the neutral feed, and began a potentially lonely trek toward Livermore. All I had for company was the constant drone of the moto official's bike, which unfortunately, was probably about to stall at the speed I was going. At first I was rolling good at 25 mph but slowly my pace dropped in that insidious headwind. The bell was tolling.

With about 25 miles to go, I got caught by Kevin, Rick, Jon Ornstil (also of VOS), and James Allen (Bollo Racing). The official told us we had about two minutes over a chasing group that undoubtedly contained Henry and Mark C., neither of whom I was confident of beating in a sprint. I pulled as hard as I could, and the other guys did too. Mostly. Kevin tried to sit on, but after being taken off the back a couple times, he figured it'd be better to roll through than do intervals.

The miles ticked by until, quite naturally, we started attacking one another on the final gradual descent to the finish. It's a place where a big strong rider could easily dispose a waif like me if he got a gap, so I jumped on the moves as quickly as I could. It seemed as though all five of us were evenly matched and would likely be sprinting for the win. I strategized. Since Rick had won in 2007, I picked him as one guy to mark closely in the finale. Besides, he had the biggest calf muscles. With the headwind, I was also concerned about committing too early. When Jon jumped about 400 meters out, and Kevin slotted into his draft, I didn't panic but instead sat behind James who continued to pull like a locomotive. Sure enough, the gap shrank, and when Rick jumped, I was on him instantly and then slingshotted by all of them at the 200 meter sign. Sprint training payed off, and I held it to the line for my first win in over two years.


...and podium:


Other races:
Just as I predicted, the Specialized Masters Team controlled and won the 35+ race. Maybe they'll post a report on their blog. Nice to see Chris D'Alusio snag the 2nd spot in the 35+, especially since he could have been racing in the 45+!

[add/edit]...and here are blog-post, race-reports from a couple of the top finishers in the 35+... from Dan Bryant ... and from Chris Phipps.

35+ results and podium:

The Pro/1/2 race must have been interesting because Paul Mach, a relatively new rider from UC Davis, rode away from a strong field including Eric Wholberg, Steven Cozza, Adam Switters, and a full roadie squad of Cal-Giant Strawberries. He won the KOM and soloed to the finish!! How does that happen? Either the group behind was having some drama, or Paul Mach is one strong dude. Or both. Chris Hipp has a nice photo story of the race.


...and podium pic (from Hippstar's gallery):

I'm sure all the other events were worthy of a classic race, but this post has gotten too long already and I don't have anything to say about them anyway.

[add/edit] One more thing: I compared Garmin data between 2007 (p/1/2 race) and 2008 (45+ race), starting from the turn onto Mt. Hamilton Rd. Last year, I got popped from the lead group less than a km away from the KOM, and went over in ~1:07. This year my time to the KOM line was ~1:11. I think our piddling around in the first few miles might account for most of that difference. But the times don't tell the whole story. The surges last year on the final section were brutally hard, and my perception of that pain was much sharper. This year was mostly like a TT--not pleasant certainly--but much better than trying to hold on to surges by those pro-type riders. Also, last year I finished in the second group a couple minutes down on the winner (Jackson Stewart) and my finishing time was ~2:50. This year, my final time was ~3:05. (But at least I didn't get DQ'ed this year!)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Training Week -- 5/19 - 5/25


Mon: 1 hr; recovery around Goleta
Tue: 1 hr; Tabata intervals on OSM + a couple sprints
Wed: 3 hr; Reverse Gibraltar loop + a bit extra
Thu: 1 hr; OSM at lunch
Fri: 0
Sat: 0.5 hr; on trainer
Sun: 3.5 hr; Mt. Hamilton RR (1st in 45+)

Total: 10 hrs

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Latest Film from Brian McFlurry

He has combined three of his main interests--computers, Legos, and Star Wars--and he's now a YouTube partner ...whatever that means.

Freaky Friday

Since most of the things on today's to-do list were outside activities, and we're experiencing a freak late-May rain storm, well, I guess I'll blah-blah a bunch of bike blog babble...

Mt. Hamilton RR
It's become a family tradition to visit Gina's parents on Memorial Day weekend, which allows me to ride this classic event. If you are a roadie in CA, then some year you should find your way to San Jose for this race. You won't regret it. (BTW, there's also a crit on Monday if you like that sort of thing.) I'm just doing the RR and this year's edition will mark the 30th anniversary of the first time I raced Mt. Hamilton (as a junior).

I flip-flopped on which category/class to enter, all the way up until BMC's Scott Nydam showed up on the pre-reg list. He won the Tour of California KOM jersey. Cross off P/1/2...

The 35+ race has bunch of Specialized Masters guys, along with a gaggle of other hill killers, and I was tempted to tag along and gather data for a future report on the upcoming confrontation between Amgen/Giant and the SpecialKids (c. Hernando) at this summer's Masters Nationals. However, seeing as the Specialized guys thoroughly dominated last week's Mt. Hood Classic, I might find it difficult to do my research while hopelessly dropped a couple miles into the race. (The course begins with a 20-mile climb.) So scratch the 35+ too...

That leaves 45+, which will undoubtedly be competitive, but if all goes well I should survive in the front group, and maybe I'll even try snagging the KOM prize. I'm sure scrappy old warriors like Mark Caldwell and Jon Ornstil will be going for it also. And then there's Kurt Bickel, a racer whom I've never met but whose reputation precedes him (see this thread on bikeforums, where he's known as Racer Ex). No doubt he'll be trouble... I can't wait!


The Rest of the Year
Then things are a bit unclear after this weekend. I'd like another shot at the Nevada City Classic but that's a long way to drive, and man-oh-man the bump in that course hurts. Really, for this one, I should have been doing anaerobic hill repeats starting a few weeks ago. But for a fan of bicycle racing, Nevada City is unbeatable. I may go anyway.

Depending what's up with my teammates, I'll probably do a handful of the SoCal crit'ish events over the summer: La Mirada, Manhattan Beach GP (NRC), San Pedro, and definitely SLO. Gonna miss the Dana Point Grand Prix since that's the day of Gina's marathon in San Diego, but hoping to make the Swami's Ride the day before.

The highlight of my summer's racing may be the Elite National RR Championship which is being held in Orange County. I've only done Elite Nationals twice before, and neither time ended particularly well. Couldn't make it out of the qualifying heats the first time. I made it into the real race the next time, and even got into the early break that built up a good lead, but when we got reeled back in, the subsequent attacks were too strong and I got dropped. Maybe this summer I'll finally be able to finish the damn thing!

Also hoping to ride some more MTB events, starting with Elings Park in June, and possibly even give the velodrome a whirl or two. It won't take long to find my level of incompetence!

In the Grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side department... I'm already anticipating the end of summer when I can don some running shoes and start training for the SB Half Marathon, followed by an as-of-yet unknown FULL marathon in the winter. I've been secretly recording other cyclists around town who've also foolishly agreed to run a marathon. No backing out... I've got you on tape!!

Monday, May 19, 2008


I'll try Sport class in the next MTB race. My skills probably aren't up to it, but my W/kg shouldn't be in the Beginner class anymore--Sunday was embarrassing. We'll see how it goes next month at Elings Park.

Speaking of skills... You've probably heard it said about some road riders that they are "one with the bike", or that the bike is like "an extension of their body", meaning simply that the rider is supremely coordinated and an excellent bike handler. The best crit racers just have a knack for squeezing through holes barely wider than their handlebars ...while sprinting 35 mph out of the saddle!

Having now watched a number of really skilled mountain bikers, it seems their one'ness relationship extends beyond just the bike. The good riders are also one with the trail. By that I mean, they just know instinctively how the bike will react to all the crazy trail irregularities...bumps, rocks, roots,... the stuff that give fits to those of us less skilled. They waste no conscious thought on picking a trajectory as they hurtle down the side of a mountain, yet they get it right 99.99% of the time. Imagine how complex that subconscious mental processing is, with literally hundreds of tiny body-control decisions being made every second. Subtle weight shifts, feathering front and/or rear brakes, slight variations on pedal pressure, turning the bars a fraction of a degree... all of which allows the good riders to fly down bumpy twisty single track at 30 mph.

I will never get there.

They say that people who swam competitively as kids have a life-long advantage over those that take up swimming in adulthood. Something about the technique getting wired into a young brain. A one'ness with the water that you can't achieve if you start later.

I did ride in the dirt as a kid...
No, that's not me in the picture, but it may as well be. Same time frame, same age, hair and glasses... I probably had a shirt just like that. Groovy. We'd have wheelie contests. Build ramps and see who could jump the highest and farthest. Power slides in the dirt and long black skids on the sidewalks. Love those Bendix coaster-brake hubs!

As the beginning of the BMX era started, circa 1970-72, we'd remove the banana seats from our Schwinn Stingrays and replace them with ten-speed seats. (BTW, only people of a certain age will remember that "ten-speed" was synonymous for a road bike!) And we'd replace the bars with motorcycle-look-alike bars, such as:
...but our dirt tracks were usually smooth and flat (it was Stockton after all) and our biggest obstacles were each other. I didn't develop any skills that apply now to mountain biking.

But this kid will...

Reny Rocks!

Training Week -- 5/12 - 5/18

Good legs all week, sort of like an unplanned peak.

Mon: 0.5 hrs; recovery
Tue: 2.5 hrs; lunch ride + a couple sprints + OSM in the evening
Wed: 2 hrs; OSM-PC + lunchtime OSM
Thu: 1 hr; OSM
Fri: 2 hr; MTB at Elings
Sat: 3 hr; roco ride to 2nd Casitas hill & back
Sun: 1 hr; SY Valley Classic MTB race

Total: 12 hrs

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wednesday Whatevers

Hey y'all! I woke this morning to find the following message mixed in with my normal dose of spam...

Dear Racer,

Congratulations! You have qualified for the 2008 USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships scheduled for July 16-20, 2008 at Mount Snow Resort in West Dover, VT.
...blah, blah, blah...
Hope to see you there! Good luck with your season.

Kelli Lusk
USA Cycling, Inc.
Mountain Bike Events and Program Director

WOW, Thank You Kelli! I danced around the room like a lunatic celebrating my good fortune. USA Cycling must really like me, ...they really like me!! I just knew sooner or later somebody would spot my MTB talent, despite my inability to go down hill faster than 15 mph.

...and then it hit me, "wait, I'm only a beginner mountain biker. It says so right here on my license, and I've only done a single race. hmmmmm..."

So I investigated further, thinking perhaps, just maybe, a few other people might have also passed the stringent qualifying criteria, whatever it may be. A few clicks and I'm onto the USA Cycling site where the exclusive list of Nationals Qualifiers is kept. I drilled down further. Men's Cross Country Beginner 40-49 Woah, holy sheep, I'm devastated to find that 594 other Cross-country Beginner Men aged 40-49 have also qualified for MTB Nationals! Congratulations indeed. Whatever.

Could it be that all Kelli really wants is my $55 entry fee?

OK, since we're on this subject, am I the only one who thinks the concept of a National Championship race for Beginner mountain bikers is a tad screwy? Talk about encouraging sand-bagging! If I were king, I'd also do away with the Sport class nationals. Keep Expert and Pro, that's it. Expert is analogous to Masters Nationals on the road, and Pro... well, you know. Whatever.


But of course you should come out to The Santa Ynez Valley Classic presented by Platinum Performance.

It's gonna be a gorgeous weekend!


And what's up with the weather forecast up in Hood River, Oregon?

Where's all that rain, hail, and snow I remember from my trips to the Mt. Hood Classic? Whatever.


OK, now if you are a big-time bike-racer and regularly look behind you and see these vehicles...

...or for that matter, your logo-emblazoned team car, then you don't need to read any further. This issue won't concern you. Truth be told, it probably doesn't concern much of anybody, but Cookie and I were talking about this the other day, so I figured I throw it out for you too.

Consider Joe, who's in the best shape of his life going into the Bummforky RR, a regional event run by the biggest club in the district. He gets to the venue with plenty of time. Registers, pins numbers on, arranges his feeds, tags an extra set of wheels for the follow vehicle, and warms up. It's a beautiful Spring morning. The race starts and his legs turn perfect circles; today he's got extra wattage and feels no pain, so he attacks and drags away a couple guys. Their move is rocking and soon they've put 3:00 into the chasing peloton. Joe's pulls are the strongest. By far. He thinks he can win this sucka.

Then disaster... Pffffftt...Pffffftt...Pffffftt... the dreaded sound of air escaping his front tire.

His breakaway partners stop pedaling. Instinctively, Joe raises his left arm--left for front, right for rear--pulls over to the road side and looks back. No follow vehicle. He looks forward again just in time to see his former partners picking up their speed. They disappear around a bend and all is quiet for a couple minutes. He flips the skewer and knocks out the traitorous wheel. After what seems like an eternity, Joe sees the field approaching in the distance. Silent at first, then a rising whir of chains, wheels, and wind. As they finally pass by, he hears "Bummer dude!" from some faceless pack-filler in the back. Then, at last, the follow vehicle stops beside him. It's an older pickup driven by an older man, and despite 30 sets of wheels stuffed into the bed, Joe immediately spots his pair. Quick as lightning, he grabs the front, pops it in, and tosses the lame one in the truck. Within seconds he's stomping on the pedals again, chasing the uncaring field off in the distance. Two minutes of anaerobic fury but making no apparent progress. Heart rate at 190, legs burning. He cracks, screams out "F%@&^@K!!", and quits.

Two weeks later, Joe's back at it in the Numnuzz RR. He's lost some fitness so he rides conservatively in the middle of the field. He's relieved each time the pack successfully chases down an attack. No help from Joe today; he's saving matches and hoping for a field sprint. But then in a momentary lull, a strong five-man move pinches off the front. This time nobody takes up the chase from the now-apathetic field. The guys ahead make the most of their opportunity, rotating fast and smooth, and quickly they gain 40 seconds. Joe can't believe what happens next... the neutral follow vehicle--a white Ford Bronco--roars past the group and races up behind the break. And then...

Pffffftt...Pffffftt...Pffffftt... Joe flats again. "F#@&%&K!"

Hey blog reader, wake up!! Instead of the lame fiction above, maybe I should just ask you: Should the neutral support vehicle stay behind everybody, or should it support the riders who are most in contention for the win? What about dropped riders? What if the field breaks up into a bunch of small groups? Where goes the wheel wagon?


Sunday, May 11, 2008

SoCal District RR Championship -- Pro/1/2 and Categories

Today's turn-out was much better! And from this participant's perspective, it was a great day of racing with everything you expect as a customer: on-time starts, safe course, quick and accurate results, and even some neutral feeds. Thank you Bakersfield, Kern Wheelman, and Sam Ames, et. al.

The only thing you could do better is to bring back the Woody course for next year!

Quickie Report from Pro/1/2 Race

In 2007 I got into the early break and despite getting popped eventually, I still managed a 10th-place finish. The effort probably took a year off my life. Worst cramps in memory and untold cell damage from rampant free radicals!

I wanted something more enjoyable for 2008, so both Cookie and I opted to play it conservative and sit in the group for the early going. And a good sized group it was, with about 75 starters rolling out for three laps (93 miles). As per my pre-race comments yesterday, the All-Star Green Giants and the LaGrangian Nation were by far the biggest teams represented, and they quickly established the early break. Now, I can't give you accurate information because I was so ensconced in the shelter of the pack that I didn't even see who went up the road. Eventually I heard it included Jorge Alvarado (LaGrange) and Adam Livingston (Green Veggie Oil). From that point forward, the remaining 15-20 guys from those two teams did an outstanding job of marking attacks and disrupting any meaningful chase. Got to give them due credit. Some strong dudes gave solid efforts (Rigo, C-Walk, Eli, Nat Faulkner, Marco Rios) but nobody ever got far.

Going into the last lap, the 3-man break had 2.5 minutes, but it might as well have been an hour. The field conceded that we were racing for 4th. By now Cookie and I both realized we'd survive the day, so we started putting out some efforts. All for naught as it turned out, and about 30 guys were left for the field sprint. I had an advantage, having done the sprint yesterday, and I knew it was a deceptively long drag slightly up-hill with some head-wind. Best for a waif like me to wait a bit. The fast guys like DeMarchi and Marco Rios didn't even notice the wind, but a lot of others did, and I passed guys left and right as they sputtered out a couple hundred meters early. Miraculously, I managed to once again get 10th place, last money spot, and with significantly less pain than last year. The difference, of course, is that this year I can't even pretend I was in the hunt for a win, whereas in 2007 at least I gave it a go. Oh well, sometimes you don't race to win, but rather just to survive.

Results and Podium:

Did you put your money on Adam like I told you to yesterday?

Women 1/2/3 Results and Podium:

...and I just noticed that the official results are up at SCNCA so you can visit there for all the rest of the races. Nice riding by teammates Smitty, Chesta, and Steve W. in the 3's and 4's in some large and tough fields. Thanks especially to Kim W. for feeding us today, and to Kevin Ryan who handed me a mussette with a bottle and a cold Coke.

Misc. Other Stuff

After more than thirty years of racing, I figure I've seen most everything, but I was wrong. We often race on roads with cattle guards and mostly they're just an annoyance the saps your speed and occasionally knocks out a water bottle. But today I saw something scary. Tom Githens and Karl Bordine (was it Karl?) got themselves caught in a cattle guard on the uphill and the front wheel on each of their bikes got stuck sideways between the bars. Bikes and bodies flipped right beside me as I scooted by. Karl rejoined but I never saw Tom again. Let's hope he's okay as he's signed up for Mt. Hood with the rest of the LaGrangians.

Also sorry to hear that C-Rancher Brett went to Bako and had an unfortunate crash on the descent. Get well soon Brett, and buy some Tagaderm!

And finally, not provoking an argument here (really, I promise) but I'm curious why so many riders decided not to race in Bakersfield this weekend. We had a strong local showing last year but the SB group was much smaller this year. I'm really just wondering why. I spent some time talking to Sam Ames, the main man behind this race, and we were lamenting the turnout (Saturday mostly; Sunday's fields were good). He's genuinely interested in making it a great weekend of racing that attracts big fields. What must he change?

Training Week -- 5/5 - 5/11

Didn't recover from last Sunday until about Thursday afternoon! Only good training was the weekend of races.

Mon: 0.5 hrs; recovery ride around Goleta
Tue: 1.0 hrs; lunchtime hammerfest, suffered and got dropped
Wed: 1.5 hrs; Hope Ranchervals
Thu: 2.0 hrs; OSM + 5 VO2max intervals
Fri: 0
Sat: 3.0 hrs; SCNCA district RR championship (4th in 45+)
Sun: 4.0 hrs; SCNCA district RR championship (10th in p/1/2)

Total: 12 hrs

Saturday, May 10, 2008

SoCal District RR Championship -- Masters

OK, before I give you same-day coverage of the District RR Championships for SoCal masters riders, let me rant just briefly...

Why doesn't this race matter to you anymore? Yes you, the masters-age reader who didn't make the trek up here to Bakersfield? Way back when, oh say, 20 years ago, most racers geared their entire season around this race, identifiable with a single word: Districts, or States. It was a big deal, and the winner(s) would then wear the jersey in all the races up until the following years' race. When was the last time you saw somebody in a race wearing a district championship jersey? sigh... I'm just an old curmudgeon longing for the old days...

Actually, I think I can answer my own question. First and foremost, in the old days, a rider needed to place highly in the District Championship race in order to qualify for the National Championships. The number of qualifiers depended on each particular district's racer population. A big district like NorCal or SoCal would qualify 20 or more riders in the Elite class (called Seniors back then). A smaller district, say, Alaska, might only qualify one rider. That qualifying criteria ended some time in the early 90's if I remember correctly. Now, Cat-1's qualify automatically for Elite Nationals, and I think Masters just have to be Cat-3 or above. The biggest qualifying criteria now is being quick on the draw to enter online and forking over the steep entry fees!

Another factor that diminished the significance of the Districts was the explosion of new Masters age groups, a phenomena also from the early 90's. When I first started racing, there was just one older group--Veterans, or 40+. Now we have championship groups every 5 years from age 30 until you die. Wanna a championship jersey? Just outlive everyone else.

Bottom line, the Districts apparently don't mean much to people any more. The relatively dismal field sizes today made that point loud and clear. I'd venture a guess that last week's San Luis Rey RR had twice the number of Masters racers, or more. I know the 45+ did.

OK, done ranting, and I must add that some damn strong riders did show up today in Bakersfield. Case in point...

45+ Race -- Another Amgen/Giant Clinic

Two 30-mile laps of a mostly flat course with one gradual stair-steppy climb about half way around. We had around 40 starters, including 6 or 7 from Amgen (Thurlow, Meeker, KK, Peter, Bob, Malcolm, and ?) plus a handful of other teams with 3-4 riders. I was solo again. KK and an Edge rider took off relatively early but never got more than a minute or two, and I was confident a couple of us could bring them back on the second lap if necessary. The problem, of course, was that we'd be working and the strongest guys in the race (Meeker and Thurlow) would be snickering at our stupidity as they rested for inevitable counter. KK's duet got caught just before the line on lap 1, and immediately on cue Amgen's Peter Sullivan took off solo. Textbook.

No offense to Pete, but it was hot and windy so again I was pretty sure we'd bring him back (or go up to him) the second time up the climb ...which is exactly what happened. I started drilling it part way up, caught Peter, looked back to see only Meeker on my wheel. I kept going hard and he came through tentatively, because back 100 meters or so, Thurlow was winding up the big diesel and about to join us. Oh great, this is gonna hurt. I tried to be conservative knowing the punches were about to be thrown. First Meeker went, and I was able to respond. Then Thurlow went, and again I was locked on. Then he eased up and Meeker went again. I tried to stay steady and keep the gap small, but when Thurlow attacked again and bridged up, I knew I was probably hosed. Big Mike Haluza from Edge came up and we tried to get back on terms, but went over the top of the climb about 10 seconds down. Any thought of a crazy hairball descent to catch up was dashed when we rounded one turn to see a big oil truck heading right toward us. From then on, we took it conservatively, and Thurlow and Rich slowly pulled away.

Back down in the valley, with about 10 miles to go, we eased up to let another couple of riders join us. Maybe we'd do better four-vs.-two, and at first we rolled pretty good. But then guys stopped pulling, so it became a race for 3rd.

I felt confident going into the sprint, but it's better to not count your medals before they hatch because when I started to sprint, both quads cramped. Joe Wenninger from Cynergy came by me and got the bronze.

Hobbly Man won the field sprint for 7th. He's coming back folks!


...and Podium (note that KK is standing in for Meeker who, rumor had it, left early to cruise Bako for chicks):

The amazing thing about bike racing, is that in a three-hour race, you can usually look back to a single key moment when the poop really hits the fan, and at that moment, your destiny usually gets set for better or for worse. I wish I had held on to Thurlow and Meeker those last few hundred meters. Realistically, it may not have made any difference in the end, but it sure would feel better now. But hey, at least they didn't sweep the podium this week!

40+ Race -- Louie, Louie, Louie!

Well, I should give a few dudes a hard time for backing out of the 45+ brawl (e.g., Hawk Worthington, C-Walk, and Louie) seeing as we might have had a fighting chance with a combine...

As it was the 40+'ers had their own brawl, and the race came down to a small (5 riders?) break and Louie took the sprint! Good to see CX'er Brent Prenzlow out on the road more and more!

[add/edit] C-Walk told me that he was indeed working for Dave W. on Saturday. What's up with that?

Results and Podium:

35+ Race -- Noble Gets Another One

Mark is really on a roll this year. I don't know how this race unfolded, but judging by the names toward the top of the list, I'd bet it was a cruise followed by a furious field sprint. Those are some fast dudes in the top spots!

[add/edit] Seems my assumption was wrong re how this race unfolded. It was aggressive, and a break had one minute over the climb on the last lap. Noble pegged it and successfully brought them back, after which LaGrange kept up the speed thinking their sprinter Aron could close the deal. He's fast for sure, but apparently not as fast as Mark on Saturday! As always, no promises for accuracy on this blog ...I appreciate the corrections when I get it wrong!

30+ Race -- Just Getting Warmed Up for Tomorrow!

I would have bet my house on Nat Faulkner winning this one. Tough-as-nails Canadian. Wouldn't surprise me if he soloed to a couple-minute victory, but again, I don't know how this one unfolded.

And finally, all I know about the morning races is that Malcolm Hill won the 50+ race in a sprint. Nice comeback from that horrific crash a couple months ago.

Up tomorrow, 93 miles of pain in the P/1/2. I got a sneak peek at the start list, and it's pretty much all the SoCal heavy hitters. Full squads from the All-Star Vege Fish and LaGrange. Cookie and I will do our best, but if you are a betting person, think about putting money on Adam Livingston or Nat Faulkner, with SB's Adrian Gerrits as a dark horse.

Ciao from Bakersfield.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Ready to Bake in Bako

Once again the Kern Wheelmen, Action Sports, and Sam Ames have stepped up big time to promote the SoCal district RR Championships this weekend in Col. Thomas Baker's field, AKA, Bakersfield. Masters on Saturday, Categories on Sunday. They did a great job in 2007 and I'm sure this year's edition will be excellent also. I'm really looking forward to it, if for no other reason, just to get out from under this May Gray we're experiencing here in SB. For the last week or so, the typical day has been overcast with temps in the low 60's. Blah!

Bakersfield takes a lot of heat, both figuratively and literally. Some elitist snobs here on the American Riviera think of Bako as the arm-pit of California, and would never consider it a recreational destination. It was recently ranked as the third-worst US city for air pollution, which does make you wonder about the wisdom of doing long bike races there.

Further, although they probably don't do ranking studies on this kind of thing, I bet Bako would also top the list for the most abundant population of the plant Tribulus Terrestris, or as it's more commonly known, Puncture Vine. This innocent looking shrub is the prolific producer of every cyclist's worst annoyance, the goat-head thorn. They thrive in dry, hot conditions, or in other words, Bakersfield. Perhaps it's time to investigate these SLIME-like tube sealants I've been hearing about.

But as with everything, you take the bad with the good.

"What good?", you ask. I'll tell ya... it gets friggin hot in Bakersfield. I like it hot. I grew up as a Central Valley Rat (in Stockton) and our summers would routinely see a week or two straight of 100+ degree days. You just get used to it. But when it comes to bike racing in the heat, my reasoning is a lot more selfish. Smaller riders, such as yours truly, have a larger ratio of surface area to body mass, which means their ability to cool is greater. I need all the advantages I can get and this is a biggie. Thinking back over the years, I've done a lot of championship races in Bako in the heat and they've all worked out nicely. But maybe not so lucky this year, because...

...waah, waah, waaaah... Teammate Cookie and I don't have a feeder for the 93-mile p/1/2 race on Sunday! We will beg, grovel, and plead with people in the morning, but if we strike out, then there's no way we'll have a chance at finishing. Not in the Bakersfield heat. Even if it does happen to be my birthday. Hey, if anyone out there in the blogosphere is going to be there and wants to do us a solid, well, I will use my birthday wish to grant you a boat-load of good karma! That's a good offer!!

Monday, May 05, 2008

San Luis Re.....

Before spewing forth a race report or two, let me apologize for the blog draught here last week. That damn 20 hrs of work is killing me :) and it seems the place I borrowed some of the hours is from recreational computer time, including reading/writing blogs. I don't want this thing to die, so I'll make a stronger effort from now on, beginning with the long, boring, self-centered race report that follows.

I wasn't sure of a theme for this report, so I'll try a few on for size.

San Luis Re...gistered in two road races, 45+ and pro/1/2. No, I didn't mistakenly think it was a crit. The schedule supported this crazy notion: 46-mile 45+ at 7:30 AM and 81-mile pro/1/2 at 1:00 PM. I had two years in a row of top-10 p/1/2 finishes here, and this year was not likely to be a third, so might as well try something epic instead. Besides, when I saw one particular name entered in the 45+, I couldn't resist giving it a go.

San Luis Re...spect is how I feel about pretty much everyone in the 45+ group here in SoCal. That ultra-aggro mentality of the 35+ scene doesn't exist so much here. I guess we grow up by age 45. Not saying 35+'ers aren't cool too--they are--it's just that the 45+'ers are my peeps. Good folks across the board, and strong riders too. None more so than these dudes:

L-R, David and Roger Worthington. Over the last ten years, they probably have 100+ wins in California. They race tough and smart, and it's a rare day that you can shed either of these boys.

Strickie: 7'0" of knees and elbows. He may chop you in a sprint, but in a nice way with a smile on his face.

Louie Amelburu owns the 45+ road races in SoCal this year, and has earned enough in prize money to purchase a luxury motor home for traveling in style.

And lots more dudes too who I didn't take pictures of. Point is, it's a privilege to race with this group and I hope to do it for years to come.

But still...

San Luis Re...venge is sweet, if not a tad immature. OK, I admit it, when I saw Roger Worthington signed up in the 45+ I knew that race would be my focus.

Some background: I first met Roger in 1996 at the La Mirada Grand Prix. I had just bridged up to a break containing him and another guy, and we motored away from the 35+ field. Now Roger is not an attractive rider. Legs splayed outward, feet pointing at awkward angles, pelvis radically askew, his back contorting with each pedal mash. Your basic troll humping a bicycle. But bike racing isn't about style points; it's about where you cross the finish line relative to your competitors. And this Roger did better than almost everyone. Road races, crits, and TTs. He ripped them all up. And just for kicks every now and again, he'd win a big time cat-2 race like Sea Otter or Valley of the Sun, cackling all the while at the 20-something pro-wannabes eating his elderly dust.

...but I didn't know all that at La Mirada, and I figured he was just some dufus who'd finish behind me in my glorious victory. 'twas not to be... Rog won and I was 2nd, ...thus began a string of many, many races where Roger would finish in place "N" and I'd finish in "N+1", and it didn't matter if "N" was 1st or 61st. One year at Mt. Hood, he and I were both bonked out of our skulls in that old final-day road race with a few kft still to climb. We took the better part of an hour to complete it, and the entire time he was ahead of me by only 10 seconds. I turned myself inside out trying to reach him. Alas, after nearly four hours in the saddle...

17 535 Roger Worthington Labor Power 3:47:24
18 507 Mark Fennell Simply Fit / Action Sports 3:47:30

But the time I remember the most was the 2002 San Luis Rey RR where just he and I were together at the end behind a three-man break. We had a long two-up sprint, and with ~100 m to go I was moving up along side him on the left. If you know the SLR finish, then you know that's where the cones are, and Rog introduced me to them up close. Not blatantly of course, but that was the sheltered side and I tried to squeeze by and he shut the door, just like I would have done if the situation was reversed. So he got 4th and I got 5th. But here's the thing, afterwards he told me, and I quote, "I had to beat you in that sprint, otherwise my teammates would never let me live it down..." Translation: you're such a sucky sprinter that there was no way I'd let you beat me.


OK, enough background. Rog took a couple years off and had hip surgery, but when he hinted about making a comeback in 2008, I set a goal for myself of ending the "N" to "N+1" trend. So yeah, when I saw him signed up for the SLR 45+ race, I got a tad motivated ...even if his new moniker is Hobbly Man, and no longer Max Kash Agro.

The SLR 45+ race: big field, 60-70 guys, with strong teams from Cynergy, Simple Green, Edge, UC Cylcery, and Amgen/Giant. Plus a solo Louie. I put pressure on the climbs, along with Louie, KK, and Dave Worthington. The point was not to get away; the hill is too short and a lot of 45+ dudes are rather large and would probably catch us on the screaming descent. Rather, the point was to take some punch out of the sprinters legs. By the last lap, the front group was down to ~20, and included all the contenders. Plus Roger lurking in the back. Final few miles up the gradual stair steps, and Louie got away clean. I could probably have bridged up, likely towing 5-10 guys along, and then neither Louie nor I would win. But I figured it was up to the teams to do that job. Normally I wouldn't race for 2nd, but we solo guys have to combine now and then. Besides, you-know-who was moving up getting ready for a sprint like the old days. I locked onto his wheel and fought off a couple like-minded cling-ons before Strickie knocked me off clean. That's cool, I knew he'd be in the action too. KK started the sprint long and fast, and there was the usual chaos as guys sliced and diced. The surge was on both sides of me when Roger bolted to the right. Inexplicably, like a gift, Stricky moved left and opened a gap that I squeezed through (perhaps chopping him in the process) and so I found myself side-by-side with Roger and 150 meters of open road to the line. This is exactly what I was hoping for, and I made the most of it, accelerating past and staring at him all the while. Aaahhhh!! Revenge. I love and respect the guy, but this was sweet...

San Luis Re...covery was key seeing as I had another longer, harder road race in three hours. Kicked back in the van, ate a couple pounds of gruel, and gulped a half gallon of V-8 and Cytomax, in anticipation of the afternoon's heat. That turned out to be a mistake as I...

San Luis Re...gurgitated a bunch of the V-8 and Cytomax during the first couple laps of the pro/1/2 race. And the rest of it apparently went straight to my bladder which led to...

San Luis Re...lief was HUGE when I stopped at the porta-potty on Lap 4 for a much-needed pee break. When I was younger, I could pee off the bike with minimal mess. As a 46-year-old... let's just say the starter is not as quick, and the stream is not as strong.

San Luis Re...peats as I was solo off-the-back (dropped from weakness, not from the aforementioned pee break) I couldn't help but think how ridiculous it would be to ride four more laps alone in the wind. Interestingly, the absurdity of the situation actually motivated me to press on. I was hoping for the Lantern Rouge!

San Luis Re...jected by the officials when I begged them to let me finish on the leaders' lap. I got caught by, and subsequently sat on, the winning three-man break of Clinger, Ben Brooks, and Adam Livingston. It was cool to see them all taking their turns despite obvious suffering. For context, these dudes did 80 hilly and windy miles in about 3:10. So I was lapped and tried to apply the crit rule of finishing on the leaders' lap. No dice.

San Luis Re...sult after struggling on my 11th lap of the day, and 126 miles, I finished 30th, and didn't even earn the Lantern Rouge.

San Luis Rey Road Race. One of the best in Southern California.


Some more randoms from SLR

Congrats to new teammate Seth who solidly stomped on the cat-4 field at SLR. He rode the final lap solo and held on for a 10-second victory. Steve Weixel also rode strong and was looking for a good finish before dropping his chain at about the worst possible time (just before the descent).

Prof Smitty hung tough in the 3's and finished top-20 in the first group.

Cookie rode aggressively in the P/1/2 and made his way into a three-man chase group with DeMarchi and a LaGrangian but all that work took its toll and he's not stupid enough to ride any more laps solo in the wind.

Huge thanks to Kim, Steve, Seth, and his GF for hanging in the feed zone to help out Brian, Smitty, and me in the afternoon. Gotta repay you some day.


There were two big crits in CA on Saturday. Cat's Hill up north, and Barrio Logan in San Diego. Specialized Racing Masters Team swept the 35+ podium up there, and Amgen/Giant swept the 45+ down here. When is the show-down?


Finally, lest you think that all M-Dubb ever does on a bike is rip people's legs off on SB group rides, here's photographic evidence that he actually did a bike race this weekend (that blurry rider in the corner is him racing the p/1/2 event at Cat's Hill on Saturday)...

Training Week -- 4/28 - 5/4

Just like in school... cramming at the last minute to make up for slacking off earlier.

Mon: 1 hr; OSM, 90% into headwind (16:30)
Tue: 3.5 hr; roco ride, hard efforts on Bates & polo fields
Wed: 3 hr; OSM + PC hard into headwind (42:00) & Hope Ranchervals
Thu: 1 hr; OSM full gas (14:47)
Fri: 0.5 hr; recovery around Goleta
Sat: 3 hr; roco ride to base of Casitas, tempo
Sun; 6 hr; San Luis Rey RR, 45+ (2nd) & P/1/2 (30th, second to last finisher)

Total: 18 hrs