Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bike fits and weak hips

I was finally able to squeeze into the schedule of one of the most sought-after fit specialists in the industry, Sean Madsen.  He's the head Biomechanist/Fit Expert at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, using the Body Geometry fit system that Dr. Pruitt created.  Sean is responsible for the bike fit of over a hundred cyclists in the pro peloton....if you watched them race on tv on a Specialized, he fit them to that bike.

While doing the fit and analysis, it was a lot of fun talking with Sean about the sport and its most famous members.  Hopefully someday he'll be talking to some client about me the same way...but I digress.

First, I will show you the original position:
You can kind of see the little silver globes stuck to me at various key joints/points of interest, to be tracked in 3-dimensions by the infrared cameras at the top of the picture, same as the motion-capture systems used for CG movies.

I'll skip right to the end.  Remember the little "find 5 things different between the pictures" games? Well, let's play.  Drumroll, please, for my post-fit position....

Alright, it was a trick question (sort of).  Those are different pictures, and some things did change (water bottle, the curtain).  But you can overlay the two pictures and I/the bike will stay the same.  He did the analysis and checked all the angles, and decided that nothing needed to be changed with my position from the fit I got from Wenger early last year.

Nothing on the bike changed, but there were issues to work on with me.

In the physical analysis before the fit, Sean found my weakness quite easily.  There are small stability muscles just behind the hip bones on the outside of your leg, and mine are incredibly weak.  It was pretty staggering when he showed me just how weak they were with a simple exercise.  He's prescribed some exercises to strengthen those muscles, and 20 reps under the weight of my own legs has my legs shaking!  It turns out I'm very strong in the up/down/forward/backward plane of motion, but lateral motion...nope.

So why does that matter in cycling?  Well, because those muscles are used to keep my knees going up and down when pedaling and not side-to-side.  Another issue to be sorted is the natural slant of my feet away from my body when relaxed (called the foot varus).  Mine is pretty radical, and needed one varus wedge in the left shoe and 2 in the right shoe (plus the built-in varus in specialized's shoes).

The weak stability muscles and foot varus conspired to make my knees dive inwards during the pedal stroke. Even with just 15 minutes of riding, the system showed some adaptation to the better foot angle in the shoes.  This is the front view of my legs (the dots are the markers on my legs, my feet are the bottom triangle).  You can see pretty clearly that my right knee (left side in the pic) especially had a lot of side-to-side movement, and that it's a much more up-down motion in the 'after' picture.
Here's my legs from above, and again, the right knee shows a lot of improvement immediately:
Given some time, I'll fully adapt to the new position and the pedal stroke will be more consistent.

With my fit done so quickly and easily, we had time to tinker with my time trial position.  I don't have pics of the before and after, but I'll just say I'm lower, further forward, flatter, and generally more aerodynamic without sacrificing power.  Good stuff!

In fact, the next day I won the local Horsetooth Time Trial (for the 3rd week in a row!) by 2.5 minutes with a time of 34:47 on a course that mimics what we'll experience at Tour of the Gila.  I'm excited.  Here I am in action (the camera angle makes my back look arched, but really it's quite flat).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Air Force Academy Race

As a final tuneup race for Tour of the Gila in 9 days, we loaded our team into the van (less Scott, who was getting dirty at Sea Otter) and headed for the USAFA.  The race would have a few thousand feet of climbing in just under 70 miles, with one good climb of about 15 minutes and a few punchy rollers to soften you up even more.

Our plan for the day was to get me and Ian onto the podium, and to see how well I can climb at altitude (the race is in the 7000' range) with the big boys.  Back home, a collegiate race that also had non-collegiate categories would have a pathetic attendance.  Here, the Pro/1/2 field had at least 50 starters with 15+ solid pro's.

Drew jumped into the move that went from the gun, a group of five with 4 really strong pro's.  He would represent us at the front throughout the race so that the rest of us had a free ride.  The winds were incredibly strong (strong enough to blow over a bike rack with multiple bikes hanging from it), and teamwork would be important in the crosswinds again.  Unfortunately, the officials were soft and the centerline was not enforced for the first half-lap--I and a select few others would have been the only ones left had the officials been true to their word.

My race went without incident for the first 4 laps.  I followed moves by some big players that looked promising, but everyone seemed to know it would really hit the fan on the final lap.  The break had 6 minutes at one point, but the winds had surely taken their toll and the strongest were still fresh back in the field.  After the fast descent to start the final lap 5 minutes down on the break, we hit a hard punchy climb with a strong crosswind.  A couple attacks went on the way up, but nothing got away.  At the top, though, Zirbel floored it and I was too far up to see him coming.  Thankfully, Ian could see it and screamed at me to go.  From the urgency in his voice, I didn't even need to see what was coming and started sprinting just in time to jump on the train.  I checked back and knew that we would never see the field again: we had Zirbel, me, Frank Pipp of Bissell, and Chris Baldwin of Juwi Solar.  We had passed Drew, whose efforts in the break all day had zapped him out of the break.

For me, the hardest part was the tailwind flat section after the descent.  Trying to pull through at 43mph and 130+rpm is tough work!  Finally, we reached the climb and I was more in my element.  Baldwin decided to tow us the whole way up, the beast, and we knocked it out in 13 minutes.  The break was still up the road, so we kept the pace up.  At an intersection on the descent, a car was stopped just past the apex of the turn, blocking the good line from us.  I entered the turn at nearly 40mph with Zirbel on my outside, and halfway through I knew he wasn't going to make it.  He made a quick decision to jump the curb and was a good 30 feet from the road at one point.  Finally, he made it back to the pavement and we got going again.  Zirbel and Baldwin led out the sprint, and I jumped too early in the uphill sprint.  Pipp edged by as I faded in the last 50 meters.  I got 6th on the day, and would later learn that we were only 30 seconds behind the leaders.

In all, the race was encouraging going into Gila and Joe Martin, and I'm definitely looking forward to this season!  Full race results when they're published....

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Funny now, wasn't then

Time to take a break from race reports to tell a story that wasn't funny at the time, but is awesome now.

For several years through middle and high school, my brother Shane and I shared a mowing business.  Not a glamorous job, and we caught flak from friends for not getting "real" jobs, but then we told them we were making the same or better money for a fraction of the hours worked.  We both enjoyed working outside and sweating away gallons of water and gatorade a day in the Texas summer heat, and viewed lawn care as an art.  Being of a competitive nature, though, we seemed to always race each other; Who could finish their work first, without making any mistakes?  Our last summer working together, we could finish a medium-sized suburban lawn in under 20 minutes and were doing 20-25 yards a week.  Yeah, $60 an hour was nice.  In fact, that piddly little lawn business has paid for both of our trucks and a fair bit of bicycle racing gear.

Anyways, the story.

Running a commercial lawn business is hard on personal lawn equipment.  Basically, imagine buying one of those rollerskate cars they give away daily on The Price is Right, and driving it like a Le Mans car for hours a day in the summer in Texas, and you can comprehend the life expectancy of our lawn equipment.  Well, when our business really picked up many years ago, we finally killed the mower we'd been using--our parents'.

Naturally, they wanted us to buy the next one.  Something to do with personal responsibility, I think.

The new mower was working out great.  For a month or so.  Then it started developing a quiet knocking sound that got louder over a couple weeks.  Being the responsible business owners that we were, Shane and I ignored it.

Finally, we brought it up at dinner.

"Have you checked the oil lately?" our dad asked.

"I thought you were doing that...I mean, yeah! Of course we checked the oil!" Oops.

We checked the oil. Save for the tiny droplet of black goop at the end of the dipstick, there wasn't any. Problem solved, we just needed to add oil!  And it only needed a quart, to boot!

That same evening, we were mowing our own yard.  We got going, and Shane quickly did the front yard and moved on to the back while I ran around doing all the trim work.  About halfway through, I finally got to the back yard.  As I approached the gate, I could faintly hear the familiar knocking sound our mower had been making.

Something was wrong, though.  The mower sounded worse, somehow.  My mind also registered the cloud hovering over the backyard, rising above the fenceline.

I opened the fence to see Shane mowing the lawn in a full sprint.  His arms were locked straight out pushing the mower, his body nearly horizontal to the ground like he's trying to move a wall. Legs pushing furiously, he flew past me, his face an expression of horror. A healthy motor would have struggled to maintain that pace; ours was billowing white smoke into the air.  You could have covered troop movements in battle, it was creating so much smoke.

You see, the knocking noise we'd grown accustomed to was a result of a cracked engine block.  Apparently, they need oil.  We finally gave it oil that day, which it promptly drained onto the hot engine block in a magnificent final hurrah.

The rush, though, was not out of fear for his own safety or concern that it might catch fire.  No, Shane was in a full sprint because he feared our mom would see the smoke and make him stop before the lawn was finished.  You can't say we weren't committed to our work!

We never had trouble remembering to change the oil after that...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mead-Roubaix Race Report

Mead-Roubaix was added to our race calendar several weeks ago as a race that we could win, and we intended to do just that.  Regardless of any other teams that showed up or pro's/former pro's building up the hype for the race, we knew that Team Rio Grande would be the strongest team there and would use that to our advantage.

In a roubaix-style race, recon of the course is vital.  We rode the course multiple times over the last week, including the day before the race after the final road grading had been done.  Especially with the strong winds forecast for the race, our strategy simplified to keeping the whole team at the front to echelon in the crosswinds and hitting the dirt hard, and hitting it first.  The key, however, is execution of the plan.

Immediately after the race began, Rio Grande assembled at the front; we were the first eight riders to hit the dirt. In the headwind, the pace stayed calm as everyone behind us could draft.  As we made the turn into the crosswinds on the dirt, we ramped up the pace and kept the Rio guys working together as the remainder of the field fought for a spot in the gutter.  The winds were tremendous, blowing the lighter riders sideways across the dirt surface.  Just a few miles into the race, our field was nearly halved as the winds did their work but Rio was still amassed at the front and riding strong.

As we hit the second dirt section, Tom Zirbel surged to blow the field up and succeeded.  Scott, Ian, and I were among the leaders as we turned onto pavement again, with the rest of our team soon to rejoin. The pace settled once more as we prepared for the final, gnarliest dirt section.  Once again, we made sure to hit the dirt first, and Scott made one of the most decisive moves of the race.  With his cyclocross bike and tires (and certainly a substantial amount of power), he rode Zirbel--and everyone else, for that matter--off his wheel as we hit the sand pit climbs.

When we reached pavement again, only 3 riders were left in the "peloton," and I was one of them.  With Scott off the front and the rest of my team quickly regaining contact, I was in a perfect position to sit on and rest up.  Before long, I was once again surrounded by teammates who fought the wind on my behalf.

At the start of lap 2, Greg Krause from Juwi Solar attacked to bridge to Scott, who was less than a minute ahead.  Initially, I followed but then drifted off his wheel as I decided that a coworker would be great to help Scott.  After making contact, they quickly pulled away from the field.  I later flatted in the crosswind dirt section.  Immediately, John stopped to give me a wheel and a push while Adam and Drew were waiting to pace me back up to the group. Just two minutes later, we were with the group as if nothing had happened. John got a wheel from the perfectly-placed team car and chased, nearly regaining contact before suffering a flat of his own (why are there staples on dirt roads, anyway?).

As the race went on, Ian and I continued to make the selections in the dirt and our teammates would time and again drag themselves back up to us to take one last pull in the wind for us.  Just one last pull, over and over again.  Scott remained off the front with Krause, putting time into the field.  My task was to make every selection with the strongest guys in the race and discourage them from chasing Scott down.  Ian and I pulled through in the rotation so that they wouldn't gutter us, but our pulls were slow and half-hearted.

Beginning the third lap, Scott's break was 3 minutes up the road.  This lap was the hardest, as Zirbel pushed it through the dirt to shake me and Ian and catch the leaders.  Ian, whose lighter weight was doing him no favors in the rough dirt, lost contact from our group in the second dirt section.  I continued to discourage the chase efforts, but Zirbel finally gave it everything in the final miles of the third lap.  He had me guttered hard in the dirt and on the pavement, but I could not be shaken loose even despite his repeated attacks.

With 20 miles left to race, we joined up with Scott and the other rider who had been battling the wind and dirt all day.  Jesse Goodrich of Juwi Solar also made it up to us as we soft-pedaled through the easy dirt, saving energy for later in the lap.  I thanked Scott for slugging it out all day, because I was still fresh and knew that the others weren't--this had become our race to lose.  We shed Krause in the second dirt section, but continued easily rotating until it really mattered.

Finally, only a couple sandy climbs and a downhill run-in separated us from the finish.  I surged down the hill towards the dirt and never let off the throttle.  After powering through the second sandpit climb, I had a ten-second gap.  I knew I had the race won, but needed to cement it.  I stayed on the power over the false flat and then blasted down the hill to the pavement and began my time trial to the finish.  At last, I rounded the final corner and posted up as I rolled across the line with my chasers 30 seconds in arrears.  Thanks to the efforts of my teammates, I have never finished a race feeling so fresh and was ecstatic that I could bring the win home.  The ride of the day goes to Scott, though, who after a day off the front was still able to round off the podium with a 3rd place finish!

The dusty roads of Mead did an excellent job of removing our team's sour taste from San Dimas and non-invitation to Redlands, and our efforts bode well for the racing soon to come.

I don't have any photos to post just yet, so I'll probably have a photo blog up soon.  For now, though, here is a video that sums up the race well.  I appear multiple times, so you'll just have to find me...

Here's a 3rd-person race report if you want to verify mine (and it has photos at the bottom):

This report and some photos will also be posted at our team site:

Monday, April 4, 2011

San Dimas Stage 2: Murphy's Law

Stage 2 was a circuit race on a hilly course of about 7 miles.  The roads have been destroyed by the heavy rains of late, with potholes and huge cracks littering the course.  We rode the loop multiple times as a team, not only to get familiar with the big climb, but to remember where the most dangerous holes and traffic islands (road furniture) were located.

I was in an awesome mood that morning.  My legs felt fantastic and I was confident in my ability to hold on to the U25 leader's jersey with the help of my teammates.  We made note of the racers closest to me in the competition, but were mainly concerned with Joe from Elbowz racing, who was only 9 seconds behind in the overall standings and was intent on taking the lead.

The race started quickly, and I immediately sprinted to the front of the field before we reached the narrow part of the course.  We were flying up the King of the Mountains climb each lap around, a moderately steep pitch that takes a couple minutes to get over if you big-ring it.  It hurt, but I was never put in any significant pain.  My teammates did a good job of keeping me out of the wind when we reached the crosswinds, and helping me move to the front before tricky or hard parts of the course.

Not in a spot of bother
Lap 5 of 12.  None of us were surprised to see the Cat. 2 field just ahead, as the promoters had made the poor decision to start them 5 minutes ahead of us.  It only took us 30-some miles to catch them.  Okay, shouldn't be too much trouble, we've all passed other fields many times before.  Oh, how wrong I was....

We caught the back end of the 2 field right as we reached a bottleneck where we all had to squeeze between some park gates while making a turn at the top of a hill.  I was near the front with 2 teammates around me, but by the time we got through the gates I had been separated from them.  No problem, just need to get by the 2's quickly.

Unfortunately, the officials for the 2's race failed to slow them down so that we could get by safely.  So we had two fields racing all-out down a narrow and very twisty portion of the course next to each other.  By the time our race was finally getting by the 2's, it was a half-mile after we'd caught them.  We made the dodgey chicane to cross the dam, and I was going hard to make sure I didn't get split off in all the chaos.

Then  the officials decided to slow the 2 field down, just as we were alongside them.  They slowed so fast that the 2 field accordioned and a crash carried to the left into the path of our field.  The guy ahead of me was fighting to stay upright, and I had to lay down a crazy skid to avoid the crash at well over 30mph.

Finally the road ahead of me was clear and I was good to resume the chase, but I heard the unmistakable sound of broken spokes.  Just need a quick wheel change and then chase back on!  Ah, but I was mistaken; the sound was that of my derailleur broken off and pinging against the spokes.  I needed another bike.  I had slowed too quickly for the guy behind me, and his bike rammed mine and broke the derailleur off.

Something is not where it should be....
My teammates John, Scott, and Chris rolled up to me, ready to help in any way possible.  I needed one of their bikes...and shoes.  I have not yet had my new shoes set up properly, so I'm currently riding my old shoes and pedals that aren't compatible with my teammates' pedals.  So I took Scott's shoes, John's bike, and set off with Chris in pursuit of a field that was now at least 2 minutes ahead and not slowing down.  Scott and John were now out of the race.

Chris and I gave chase and picked up Drew, who was waiting on me.  Drew and Chris killed themselves for me, but to no avail.  We had the help of other chasers, but they were blown off the back of the field and were not of much help.  I was giving everything I had, but it became clear that we would not catch up.  Now the goal was to finish within the time limit so that we could race the next day.  Drew and Chris had given everything, though, and would not make the cut.  I would be close.

As our luck would have it, I finished just a few minutes too late.  Ian was our only rider left in the race because of that single incident, and he was too injured to race the following day because of a separate crash later in the race!

To make matters worse, Adam, our Cat. 2 racer who was in 3rd overall at the start of the day, was eliminated from the race in the same crash that caused my troubles when his cleat broke off his shoe.

So there you have it, the entire team eliminated from the race in a single stage. I'll be hanging my white jersey on my bedroom wall to help me stay angry and motivated.

To make the most of our time in California, we spent the beginning of the next week doing a mini-camp. On Monday, we did Stage 7 of the Tour of California.

The stage has 10,000 feet of climbing in 76 miles
Ever the overachiever, and needing to work out some frustration, I flogged myself and my teammates on the climbs, and then repeated the last bit of the climbs as we waited for everyone to regroup.  At the end of the day, I was the only one with enough energy and gall to take on the final ascent to Mt. Baldy, an additional 1500 feet of climbing in a couple miles.  It was steep enough in the switchbacks to spin my tire on a little bit of sand.  At the end of the day, I had done 12-13 thousand feet of climbing, and was thoroughly destroyed.

I've been longwinded as always, so I'll just leave you with pics of the ride.
Drew taking a pic as we climbed through the clouds into sunny skies

Say cheese, John

The descent down Glendora ridge was so much fun, I just wish we had closed roads!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

San Dimas Hill Climb Time Trial

A week late, but I can remember everything that happened like it was yesterday this morning.

The stage race started as well as I could have imagined.  After my training ride practice-run on the time trial course of 14:30, I geeked out a little bit and calculated my best possible time using the data from the ride to calculate an efficiency coefficient.  By dropping 6+lbs from the bike with a change of wheels and dropping the bottles, bottle cages, saddle bag, and everything in my pockets--and going a little bit harder--I calculated that I could get a time of 13:36.

That time was a top-ten finish last year.  In the back of my mind, I was also thinking Man, it would be awesome to have that U25 jersey, but we'll just have to see.

I was one of the last riders of the day to start the time trial.  Ian had posted a solid time in the upper-13's, then busted it down the mountain so I could use his stupid-light 202's.  The deal was that I get the wheels, he gets the credit.

I started a little bit conservatively--it felt easy but I knew that it was actually harder than I should be going off the start.  I made the hard left a kilometer later, where the climbing really starts, and settled on a pace.  I was fairly certain that the pace was a bit too high, but I liked it then and was going to see it through.

Early in the course (the pain face hasn't set in yet)
I wasn't making ground on my 30-second man very quickly, but then I didn't plan to...yet.  Then just before the half-way point was the switchback that marked the next phase.  Some potheads had painted "420" across the road--conveniently reminding me of my target wattage--and I twisted the throttle another notch.

It was starting to hurt now.  The 30 second man was coming back towards me, and I could see the minute man just a bit further.  I did my best to maintain my pace as I chugged past them, but the road twists so much that I ended up taking the long way around one of them just to get by.

Focused on maintaining the pace that earlier on had felt like a good idea, I lost track of my place on the course for a bit.  I checked the clock: nine and a half minutes in.  Time to hurt a little more, and start twisting the throttle for the final push. I was motivated by the next landmark on the course that had come into view: the last turn.

I finally got around that corner and checked the clock: 12:45.  12:45!


With the finish now in sight, it was time to (as Richard Hammond would say) "give it the beans."  My legs were fighting back and I couldn't breathe, but none of that mattered when I crossed the line at 13:29, besting my calculated possible time by 7 seconds.

I rode down the mountain smiling, and not just because it was a fun descent.

The results were emailed to us on the drive back to the house (pretty cool, eh?) and I was eagerly peeking over Scott's shoulder to find out how I did. 13th place!  And a bit of research later confirmed that I had ridden into the Under-25 leader's jersey.  I had done it.

Our team devised a plan of attack to keep me in the jersey, especially since Elbowz racing's Joe Schmalz was only 9 seconds behind me in the competition and they had announced that they were coming for the jersey.

Check back tomorrow for Stage 2: When Everything Goes Wrong.

In the meantime, check out the team's revamped (and still a work in progress) site!  We'll be posting race reports and other goodies there throughout the season.