“Oh so now my lane is good enough?”

Oct 24, 2009 in Cycling

Today featured the Canandaigua – High Tor club ride of 60 miles in length. The weather forecast wasn’t all that good but after Thursday’s movie (Ride Across The Sky), I was going to ride no matter what.

Even while I loaded the bicycle onto the bike rack, packed the bag with all options of cycling clothing, laid out all the food goodies on the kitchen island the evening before I was still late getting underway. Among others things because I forgot that I needed to gas up the Mini. So a few minutes before 9:30am I was really underway (after collecting the McDonald’s breakfast and filling up the Mini) – not a lot of time to get to Canandaigua. All goes well until reaching the toll gate at Victor and I-90 – because of road works a little traffic jam has developed. While the delay is not huge it is enough to make me late for the 10am start.

At the toll gates for the Canandaigua I-90 exit there are two lanes. I first choose the right one. There are four cars in each one so it was a toss up. However, my lane is not moving at all and the cars in the left lane swiftly move through their gate. So I check the mirrors and change lanes. When it’s my turn to hand over my 20 cents the attendant grins at me: “Oh so now my lane is good enough?”. Guess he’d seen me switch.

Getting to the starting point it is really starting to pour down. Bob Cooper, the ride leader, is there to sign riders in but he’s not riding himself – wise man! I sign the ride sheet through the window of his car. He tells me Jeff and Larry are the other two riders; they already started as I’m late getting here.

I wait out the pour down by making my final preparations – putting on cycling shoes, stuffing the back pockets with all the ride goodies, rain jacket – in the car and get underway when it is just raining.

The first part of the route goes down the east side of the lake so that’s easy enough. Things start to get more entertaining when turning off East Lake Road and getting to the climb up Newell Road. My cycling computer illustrates its sense of humor by recording a 1% incline. I am meanwhile in my lowest gear and struggling to keep my breathing in check. At the start of the climb the Garmin GPS records 970 ft of elevation and at the top 900 ft. Oh the joys of climbing up a near vertical wall in changing barometric circumstances!

The rain has stopped and a few miles further on the fast decline down West Avenue towards Naples the sun comes through. I pull on the brakes – and am reminded that new brake pads aren’t perhaps such a splurch as one might think – to take off the rain jacket. Then a right turn onto Parish Street where near the bridge I nod courtly at a couple of hunters in full camouflage regalia including their rifles. I admit I like my meat but their Saturday afternoon is just about killing for fun and spare me all the self-justifying arguments. Those just remind me of the Japanese and their excuse to hunt whales for scientific purposes. Grrr… okay, okay, back to the cycling.

At the end of Parish Street I resist to just go a little to the right and visit Monica’s Pie shop, instead left towards Naples. A few minutes later I come past the sign that always make me smile: “Welcome to Historic Naples!” As opposed to the one Italy founded, ohh, some 2800 years ago? Nevertheless, it’s a nice little town and the convenience store we always stop at makes a fair cup of coffee. Jeff and Larry are here. Jeff is adjusting some of his spokes. They came loose on the Newell climb. I go inside to get that cup of coffee and a peach pie. It looks like Jeff and Larry have been here a while. It may be sunny now but we’re all still wet from earlier so I urge them to get going and not wait for me.

A couple of minutes later I push off as well. The route takes us up CR 53 and then left onto CR 21. I quite like that climb – one that I’m always able to warm up to after the stop and develop a nice pedaling tempo. Jeff and Larry turn onto Basset Road just ahead of me. I’m lucky because I was so steadily turning the pedals around on this climb that I would have missed this turn off if they hadn’t been in sight. Larry is riding a time trial bike and turning around a big, Ulrich-like, gear. That couldn’t have been easy on Newell and that’s not going to be easy on Sliter Road.

Jeff and I chat a little before I pedal on. The left turn on to Sliter Road arrives and I go almost straight from a 50×12 gear down to 34×26. This time the Garmin bike computer feels more cooperative and enthusiastically reports a 15% incline, then 17%, 21% and even 23%. While I admire the device’s desire to be part of the effort, 23% and even 21% is just not true. No way I turn around a 34×26 gear on that kind of incline. On Newell I had a hard time controlling my breathing. That goes better here but in the second half of the climb I grind to a halt and have to walk up the last 50 meters.

At the summit I get on the bike again, click in the pedals and look up. Oh, lovely, Vagabond Inn is here… This is where Rachel and I celebrated our last anniversary a year ago in August. I believe we both made our best efforts but I think we both knew in the backs of our minds that it was not going to last. One anecdote may illustrate the odds stacked against us. We had brought a bottle of our favorite champagne (Veuve Clicqout) which our host kindly put in the communal fridge to cool. When the evening came which we planned to spend sensually and romantically in the bathtub overlooking the valley it appeared that other guests had taken our nice champagne. So instead of toasting ourselves and sipping our favorite bubbly we did have the long necked glasses but with water in them…

Alright, back to the cycling. I turn right on Shay Road and start a windy, fast decent. A few times there are side gusts that attempt to throw me off the road but I’m not much bothered. On the other side of the valley it’s up Route 364 that the three of us came down on the way out. My legs are still hurting from Sliter and it takes some revelations and fiddling with the gear lever before I find a nice rhythm. The next climb, Bare Hill Road, goes easier.

Dark clouds start to gather above and ahead. They seems to be all talk and no play and so I cruise back to Canandaigua without needing to reach for the rain jacket again.

After loading the bike back on to the rack, changing into dry clothes I swing by Starbucks (Tall Vanilla Latte, please) at the far end of the parking lot before driving back to Rochester.

The curious mind of this cyclist

Oct 19, 2009 in Cycling

curious1.jpgThis weekend featured two rides: circumnavigating Keuka Lake from Penn Yan on Saturday and a 28 mile ride from Black Creek Park in Chili on Sunday. Friday evening at the RBC Volunteer Dinner I queried a few of the fellow fast friends to gauge interest in the Saturday ride. Responses were lukewarm which was already more than could be said of Saturday’s weather forecast: cold and wet. I wasn’t too convinced of the weather either but looked forward to the exercise and was probably going to ride anyways.

Saturday morning it didn’t look too bad in Rochester and the detailed forecast gave a 50-50 chance of staying dry or getting wet. Good enough, I felt, and put the road bike on the back of the Mini. First stop the McDonald’s on East Ave for breakfast number 2 and a medium coffee. Then switched on TomTom to navigate to Penn Yan and cued Tinariwen on the iPod.

TomTom routed me via I-90 and Geneva which is longer but could be faster than via Canandaigua. Coming up to the Manchester exit on I-90 I changed my mind and decided to cut through from there to Penn Yan. This was perhaps a less than ideal spur of the moment. It took TomTom quite a while to give up on insisting I make a U-turn back to I-90 and instead calculate the alternative route. So I lost some time here and I was already short on time to make to the ride’s 10am start on time. Whether it was this, the weather or something else but I found myself in a bit of an odd mood. I became mischievously intrigued in the concept of getting to Penn Yan just a little late so I would miss the group start and ride by myself. Having some difficulty finding the start location in Penn Yan, this plan succeeded in rather a natural way and I pulled into the parking area at 5 minutes past 10.

Looking around it seemed I needn’t have worried one way or the other: I recognized none of the few parked cars so it seemed I was the only one to show up for the ride. While there was rain on the way here, it is now very calm weather. Entirely overcast but very little wind and no rain: the wind jacket instead of the rain jacket.

The route is pretty straightforward: along the lake to Hammondsport and back along the other side for a total of about 45 miles. Quiet roads, mostly flat, plenty time to look around. A lot of houses, cabins and cottages for sale along the lake’s coastline. Especially real estate agent Mark Malcolm II (the “the second”-part assumes me) is very active. A few have sold or are sale pending; good for them. There are some very nice ones but also a few that may rather benefit from being thorn down and rebuilt. Close to Hammondsport there is a mobile home park with some of those candidates for sale.

I turn through the village and continue the ride now on the other side of the lake. Here the hillside seems to block whatever little wind that was there and so even smoother pedaling. Last year the road here was closed and I was directed up the hill. For a moment I consider doing the same detour but I don’t feel like climbing. Earlier this season a club ride cam along here too. I smile when I see again the pink mobile home that we teased Paul about, how it matched so nicely with his pink Pedaler’s club outfit.

In Branchport a right turn and the last 10 miles or so back to Penn Yan. Here apparently the local bike club has rides along this road what with writing on the shoulder that a sprint is coming up. No line drawn though so I assume club riders know where the sprint finishes. Here the road calmly climbs up then resulting in a big gear run down into town. Back at the Red Jacket park where the Mini is waiting no sign of other cyclists so I guess I am the only one to do this ride. I am quite happy to be back. While it didn’t rain during my ride, the roads were wet. I didn’t bring my booties and so my feet are wet and very cold. But I did bring dry socks. Before driving back I jump into McDonald’s to pee, get a Quarter Pounder and a coffee. Observing the clientele and the working staff I can’t help but thinking that Penn Yan, or at least its representation here, is not the pinnacle of intelligence.

With the support of Mickey D’s calories and caffeine I drive back home. At the I-90/I-490 toll booth I smile at the impressively painted nails and pierced tongue of the attendant.

Sunday features the so-called Fall Foliage Tour from Black Creek Park in Chili swinging past Mumford and Scottsville. Noting the 28 miles distance and the mostly flat profile I predict a fast ride and so put the rear wheel with the 11-23 cassette on the bike. Dave volunteered on Friday to lead this ride. This seems to me an implicit good weather guarantee that he provides for rides he has signed up for. Always wonder what recourse he offers if it happens to rain on such a ride? But behold, the skies are clear and blue. So different from Saturday.

I drive into the park behind Jeff. It is full of parked cars. Hadn’t notice them before but there are two soccer fields and both are in use. The parking lot where we are meeting does still have a few empty spots. Dave rides into the park and I also see Bill, Bill, Sara, Donald, Ginny and Bob getting ready. This indeed promises to be a fast ride. There is a new member, joining in for his first club ride. He attended RBC’s open house in July. Guess he doesn’t much like summer weather with waiting till now for his first ride… Anyways, welcome, welcome!

I try to convince Dr Bill of the joys and pleasures of the Tuesday Night winter rides. He listens to me all the while shivering in his yellow wind jacket. I am not sure I am successful.

We pull out of the park. I trail at the back of the group first observing what pace we’re settling at. I was looking forward to a speedy ride but my legs are rubbery and I feel a little lethargic. Keeping an eye on my cycling computer I see the average speed climbing up to 18, 18.5 and 19.2 mph for a little while. So we are going at a respectable pace so perhaps the feeling in the legs isn’t entirely misplaced. However, I carefully and skillfully avoid coming to the head of the group until just before Scottsville. On the few hills that are on the course I am happy just to dangle at the back. Bill, Sara and Dr Bill all power forward on several of the short climbs. I have for a change no trouble resisting the temptation. On South Street or on Union Street I get dropped on the climb there and with the cross wind it takes quite an effort to get back to the group. Maybe that was a necessary effort because a mile or two later I’m pedaling much easier.

We return back to the park. Past the entrance we all drop to cruising for the 300 yards or so to the parking lot. Seems we are all tired and Dr Bill correctly concludes that we haven’t seen any foliage, only the rubber of the wheel in front of us.

Riding with Dennis The Menace

Aug 08, 2009 in Cycling

Hello, my name is Frits. I am Onno’s alternate ego. Normally Onno writes this blog but he’s not among the coherent and the awake so I took this chance to grab the keyboard. What happened, you wonder? Well, Onno went on a club bike ride this morning. Nothing unusual, this is often done on Saturday mornings. The route, a 50 mile jaunt from Ellison Park to Marion with just some rolling hills, didn’t look too strenuous and so I made myself comfortable in the back of Onno’s brain for a leisurely morning stroll through the subconscious.

Barely a mile into the ride I am rudely shaken from my reverie, just having found some amusing memories involving telephone books and a spider, when Onno speeds past the group to close a gap with this rider named Dennis. Fortunately this is just before a stop sign and so everything slows down. I expected this to be just one of those hiccups that happen and am about to re-settle in my mental rocking chair when after the turn he does it again! What is going on here? We all know Onno is a slow starter; I mean last week it took him 30 miles to get any kind of respectable pace going – those 30 miles were fabulous I tell you, nothing for me to do but rummage around in brain areas Onno believes I have no business being. Whatever. Did I tell you about that one time when ? Oh, today’s ride? Right, sorry.

So down State Road we go, chasing after Dennis, doing all we can to stay in his wheel. We’re riding 21 mph, 23 mph, 26 mph, 29 mph. Onno’s shifted up to 50×12, a huge gear. Still not enough. Well, it is a big gear. I mean, look at those legs, there are no thigh muscles to speak of. I have sometimes from the comfy subconscious descended down there and it is not pretty. Dennis still has his hands very relaxed on top of the handlebars. We, however, are under in the drops, pushing, pulling, wringing. “Not a good idea missing spin class,” I tell Onno. Helpfully I recite the class trainer’s instructions for him: “bring those knees to the handlebars, stabilize that core, bring it from the shoulders!” Do you think it’s being appreciated, no, but in the meantime that black and yellow rear tire is slipping away again. What is an alter ego to do!?

Dennis alerts us to the turns, stop signs and traffic lights as they fly past. Not a strain in his voice, leisurely he shifts up another gear. Onno’s vision has shrunk to a narrow circle consisting of Dennis’ behind, a Detours saddle back, that fearsome cassette with its chain way too far to the right and a black and yellow tire.

Otto later remarks how nice it is to ride on roads we don’t often cover and enjoy a different scenery. Onno and I were both surprised. There was a landscape all that time? Cows to mooo at? Pretty girls jogging to look at? Dennis The Menace (***) with his unhurried pedalling steals it all away and replaces it with thoughts of horror and anguish, dizzy views of tarmac spinning by from under his rear tire. “Why are you breathing so hard?”, he asks.

Nineteen minutes and twelve seconds after the ride’s start we’re in Marion, 25 miles down the road. We stop at a Sunoco gas station. Onno, shaking hands and all, gets a coffee and a Danish. After he sits down outside, he and I have an urgent conversation and we agree not to do this again. Let’s calmly ride the second half home.

After the break all goes well for a few miles. Onno rides at the back of the group and indeed there is a landscape surrounding us! Then, I am sure he meant well, Bill says after Dennis comes coasting past: “Just let him go, he’ll just go faster and faster.” I wholeheartedly agree but Onno is having none of it and goes after Dennis. Dennis, who is casually riding along Eddy Road and Gananda Parkway; why even slow down or shift back for those undulations? And so it goes until we get to Sweets Corners where the group reforms and pace down Atlantic back to Ellison Park. There, several of the riders gather. I notice one curiosity: four cyclists, four bike computers and four different average speeds.

Oh, I hear some movement in the room next to me; better disappear back into the subsconcious. Till a later time!

This label is intended as a compliment. It refers to another Dennis, Dennis Bergkamp. A Dutch soccer player of Ajax and Arsenal fame where he got the nickname. Now retired, I first saw him play when he joined Ajax main squad at age seventeen. This was a European Cup match against FC Malmo of Sweden. Dennis played right wing. The Ajax midfield every time would pass the ball deep into the free space behind the Swedish defense and this fast seventeen year-old sprinting after it. After a few of these, every next opportunity for Dennis to sprint down the line you could see the Malmo defender think: “oh god, not again…”

Dennis’ last minute goal for the Dutch national squad against Argentina: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exlBHTyB1R0 . Yes, the nation was very happy.

Dennis’ goal against Newcastle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DNfgibZO5o

And just when the sun started shining again for Dutch cycling

Jul 01, 2009 in Cycling

This year Dutch professional cycling seemed in an uplift again. After a long period of few successes since the heydays of the late 70-ies and 80-ies, bright prospects returned. Robert Gesink rode well in the Tour of California and in the Dauphine Libere, Sebastiaan Langeveld did very well in Omloop het Nieuwsblad, Niki Terpstra and Stef Clement both won stages in the Dauphine Libere, Lars Boom is a very promising young rider, Skil-Shimano has been invited to ride the Tour, Thomas Dekker seemed on the way up again with a very good time trial in the Tour de Suisse.

Only then to be tested positive for EPO.

The timeframe of Thomas Dekker’s alleged use of banned substances is either interesting or worrisome. His urine samples from December 2007 has found to contain traces of EPO. Thomas Dekker rode for Rabobank at the time. Although the team management denies knowing of Dekker’s use, the Rabobank did leave Dekker off the Tour squad in July 2008. At first the team stated this was because of lack of form on Dekker’s side but later it came out this was as a precaution due to unusual blood values.

In July 2007 the Rabobank suffered great embarrassment over the Rasmussen affair. Since then Bernhard Kohl has also be found to have used illegal substances. Kohl himself has stated that he started using these materials during his time at Rabobank. He and Thomas Dekker rode together on Rabo’s youth education team. Just before the Giro last May it was announced that Austrian authorities want to talk with several Rabo riders. This desire comes out of their interviews with Bernhard Kohl. Rabobank stressed that these conversations are voluntary and that they are fully assisting in the request.

I just can’t help but worry how many more snakes are hiding in the grass.

I have not fully checked this but I believe that Thomas Dekker is the first Dutch rider so far to have tested positive in this era of blood doping. Recently retired riders like Steven Rooks admitted to have used EPO arguing that it was not a banned substance in their time – which while strictly correct is a bit of a lame excuse. That Thomas Dekker now tested positive does not surprise me. He moved to Italy on his own at a very young age, training under the advice of Cecchini, a doctor with a questionable reputation. Dekker only reluctantly broke off relations with him. Then last year’s odd falling out between him and the Rabobank.

Bernhard Kohl, Patrick Sinkewitz, Jorg Jaksche all testified to, or made accusations of, structural doping by riders and teams. While current riders react aggressively in interviews when asked about Kohl or Sinkewitz or Jaksche I do believe there’s at least some truth in their accusations. First of all, Sinkewitz and Kohl made those opinions in formal interviews with law enforcement which lowers the chances of them making just it up or lying. Second, it is just not likely or believable that all those athletes who have tested positive did all this on their own. Where do you get the material? How do you know what to take and when? How do you know how to have the best chances of testing negative? I just don’t believe each rider works that out all by himself. Team doctors, who test and examine their riders frequently and who of their race results and progress, must at least be aware or suspicious. The same for team directors. Most of them, if not all, are ex-riders and some admitted to drug use during their careers. They know what’s what – they know where Abraham gets the mustard to use a Dutch expression. At the very minimum team doctors and directors must be very good at looking away.

Last year hope was emerging that dope usage would be declining, that it was a leftover from an older generation (Zabel et al) and thus would be purged from the peloton. I think by now we know better: the ghost is alive and well. Over the last year Dekker, Kohl, Schumacher, Rebellin, Ricco, Pfannberger, Hamilton, Astarloa, Caucchiolo, De Bonis, Elvira, Serrano, Mas, Ramos, Piepoli all tested positive and I’m pretty sure this list is not exhaustive. The names here are young riders and older riders, from many different countries and many different teams.

Kohl’s recent statement that doping is (still) widespread and systemic sounds not so impossible, does it?

“Avez vous vu mon papa?”

Jun 27, 2009 in Cycling

avon-ride1.jpgThis is the title of a story by Kees van Kooten, a Dutch writer. It really had nothing to do with today’s ride other than that it played through my head during the climb up Nunda-Byersville Road. For the non-Dutch among us, the story is about the author’s yearly bike ride with his teenage son in France. They ride up a mountain each time but this year it is the first that the younger generation bypasses the older generation and so the son ends up, after waiting for quite a while at the summit of the climb, asking each car driver coming up “have you seen my father?” The relevance to today’s story will become apparent shortly. Or, well, maybe.

At Paul’s suggestion we did the Avon-Letchworth ride that was scheduled last Saturday but due to the rainstorms we didn’t do. In his email Paul enumerated various rules, one of them being that this is not an RBC ride and so no sign in and no mileage credit. That’s right, we’re doing this 89 mile hike in rather warm weather gratis receiving none in return other than our quiet personal pride. We shall perform this ride and not speak of it again.

We gather at the TOPS parking lot in Avon. Ed is joyfully playing Van Morrison’s Moondance on this car stereo. I look around and see an astute collection of fast riders: Otto, Paul, Gary, Dennis and Sara, Bill and Ed know how to push those pedals rather well too. Paul may have included “no drop” in his rules but I am thinking I’m going to be off the back end rather soon with this lot.

Avon’s main road is under construction leading Sara and Paul to suggest an alternate beginning of the ride going up Polebridge Road instead. I mutter: “Now I have to reprogram my GPS all over again.” To which Otto responds: “You’re not pulling a Wayne on us, are you?” We’re off doing the first few miles at a most civilized morning pace of 15mph. Near the turn onto River Road this is over, what with Dennis, Otto and Paul at the front of the group, and the couple of rolling hills are taken at a firm pace. My legs are a little heavy this morning and so indeed I slip off the rear of the group. A few miles further Paul drops back and paces me back to the group. I thank him and he says: “No problem, good race practice!”

I ride next to Gary for a while observing the riders before us. I see various pairs of shaved legs. A beautiful sight! Ahh, to witness so clearly the muscle definition of these calves! The supple contracting and relaxing of each sinew!
I remark to Gary: “I need to shave my legs.”
“Think it will help?”
“Oh yes, it’s a fact.” (Now where is that Wikipedia entry about the speed advantages of shaved legs?)

We turn into Letchworth Park. Quite soon the group is strung out. Eventually I am in a group with Paul, Dennis, Chris, Sara and Bill. A decision is made to add a little climb: we’re going down to the lower falls. While I am pedalling in bright sunshine, a shadow passes over me. One of the large birds, a hawk perhaps, floats over me. His shadow is bigger than the one me and my bicycle are throwing. This pleases me. Returning from the lower falls Paul and I are climbing side by side and we see one deer cross the road close before us and another behind us. Even after living abroad for about 16 years now, having grown up in a largely urbanized country this closeness of nature still impresses me.

At the other end of the park we turn left toward Nunda and then Dansville. In Nunda we stop at a convenience store. I take my needed cup of coffee and a danish. Across the street is a garage that seems to have been there for many years. Attached to its store front is a beautiful old blue neon sign for Pontiac. Otto predicts that this sign will become quite valuable as this is one of the brands that GM will be phasing out.

Outside Nunda we get to put another of Paul’s rules to effect: no walking up Nunda-Byersville Road. At the start of the climb Paul asks what our elevation is. I check my GPS: it’s 934ft. With Paul’s curiosity towards this number I suspect that the climb will be a long one. The coffee intake provides its anticipated support to my legs and I ride up this hills relatively easily. I like long climbs, it allows my brain to wander off. Don’t know what an association to the ride may have been but Kees van Kooten’s story comes up and I entertain myself with recalling as much as I can from this Dutch writer. Paul gets to the top and a little while later I do too.
While dismounting the bicycle I report to Paul: “Het hoogteverschil is zo’n negenhonderd voet.”
“What!?” is Paul’s response.
“Sorry, wrong language, the climb’s elevation is 900ft.”

After we’ve gathered up everybody it’s down the other side. I am not liking this descent so much and take it easy. Soon I am well behind the others. At the bottom a sharp right hand turn. To my surprise I notice that Gary is behind me. Hardly ever happens I keep anyone behind me on a downhill. This road has a slight incline, I put my hands on top of the handlebars and reflect that this last descent notwithstanding. Hmm, at the farm on the left a woman with long blond hair in a bikini mowing the lawn. “Hey, old man, focus!” Eh? Ohh, sorry. This last descent notwithstanding overall I am becoming more comfortable going downhill this season. To prove the point the long decline into Dansville goes very nicely.

Lunch break in Dansville. Several are getting sandwiches. I should probably too but have difficulty with the idea of eating much. I settle for a bottle of Sobe Lizard Lava (totally yummy) and two multigrain bars. There is some discussion about the route. Whether to take indeed Route 256 and then Slicker Hill or consider alternatives. In the end we stick to the route.

Once we get going again a small group forms on 256: Robbie, Gary, Paul and me. We paceline very nicely, each taking turns at the front, the pace pretty high. For some miles we are pulling along really very pleasantly: except for the wind and passing cars it is entirely quiet, just four cyclists pedalling hard. I loved the serenity in that moment. Then right on to Slicker Hill. I have done this climb once before, crawling after Otto not knowing yet what a good climber he is. At the junction Paul turned around to wait for the others. When Gary and I get to the top of the climb we circle around for a moment, don’t see anyone, then decide to pull on.

We are now in the last stretches of the ride with about 15 miles of rolling terrain and side/head wind left to do. Gary pulls ahead of me and I follow about 200 yards behind. Shortly later one after another we return in the TOPS parking lot. I am happy to be able to take off my cycling shoes. Except for my toes feeling a bit squeezed and except for a bit of a slow start, I felt this ride went rather well. Much enjoyed the climbing.

After packing up several of us cross the road to Tom Wahl’s: various sorts of malts and shakes are to be ordered. I get my strawberry shake and walk around looking for the straws. A man comes up next to me and asks: “Is that your Mini outside?”
Then, after my affirmative answer, without another word he shows me a picture on his digital camera. It shows a beige Mini with a white roof with a smashed-in bonnet. Thinking that within the 30 seconds of me being in Tom Wahl’s someone managed to ruin Dr Frits I’m about to drop my shake. Only then does he explain it’s a picture of his wife’s Mini… after which of course I notice that the picture has no red bike on top of the car.

Tomorrow Ed is leading the Canandaigua Cup ride, a 50 mile hike around the lake. I make solemn promises to be there but, eh, well, we’ll see how the legs feel tomorrow morning.

Photos of the ride are on my Flickr page.

The Future of Pro-Cycling?

Jun 26, 2009 in Cycling

futurecycling.jpgThe banning of radios in two Tour de France stages next month got me thinking about what pro cycling may look like in a few years time. While I very much look forward to those two stages, I am convinced that this ban will not find much following. In sports, in life, in business technological progress cannot be stopped.

The last ten, twenty years have already pushed the sport forward. Among other things:
– (almost) faultless indexed gearing
– from 10-speed bikes to 22-speed bikes
– the aerodynamic advances evident during time trials in bike design, helmets, wheels, clothing
– the emergence of GPS
– and those radios of course, enabling direct and continuous communication between riders and between rider and team director

Riders like Lance Armstrong have also modernized training regimes and team tactics. Teams like Saxo Bank, Silence-Lotto and Rabobank now prepare differently for multi-stage races like the Tour and the Giro than before the Armstrong era. Trek, at Armstrong prodding, provides the team with different bikes for the flat stages vs the mountain stages, let alone the time trails of course.

Both technology influences and human influences are further professionalizing the sport. Let us freely speculate where it may go from here.

Perhaps begin with a more controversial topic: doping, an aspect of professional sport that has seen its own professional advances.

From the 1950-1980 era of steroids and testosterone to EPO and other forms of blood doping. The test regimes are getting better with also more structural defenses like the recent introduction of the so-called blood passport. But it will continue to be a cat and mouse game, a catch up effort. As anti-doping labs develop tests to find usages of one type of doping, other labs find the next form of doping. AFLD, the French anti-doping organization, applied new test methods at last year’s Tour de France and the IOC applied these methods also to samples taken during the Peking Olympics. Several cyclists (and other athletes) were caught cheating. One, Bernhard Kohl, has been quite vocal since his finding out. He makes at least one quite interesting point: he tested positive only once even while he was extensively doping. Through the use of the blood passport the UCI recently announced the names of 5 cyclists suspected of drug usage due to unusual values in their blood passports. This may show that a blood passport is an effective means to evaluate whether an athlete uses substances or methods that s/he shouldn’t but the announcement also implies that doping usage continues. This raises a question for me, what about the period before the athlete is required to maintain this passport? Will we see in the future athletes nurtured from a much younger age and so coming into the profession with established blood levels nullifying the impact of those passports?

In swimming and in speed skating performances are improved by faster suits. In support of my opinion stated earlier that technological advances cannot be stopped, the international swim foundation after some discussion and controversy recognized the records achieved with the new suits. In time trials we already see racers in long sleeved skinsuits, covered shoes and aerodynamic helmets. I wonder how long it’ll be before we start to see more of that in the flat, fast stages. And maybe even in mountain stages where there could be an aerodynamic benefit in the long descents.

It seems that with Campagnolo’s new 11-sprocket cassette a cyclist has all the needed gears and not much more can be gained there. Shimano, and I trust Campagnolo and SRAM too, is working on electronic shifting. This itself will not give a speed increase but fewer moving parts is still better than more. Did I see first Sylvester Szmyd and then Alejandro Valverde mis-shift in the final meters of the Dauphiné Libéré’s Mont Ventoux stage?

For me the most interesting developments are in what has been started by the introduction of the radios and the emergence of GPS-enabled bicycle computers like Garmin’s Edge line. For my own cycling I love having a GPS on my handlebars. Knowing where I am, where I want to go, having all that data to play with afterwards: delicious.

For years racers have been putting bike computers to good use. Knowing the time difference between the peloton and the break-away group it is easy to calculate what average speed to ride to catch them. And the current GPS-enabled devices already provide additional benefits: see the geographical profile of the route ahead, know exactly where you are with regards to the remainder of the course. But certainly from a team director point of view much more is possible. GPS radios can inform the team director exactly where all the team riders are and where they are in relation to each other. Biometric information can be sent along so that the director can also have an idea of the remaining fitness levels of each team member. And so Eric Breukink of Rabobank could decide to send Pieter Weening after an escapee instead of Joost Posthuma judging the realtime reporting of wattage, heart rates and lactate levels of both riders.

Team leaders like Lance Armstrong who have a direct interest in team strategy as well could have much of the same information projected on heads-up displays integrated in their sunglasses.

Team directors of the future need not be in the team cars anymore. Not be distracted by the driving and the discomfort of being in a car for the many hours of a race. Instead, they’ll be in a central (nicely airconditioned) team command post with plenty of displays and communication devices around them conducting the cycling battle like a modern general. Ignoring a team director’s instructions will become harder and harder for the riders, continuing the increasing control of the team director over the team tactics during the race.

It still frequently occurs that a rider looses a race due to poor eating or drinking. Alberto Contador lost this year’s Paris-Nice because of this. Robert Gesink had a bad day in last year’s Vuelta due to not taking in enough food and also Lance Armstrong has fallen victim in the past. I expect these decisions to go away from the athlete. In the future a rider may have biometric devices embedded that monitor the rider’s blood levels and, carrying a future-version Camelbak, have the appropriate nutrients inserted directly into the bloodstream.

Over time where races are held may also change. Already for some years races like the Amstel Gold race, certain stages in the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España have become more dangerous for the riders due to the so-called traffic furniture that is installed to make the urban areas safer. Instruments like round-abouts, speed bumps, road dividers are put in to slowdown daily traffic and minimize accidents. For a fast moving peloton of 150+ riders these actually create greater risk for bodily harm. Just as car racing – for the exception of the famous Monaco Formula 1 race – by and large has moved to dedicated circuits, also bike racing may increasingly move to rural courses and avoid the cities making the traditional circuiting of the Champs d’Elysées a memory of the past.

Carlsbad and Santa Clara

May 10, 2009 in Life

carlsbad.jpgThis past week I spent one half in Carlsbad and the other in Santa Clara. Carlsbad, to meet in person with the company I have been interviewing with, to catch up with Janet and Tom (and Bill as it worked out) and to do a bit of cycling. Santa Clara, to see ex-colleagues and friends and do some cycling.

Of course one doesn’t know for sure until the paperwork is signed but I believe the Monday and Tuesday talks went quite well. Can’t exactly say where we are in the effort as this company has an approach to hiring that is a bit like extended courtship. At the end of the conversation Tuesday morning the electricity failed suddenly (there is probably no other way) in that part of town. I took this as a good omen.

Monday evening had dinner with Janet and Tom. Bill turned out to be available on very short notice and joined us too from his busy new job. We went to Janet’s favorite restaurant, Jake’s in Del Mar, right on the coast. This was, according to Janet, to make every effort to convince me to come and live here. With the wonderful weather and the drive along the coastal road from Carlsbad to Del Mar I was already convinced. Being a little early for the appointment I used the extra time to stroll a bit on the beach and take pictures of the sun just setting.

Having done with the interviews I took Charles for a ride, first along the coast and then a bit landinward looping back via Vista. It was a nice ride with great views along the coast, many beautiful things to look at, a few steepish climbs – the traffic light halfway up one of them was a pity – and the river bike path back to the coast. Now, when I got to the hotel from the meetings I was flowing with adrenaline anxious to get cycling. I changed into the cycling uniform, filled the drinking bottle, put the route description in the rear pocket, found the sunglasses. One more thing to do: put on sun block. While I always have a bottle in my toilet bag, now there isn’t. All ready to go but no protection… hmmm… well… it’s only a two hour ride, I’m going, it’ll be fine. And yes, as I really knew our star doesn’t need two hours to do its work. For the next two days I’m looking like a bright pink lobster, oh well, still enjoyed the ride, but on Wednesday I did go out first thing in the morning to obtain factor 50.

That evening after the ride I went to a local bar/grill just up the street from the hotel. I quite like these local joints, a little rundown, somewhat fierce looking from the outside but inside they’re all teddy bears. A cheerful bartender, Dewie, kept me supplied with beer and gave advice on the menu (chicken tacos first and later a mexican soup). Got talking to an elderly couple Red and Charlie. Red had been married 5 times, she twice. They have been together for a year now, have decided not to marry because that would just jinx things. Red served during WWII and Korea, Charlie in Vietnam. We exchanged addresses, Charlie promised to throw a party when I move here. On tv Boston was playing the Yankees. Seeing that there were a few Red Sox fans around me at the bar, I cheered them too.

Thursday morning I got up early: drive to LAX for the flight to San Jose. At LAX there was a long slow moving line for check-in followed by a very slow moving line for security with only one person checking boarding passes and IDs – this did not move things along. Luckily the flight was delayed by 20 minutes otherwise I may not have made it. This did use up the slack in my morning program so from SJC it was straight to Starbucks on California Ave in Palo Alto to meet up with Graham. I made it there just before The Good Doctor. In the afternoon I put Charles back together and go for a shortish ride to Milpitas and back via Alviso basically to make sure everything on the BikeFriday is working well before it is beer time with Dalibor and Ray.

mthamilton.jpgFor Saturday I planned to ride up Mount Hamilton. I was much looking forward to it, perhaps the only thing missing in the Rochester area from a cycling perspective are good long climbs. I did the ride last year in May, the weekend before JavaOne. It went well then really, except that the last three miles were a struggle because the rear derailleur didn’t stay in the lower two gears. The derailleur seems most affected by the packing, unpacking and the handling by the airlines. Now everything was working properly.

I took off a bit before ten in the morning maintaining an easy pace along Trimble, Montague and Capitol to warm up towards the turn onto McKee and then the climb starts. It’s 19 miles to the top but the climb consists of two parts: first out the valley then downhill for a mile and then the remaining 8 miles uphill to the Observatory. It’s consistently between 5-7%. The road was built like this 120 years ago so the horses could make it up with the building material for the Observatory.It went very well so that this time I didn’t need those two lowest gears. Four miles before the summit a white Honda Prelude trailed behind me. Seeing a clear road after the turn I waived them past but the car stayed behind me. Then it drove up next to me with the passenger opening her window to ask me something. Not convinced that the driver’s skills were on par with Johan Bruyneel’s I answered with a brief: “No.” The car slipped back behind me. This started to interfere with my reaching zen-like state while climbing and reminded me of my friend Wouter a 20 years ago on a climb in the French Alps: “Go away. I can’t hear my sprockets.” So, looking over my shoulder with an energetic wave of my left arm accompanied by an appropriate Dutch “Hup!” I waived the car past. And it did. A mile further it had turned and came back down.

While I have done this route many times I went inside the Observatory for the first time. The timing was great – there was another group of cyclists and one of the astronomers did an ad hoc tour of the old 36 inch telescope.

theclimb2.jpgTime to go down.

The first part of the decent, till you get to Grant national park, is very twisty and bumpy. The second part, descending back down into Silicon Valley has been resurfaced and one can go very fast here. About half way down a squirrel jumps from the side shoulder right in front of my front wheel, he’s within inches of the tire, I am so close to him that I can hear his nails scratching the tarmac while he’s sprinting like mad to get from under my wheel. He succeeds. Which is probably good for both of us: he would not survive a collision and I would be scraping the road in quite a generous way.

In the evening Ray and I had dinner at Marie Elena’s in Alviso. A wonderful family owned Mexican restaurant. Highly recommended.

Sunday it was time to fly home. From San Jose I was connecting via LAX and IAD to Rochester. INstead of the usual 6 or 7 am flight, the flight to LAX didn’t depart until 9:45am. This threw me off in such a way that even while having much more morning time, I managed to miss the flight. The United desk attendant was very helpful though and got me instead on a route via Denver to IAD and then on the planned hop to Rochester. Somehow there was enough time to check in the bicycle Samsonite but not the bag with my clothes. That, she advised, I must take as hand luggage. Okay, no problem, on to security. There they pick that bag for an extra check, take out my toilet bag and explain to me that the factor 50 sun block bottle is too big and must stay behind. Oh well, have plenty of sun block at home.

Pictures in the gallery.

“Let’s Talk Cycling”

Mar 19, 2009 in Cycling

letstalkcycling.jpgI attended this event this evening at Brighton Town Auditorium. According to the advertisement, it is “a discussion to help reduce your carbon footprint sponsored by the Sierra Club, the Rochester Bicycling Club and presented by the Monroe County Office of Traffic Safety.” It went on to say that “this discussion will provide information on the vehicle and traffic laws of NYS and how they apply to new or experienced bicyclists.”

When I first read this I thought “how is talking about traffic laws helping me to reduce my carbon footprint?” The title and subtitle seem at odds with the description. So I asked Richard DeSarra this and he answered: “Not my wording. I am just a standby supportor of the talk […] The idea was put together by the Sierra Club.” And closed with: “Come and find out.”

I thought that was a fair suggestion and so I went.

Before the main topic of the evening started the microphone was given to a person of the Sierra Club giving a rather confusing 5 minute talk on tap water vs bottled water. Apparently bottled water is bad but it didn’t become clear why except that the companies that produce the bottles make a lot of profit and that is wrong. That seemed to me the conclusion as that was the one sentence she delivered with great emphasis.

Alright, on to the headline programming. Jean Triest of Monroe County was the presenter.

She did indeed just talk about how all traffic laws also apply to cyclists, that they should/must obey them and to wear a helmet.

She had one slide with supposedly the biggest bike safety myths. This was a rather bizarre enumeration with one of them being that it is okay to swerve left without looking when wanting to make a left turn. Okay, so I acknowledge that perhaps the US population on average is less practised on the topic of bike safety than us Dutch people but really how can that be a myth of bike safety!? For it to be a myth there must be a sufficient number that think that (whether on bike or car for that matter) swerving left on the road without looking is a good idea.

NYS law requires that bicycles have front and rear reflectors. One example she gave of why having front reflection is good is that it avoids the cyclist being doored by a parked car saying that there recently were two such incidents that would have been prevented if the cyclists in question had reflectors on their bikes. I don’t believe that. There are two difficulties with that. Foremost, US drivers are not – contrary to Dutch drivers for example -trained to look over their shoulder before opening their car door. So reflection or no, you’ll get doored. Second, reflection is a passive source of lighting. If there’s no oncoming car with its headlights on even if the driver looks s/he will still not see the bicyclist in low light circumstances.

She took us through some more slides on bike safety: which part of the road to ride on, what about bike lanes, how to turn left. It was very elementary. Looking around I suspect that of the 20 or so people in the audience almost all are regular cyclists. I had at least hoped for some more advanced discussion. The analogy to me very much is that explaining one the rules of the game of chess does not make one a chess player.

Her closing slide was a very strong urge to always wear a helmet with various claims on the slide how helmets help. I had some difficulty with that slide. She presented statistics without source and really without such context. Her first bullet claimed that 98% of fatal bicycle accidents involved cyclists not wearing a helmet. But no information on what impact on that percentage wearing a helmet would have had. Other bullets seem to come more from motor helmet benefits rather than to the design and impact of a bicycle helmet. The overriding impression was that you’re safe when you wear a helmet.

I found that quite intriguing and challenged the presenter a little. On the BikeFriday discussion forum the same topic came up last week. One provided a pointer to an Australian study that shows that bicycle helmets do not improve the cyclist’s safety (most accidents are not front collisions but of a kind where a helmet does not provide additional benefit) and that the wearing of a helmet leads to a false sense of safety. A study in New Zealand showed very little decrease in head injuries due to helmet use.

Now back to the opening question, what has this all to do with reducing one’s carbon footprint? I don’t know.

Maybe there will be a follow-on meeting another evening that does talk about how to frequently, regularly leave the car parked and take the bicycle to go to work, to do the groceries, to go to the movies. Not only in the summer but also in the winter. I know several local cyclists with a lot to share – Richard himself has been commuting for years, Brucew does everything on the bike including those groceries, Wayne rides to the movies.

A Flat Ride

Mar 08, 2009 in Cycling

flatride-21.jpgToday we did our second group ride of the season; a bunch of us who call each other fast friends. Yesterday we rode as well – Paul chose ride #130 starting from Mendon Ponds Park circling around for 23 miles. The weather was great, cool not cold and a bit overcast. So afterwards we decided we should ride again on Sunday, today. Paul charged Otto to come up with the route. Otto emailed in the evening that we should do ride #167, also from Mendon Ponds Park (all roads lead to, or rather from, Mendon Ponds Park) starting at 1pm – 1pm so the forecasted rain in the morning had time to clear.

While driving to the park fog descended on Clover Street and covered the park as well. It certainly was more damp and colder than I had thought. I was happy that I threw my winter jacket in the bag just before I left, one great last minute thought, but no hat nor earwarmers, wintergloves, booties. So chilliness was going to be part of the ride. A good group gathered in the parking lot, all fast mile eaters: Wayne, Otto, Dave, Bob, Michelle, Greg, Ginn. No Paul though even after he teased Otto yesterday for not having a ride lined up for Sunday.

flatride-51.jpgOff we are; Douglas and Pond roads out the park and then, and then, huh what? Oh, flat. Bob’s front tire punched on the climb on Pond towards Clover. Three miles done yet still in the park. With Dave’s help Bob performs the operation. A new bike as well and already a flat. Bob’s inflates the tire with Dave’s Morph pump. I have one too in Charles’ suitcase, very good pumps. I’m thinking maybe should bring it on these rides too. In between Bob, Dave and Wayne the outer tire is forced back on the rim. The wheel goes back in the fork and we’re rolling again.

With some left and rights our overall direction is west towards the river. Otto compliments Michelle on her pink pedals. It’s going well, I feel spunky as the British would say and do my turns at the head together with Wayne and Otto. This winter I have been doing spin class once or twice a week and I’m feeling the difference. If nothing else, spinning made me realize how much more efficient my pedal stroke can be. It helps me maintain a better cadence on the flat and also in powering up small hills.

flatride-41.jpgAfter turning off East River road and zigzagging back to Mendon Ponds we turn onto Stoney Brook and I happily power up the incline. Otto and Dave u-turn to catch up the others on the climb, Wayne and I slowly pedal on talking about PBP, Quadzilla, time trails and such matters. I look around, no one in sight. Wayne and I circle back too to find Ginn on the shoulder of the road fixing a flat. The Morph pump comes back to mind and I am thinking I should really take it with me on these rides. Except for Ginn we all take this to be a lunch break and munch on cliff bars, gels and other much concentrated foods. My dad calls these gels “astronaut food”. When he was in the hospital on liquid food he proudly proclaimed being fed the same food as the space station occupants. Ginn completes the procedure and we thank him for his consideration in giving us a lunch break.

flatride-31.jpgThe road slopes down from here. At the end we turn left onto Rush-Lima Road where Wayne has another flat. We covered barely half a mile since “lunch”. Wayne flatted on his ride from home to the park as well. That costed Wayne his spare tube but Ginn gladly donates a tube so that we’re on the go again a little sooner. I should really bring that Morph pump, you know? Wayne notices that this tube has been patched. Several jokes follow about how this increases the weight of his ride. After putting the tire back on Wayne says something like he’s ready to pump while one holds the wheel and someone shouts “We’re Hans and Frans, we want to pump you up!” Universal giggling. Alright, wheel back in the frame. We’re off. Gearing to go because the standing still has made us all very chilly.

flatride-11.jpgRight here we make a right and a short incline on this road. And Bob has another flat. His rear tire this time. Not even half a mile. Bob’s run out of spares. I donate mine but Bob is first intent on fixing the puncture. Not all in the group are really pleased with that extra time investment. The puncture repair doesn’t really work out so Bob takes my tube. He’s pumping the tire with Dave’s Morph and I am so bringing mine next time. Then, bang! The tube was pinched between the rim and the tire and blew out. In one smooth motion Gary reaches in his saddle bag, retrieves his spare and lays it before Bob before even a thought of puncture repair can emerge. We realize we need to consult the Rochester Bike Club policy on whether this constitutes a flat during a ride, will Bob get credit for one or two flats? During all this Ginn has been repairing his punctured tube from 3/4 of a mile ago. Good thinking, at a rate of three flats a mile…

The wheel’s back on, we all clip in, ride! Nothing untoward happens for several miles.

We go down a hill with Otto and me leading. While not very steep or that long suddenly the front of my bike starts to wobble. At the same time I hear some noise behind me but I am focused on carefully slowing down the shaking bike. Not sure what happened, maybe I was too cold and any body shivering was adopted by the bike? Because of that noise I look over my bicycle but nothing seems missing or loose. Turns out that noise was Wayne’s pump coming off his frame hitting his rear wheel. Pump’s broken in two. We’re now close to the roundabout on route 65, via Pond road we make it back into the park and back to the parking lot. Wayne’s without pump, his rear tire is losing air. He still needs to ride home so I borrow him my pump. Now I’ll have to bring that Morph pump on my next ride.

Charles is safely home!

Feb 04, 2009 in Life

charles2.jpgSeveral people enquired after Charles’s well being so I owe y’all an update.

Let me delve in right away with the good news: Charles is safe and sound at home and in good spirits!

It was a little odd though. On Sunday last week there was no word from United; no email, no sms, no phone call. MOnday morning I get up, get my cup of coffee in the kitchen, walk through the hallway to the living room while glancing out our glass front door. And there stands Charles in his Samsonite case! Between 11pm Sunday when I went to bed and now the next morning United dropped the bike off on the front porch without any message. Still, very glad to have the bike back in one piece.

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