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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Training Ride

I put in a tough training ride on Saturday, by riding the mountain bike from Martinez to the top of Mt. Diablo by way of Shell Ridge Open Space and the labyrinth of fire roads and trails crossing Mt. Diablo State Park.

Looking up a recently fire blackened slope toward the sun just about to crest over the ridge.

I've ridden this route in all its various segments before, but never put them together into 1 ride.

I'm not sure of the distance. It must be around 40 miles, but since the mountain bike doesn't have a computer – I really don't know. Total elevation gain must be around 5000' – 6000' but again, I could be way off. It's no less than that for sure.

As I was coming into Pleasant Hill on my ride across the valley, I met a gentleman headed to work on a steel framed bike made by a local shop called Rivendell. Having an interest in steel bikes, we chatted about that and commuting by bike in general. Our interaction was brief as he was soon at his destination, but I got the idea he was no stranger to moving about on 2 wheels. I pressed on and made it to Shell Ridge by 7:55 – 5 minutes ahead of my schedule. Sweet.

Just inside the park the long sleeves came off and I began the rolling climb up toward the mountain. Near the Old Borges Ranch trail I paused to remove a bag of Sport Beans (left over from the Death Ride) from my Camelbak and was passed by another cyclist. Half the bag went down the shaft and the other into my pocket and the pursuit was on. I had him by the top of the next climb, and passed him as we swung around the corner and looked into the next valley. Down the valley with him now in pursuit, and then back up a steep narrow section with both of us breathing harder than we had planned. One more down and up, and I was holding the gate for him to follow through into what I consider the start of the Mt. D. State Park area.

We looked at each other grinning and panting for a moment and then bumped fists acknowledging solidarity and comradery in the universal "guy" language. Over the next couple of steep miles we discussed the Tour de France, local trails, and (what I had already noticed) that he was a road cyclist unaccustomed to mountain biking. I gave him a few second hand tips which he immediately put into use to my great pleasure and his benefit. The only problem with having a friend to ride with was the fact that he was only out for 2 hours and notably strong. His pace was killing me, and I wasn't about to get dropped. In a way it was with relief that he called off the ride along the Ridge Trail, and turned back toward Pleasant Hill for his 10:00am appointment.

I slowed my pace a little and settled in for the long climb up the winding trails on the south west side of the mountain.

4 coyotes monitored my advance as I approached the helicopter pad on South Gate Rd. They didn't look like the typical scraggly vermin seen pulling carrion from the roads either. They were rather solidly set with shining coats, and keen eyes. The company frankly made me a little nervous and I decided not to stop for pictures.

Just above the Ranger Station at a small picnic area, I took my first real break, refilled a water bottle and ate some of the nuts, chocolate chips, and raisins mix I had been melting in my pack. 10 minutes later it was back to the trail. The stretch of the Summit Trail above the Ranger Station is in my opinion the hardest of the entire ride. Summit Road, which I'm very familiar with on my road bike, rises relatively steeply as it passes the same picnic spot, and takes nearly 1 3/4 miles to intersect the trail again. The fire trail doesn't wind or meander, but cuts straight across and climbs the same distance in about .7 miles. Add to that the full strength of the sun now unabated by trees or cliffs, and I was more than ready to intersect with the main road and ride the balance of the climb with the "roadies." (The majority of the trails on the south side of the mountain beyond that point are for hikers only. The threat of a $200 ticket keeps most cyclists honest) I did take some measure of satisfaction passing a few road bikes while astride my obscenely heavy and inefficient mountain bike. One that passed me however, was another Rivendell. I've only heard of them before, and now 2 in 1 day. Strange.

The top came just after the cramps in the hamstrings of my right leg. Yow, it's been a long time since I felt that. Slightly different positioning, some long steep stretches, and a little dehydration must have worked together to zap me with a reminder of my mortality. 2 hours 45 minutes from the entrance of Shell Ridge to the top.

At the top.

The ride down is ¾ of the reason we ride up - especially on a mountain bike. And, bombing down the trails is exponentially more fun than the road. It's also exponentially more work. One can relax a little on the sweeping corners of the paved roads, but a moment's relaxation on the trail could mean a night at the hospital and a month of rehab, not to mention the fun trip in the helicopter.

Looking toward the north west at the trails I would soon be screaming down.

Half way down the mountain 2 mountain bikers evidently unfamiliar with the trails I had just come down, pulled off the road and followed me past Rock City and on toward some of the hills descending toward Shell Ridge. In talking to them, I found out that the more aggressive of them had recently raced Downieville. He called over his shoulder that I should let him know if I wanted to pass. I just smiled to myself knowing that anyone willing to race Downieville, was in no danger of being passed by me. My experience with Downieville can be read here. The other in his company was more my speed and we shared the trail for an intense few miles.

Back in Shell Ridge my pace was notably slower than my ride through 4 hours before. The rolling hills are less abrupt on the return trip, but still there nonetheless.

I finished my ride at the park in Pleasant Hill, where I met the girls for a picnic lunch on the grass beneath a huge pine. I rotated the picnic blankets around the base of the tree to keep the Small Noisy One and I sleeping in the shade, while Bec and Ella played on the toys. Another lazy summer Saturday.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Not on the Bandwagon

It's not news at this point in the 2010 Tour de France that Lance Armstrong of Team Radio Shack is no longer contending for the win, though he did manage to catch our attention at the end of stage 16 in a well endowed breakaway.

The American fans obviously have a presence in France.

It is disappointing though. It's this disappointment that has turned many fans to either abandon le Tour or attempt to abate the disappointment with a healthy dose of guile. "A.B.C" I saw on one web site - Anyone But Contador, the leading contender and rival of all things Radio Shack and American in cycling.

The natural default then, is the next guy with any chance of stemming the tide that is Alberto Contador - Andy Schleck. With so many in this demoralized condition pulling for the young Luxembourger , I fear that I may unwittingly be cast into the same category as the reactionary mob.

I too am strongly pulling for Andy Schleck. His older brother Frank, crashed out early in the tour, narrowing the focus for those of us with respect for the Saxo Bank duo.

However, I've included some links below to solidify my position as being well off the bandwagon of reactionary guile.




I don't know if this is Andy's year or not. Only time will tell. But, I do hope he continues to make a good show of it.

Oh, and by the way - I predicted that Armstrong would be contending with Contador for the win in the last stage of this year's Tour. I was wrong.
There I've said it.

My new prediction...

No way.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Death Ride 2010

I'm torn as to what to write about today.

The title leads into 2 topics that are forefront in my cognitive meanderings.

1. The death ride for Lance Armstrong's chances in the 2010 Tour de France (and additionally his cycling career) during Sunday's stage 8 in the mountains of France;


2. The 2010 Tour of the California Alps - Death Ride, with which several of my friends and I filled this past weekend.

I suspect I have nothing to add to the myriad of missives now swirling through cycling publications and web sites announcing (some with glee and others with mourning) that arguably the greatest cyclist ever has been dropped from the list of serious contenders in the Tour de France - forever.
Enough of that for now. But I will certainly come back to this in the days and weeks to come.

On to far weightier cycling matters...

The Tour of the California Alps - DEATH RIDE 2010

The 2010 Death Ride began under a crystal clear starry sky and temperatures in the low 50's. But as the sun and temperatures rose, a spectacular azure sky adorned with a handful of auspicious clouds was displayed as can only be fully appreciated against a snow patched sierra backdrop.

Looking down on Markleeville during my 8 mile Friday night "pre-ride"

Milt and Kevin - Sponsors, Mentors, Instigators...

As typical, Milt and Kevin reserved camp sites at the Grover Hot Springs campground and of those invited, Vince, Steve, Kipp and Mardi, and myself joined them on the Friday evening prior to the ride. Milt, Kevin, Vince, and Steve all shared a site, as their departure time was to be 4:30 am, and Kipp, Mardi, and I shared a site, desiring a slightly later start to the ride. The various groups arrived over the course of Friday afternoon. Meals were eaten and shared, while various last minute preparations were made to the bikes, and by 8:00 pm, nearly everyone was turning in for a short night.

Mardi and Kipp

The calm before the storm

First and only flat of the ride - happened to Kipp the night before. Good timing.

I awoke to a bear opening the bear vault that stored our food - or wait, that must have been Steve retrieving his cooler around 3:00 am. (The bear vault at their site was too small for the immense amount of food and drink that eventually accumulated) I rolled over, as best as is possible in a mummy bag, with the goal of another 35 minutes of sleep, but quickly recognized that as an unrealistic goal. Between my ambition for the day, a fear of oversleeping the alarm, and the cackle of grown men at 3 in the morning, I began rolling up the sleeping pad at 3:15 am. Less than an hour later I was washing up in the bathroom when I heard the rattle of a Ford diesel wrench the reverie and listened as my 4 neighbors pulled out of the campground.

4:15am, 15 minutes ahead of schedule, my truck also pulled out of the campground, leaving Kipp and Mardi heating water for coffee. For many hours I feared that a bleary eyed acknowledgment of existence would be my only encounter with them for the whole event. I never saw them on the course; one renowned for it's social aspects.

Kipp and Mardi would claim to be awake in this photo...

While the 4 opted for an early start, Kipp and Mardi chose an extra hour of sleep, and I was hoping to catch some of the early morning festivities at Turtle Rock State Park, the "official" starting place. The "official" starting time for those not sporting lights was 5:30am, but the light in the eastern sky and the vast numbers of riders already speeding away without lights was proving to be too much for me. At 5:10 am I left the band, breakfast, and portable bathrooms behind and joined the mob headed for Monitor Pass. I still don't know what happens at the 5:30am official start, but there couldn't have been too many there to see it, because thousands were already en route.

Following are some highlights, as a full account would be, well, exhausting and boring. For a full account - come along with us next time...

The beginning of a long day

The climb up Monitor pass was uneventful, though I did find company in a gentleman wearing a "California Triple Crown Stage Race" jersey. He had ridden the 3 designated double centuries in 3 consecutive weekends - earning the right to accept praise and admiration for this feat. We parted ways near the summit, and my descent of the back side was a private exercise in meditative awe.

I should have stopped another 1/2 mile down the road for a shot down into the valley. But as I stood there and took the picture, I could hear the exclamations of the riders going by, observing the same beauty I was arrested by.

These guys (a wrestling team I think) provide a moving water refill on the return climb.

I talked momentarily with Kevin as I finally caught up with him on the 2nd climb to Monitor Pass (#2 of 5 summits). He reinforced his concern regarding conditioning, describing some tightness in his back. I have no idea what happened to him after that. He aspired for 4 summits, but I fear I never saw him on either side of Ebbet's. I sincerely hope he made at least 3. Rumor has it that Milt climbed the front side of Monitor and Ebbet's passes without going down the back sides, and then retired to the campground. He is reported to have said, "I'm not sure why I don't always do it this way," probably with a classic Miltonian grin on his face.

Returning to the top of Monitor on the wheel of the 2 riders at left. They were faster than me, but I enjoyed the "pull" they provided in the last mile of the ascent.

Steve and Vince were more elusive quarry. It wasn't until half way up the first side of Ebbett's Pass that the Jolly Roger jersey of Steve came into view. A quick chat with Steve confirmed that I would have to press on to overtake Vince.

I found V. still sporting his hood ornament.

Having bagged both I was back on my way. But the Ebbett's climb was more than I remembered and it nearly bagged me near the top. I ran out of water - having skipped the last water stop and rode the last 3 or 4 miles on the verge of hitting the wall. Stupid.

Up Ebbett's

After collecting my 3rd sticker I stumbled (partly from fatigue, and partly from having to walk around in impossible cycling shoes) over to the food table and began greedily stuffing my face and washing it down with Cytomax. About the time I was feeling myself again, Vince came over the top and we descended together. OK, not really together, because I can't keep up with his descents right now. It seems he is getting faster, and while I'm not exactly slow, I still can't shake the memory of my last crash. Steve joined us at the bottom for a short break, and then we all headed back up.

I did ride with a helmet, though I seemed to always have it off for pictures...

The return to the top of Ebbet's and then down the other side to lunch was enjoyable, as my tanks were full again. I crested the top and followed a couple of riders around the first few corners. One of them was a gal who knew how to descend, and I followed her past numerous riders for several miles. About half way down I wanted to push the envelope a bit further, so I complemented her on a great ride and then pushed ahead in Vincent style. I survived and enjoyed lunch a little more because of it.

We three at lunch together, and then rolled off to the final climb up to Carson Pass.

I pulled a pace line of riders away from the lunch stop, and then dropped onto the back of the train that had formed and rode hard back to where my truck was parked near Turtle Rock Park. Psychologically, this is the start of the final leg toward Carson Pass. I deposited some extra gear at the truck, and having collected Vince and Steve again, headed down for our "shower" at the Woodfords rest stop. The garden hose shower worked wonders for the first few miles of the Carson climb, but alas, evaporated far too soon.

The top of Carson Pass is just over the left motorcyclist's helmet. Almost there...

The Carson climb is long and grueling if you let it be. It was less grueling for me this year, as I focused on taking it at my pace, and carefully selected the groups I wanted to draft with. I actually made good time, by sitting behind some strong riders, but backing away when I knew I had enough. That was really the way the whole day went. When I felt good, I would jump on the wheel of a fast group going by, and sit in till I felt I was going over the top. I was literally pulled over the top of Monitor by 2 guys going significantly faster than I was comfortable with. The added benefit of sitting in their slip stream allowed me to summit in style, and enjoy comments like "wow they're flying" as we zipped by. (This could be part of why I nearly blew up on the Ebbet's climb though.)

Sticker #5

The top was euphoric as the top so often is. No matter where "the top" is at, and no matter how you got there, the feeling of accomplishment is rarely outweighed by any previous discomfort. Vince made good time to the top of Carson, so we waited together for Steve, as I wanted to document this achievement.

5 pass finishers of the Death Ride
#8 for Vince - 8 years straight, going for 10, then says he's going to pull a "Milt"
#2 for me - 9 hours 45 minutes on the bike, next year under 9 hours
#1 for Steve - Decided he was going to finish the 2010 D.R. a year ago, and did!

In the end I finally met up with Kipp and Mardi. They showed up for the post ride meal just as I was wrapping my burrito in plastic for the long drive home. Seems that early morning preparations went a little longer than expected and they ended up riding behind us the entire day. Though I must have passed them at least twice - likely from opposite directions - we never managed to make the connection. 4 passes proved to be enough for them this year, though Kipp graciously noted that Mardi was good for #5.

I arrived home to my girls around 9:30pm. The fans were thrilled, and had all waited up to welcome me home.

Even the small noisy one.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

On the Tour... After stage 3

If I was only interested in Lance winning the Tour de France in 2010, then I would have reason to be disheartened. But I'm not. Don't get me wrong - I WANT him to win. He rode exceptionally today in spite of a rather ill timed flat. He out rode his team mates who were supposed to "help" him back into the race. He was a machine out there today.

But he dropped into 18th place after comfortably sitting at 5th at the start of the stage. On the other hand, today was a great day for cycling and the Tour de France. Reading the live report on the internet while trying to write proposals was impossible. I finally gave up on the proposals, and pulled up a crummy live video feed with french announcers and followed the ticker.

Stage 3 was brutal, after 2 previous impossibly brutal stages. The terrain and the competition wasn't the problem, it was the course and the crashes. Rain, cobblestones, miscreant dogs, and narrow winding roads brought the peloton to full alert, and even led the race leaders to stage a mini revolt at the end of stage 2 refusing to participate in the sprint finish.

Today the trouble continued as Frank Schleck broke his clavicle on a later section of cobblestone and flat tires abounded (granted - par for the cobblestone course), and all of that as a large percentage of the top riders bore bandages weeping with fresh wounds, and hiding obviously painful fractures.

But the good news is this - All of the real contenders, excepting Frank Schleck, are still in the race, and really not in bad overall condition. Alberto Contador - the favorite and 2009 winner - is sitting back dangling from the top 10, and Lance is 18th at a couple minutes back. And beyond that, some other great names had an awesome day staying above the fray. Cancellara is back in Yellow, Cadel Evans came out of nowhere and now sits third, and Andy Schleck aided by Saxo-Bank team mate Fabian Candellara is no doubt thrilled at sixth after a disappointing opening time trial.

Read the race report on CyclingNews.com, but grab a towel to wipe the sweat out of your eyes first.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Flying Cyclist - Austin, New Orleans

Austin Texas is to cycling, what Florence is to Art. For many cyclists, the only reason for going to Austin, no less Texas, would be for an opportunity to drop in at Mellow Johnny's between pro tours and hope for a glimpse of Lance Armstrong. Granted you won't likely see Michelangelo pedaling around Florence, Italy, but you might actually glimpse Lance in Austin.

Ben, the Flying Cyclist claims not to have seen any professional cyclists during his overnighter in Texas. Unfortunately, the Flying Cyclist doesn't have much choice regarding which cities he rides in. The only real choice is whether or not the bike actually gets to come along. But if you have to get dumped somewhere, then why not in the back yard of the best.

Here is the Austin, TX report...

Here are a couple shots from Austin, TX - taken with my phone so they aren't the best. The first couple are of the plane ride. We had 2 seats out for other luggage so I was able to take my bike without disassembling it - more than can be said about getting it to the airport in my Escort.

The last ones are from the airpark that we flew into north of Austin. In the one showing the airpark sign you can see the ramp behind it, then the runway, then some driveway/taxiways to some of the homes. I could handle that.

The last one shows priorities:

the plane is in the garage and the truck and FJ are in the driveway.

Next stop - New Orleans

Here is the only picture I got in New Orleans. It was taken on the Algiers Ferry. The ferry is a free ride across the Mississippi River from Canal street over to the historic Algiers Point (hence the name I would guess).

As a side note, on the return ferry ride, I was reprimanded by the nice lady from the DOT that opened the gate to the ferry for riding my bike on the ramp to said ferry. I guess that is what the sign meant that said 'Walk Bikes Across Ramp'. It was essentially a metal grate bridge about 400 feet long that was rather difficult to walk on while wearing cycling shoes. So, lest I forfeit my free ride back, I dismounted. As I tripp-trapped across the bridge, my cleat caught on the grate, something shifted, and I heard something splash in the water below - not good. The entire plastic sole that the cleat attaches to had come off my shoe. Fortunately I was able to grab it before more than one car ran over it, but I now had an equipment problem. Could I ride with one cleat functioning and one in my bag or would I forget half way back that the left shoe was not clipped in and take a spill? My answer came as an answer to another question I had asked for the last 15 miles - why did I bring the bag with sandals, shorts, shirt and more? So I changed to the sandals to justify carrying them along. Better than taking a dive on Bourbon Street.

Thanks Ben. Keep us posted.

Oh, and what about a little $15 multi tool to help with those cleats in the future? That would have been way better than compromising your style by wearing sandals with spandex. Next time make sure you have knee high white sport socks if the sandals are employed again.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Le Tour de France - 2010

Well it's under way again.

Fabian Cancellara surprised no one as he blasted the 8.9 kilometers in exactly 10 minutes, to finish in the maillot jaune.

Lance surprised more than a few however, by besting the 2009 champion by 5 seconds and finishing 4th on the day. Contador will have to drift off to sleep tonight realizing he is trailing his nemesis - in 6th place.

But in a tour that is so often determined by minutes among the best, and hours between the others, a few seconds right now may as well indicate a dead tie.

Cancellara will not win the Tour de France, nor is he expected to, but his teammates Andy and Frank Schleck are considered among the favorites for a win, and rode miserably at 1:09 and :57 back respectively. Andy refused comment today, and Frank merely looked forward toward the mountains where the likes of Cancellara will drift toward the rear of the peloton, as will so many other contenders - they hope.