Racing too seriously

Today I was thinking back over my several years of racing and I was thinking about one of the years I raced the US100K just outside Atlanta, GA.

Here we were rolling along on a fairly hilly course, most of us running a 54 up front ‘Just in case’ we got near the frantic downhill sprint – all the while because the real Pro’s were in town we were going around this course that we didn’t need the 39 up front. Rollin’ it!

I was thinking back to a year that the whole Saturn team was there, they were laughing it up. Talking to each other across the whole pack, even though they were fairly spread out in the group.

I remember one year when I was laughing it up with a buddy of mine. Asking him “does this group do this ride very often?”, “want some of my banana?”. I mean here we were, tucked into the draft doing about 30, and I’m making jokes.

I got thinking about how years before then, how focused I would be on rides. I wouldn’t even talk to anyone because “I was training”. I wasn’t worried about getting dropped, I was worried about who was ‘up the road’, I was worried about where I should attack!

Yet, years later, I guess I started to realize that even if I got dropped, or even if I didn’t ‘make that break’, it wasn’t the end of my cycling. Maybe I even started to realize that I was near the top of my fitness level – unless someone was going to suddenly start paying me or I started to dope – neither of which was going to happen!

One of the things that always stuck out in my mind was how you could do 1 group ride a week, and chat with one person each time – and pick up the conversation, right where you left off last time. Bumping into friends (literally) from out of state that you haven’t seen all Winter.

I guess that realization started to lower the stress and the pressure that I had been putting on myself. I started to enjoy my fitness level, and enjoying my friends in the field. Those were some of the best years of racing that I had. It wasn’t the races, it wasn’t the miles and miles of training, it was the people that were around you while you are doing those things that in the end impact your memories the most.

A win is great, but mutual cycling friends is greater.

2012 Winter weather forecast

The Farmers Almanac has finally released their predictions for the U.S. 2012 Winter weather conditions. As always, this is just predictions fluctuations will occur.

As usual, it looks like the South-West U.S. has some of the best winter training weather.

The Northeast is predicted to have average temps, but be very stormy.

For here in the Southeast the forecast calls for a mild winter, Cold and dry initially, then scattered showers. This doesn’t mean that it will not be cold this winter, just that it should not be as severe as what it was last year. This will allow for an uptick in the pace of the early season packs as many cyclists will be able to train outside together, increasing their speed in the early season races.

Florida looks to have the best winter weather in the Southeast – dryer than normal and mild winter temperatures.

“If the weather is a common reason for missing workouts then achieving high goals is unlikely.” ~Joe Friel

Farmer’s Almanac 2012 Winter Weather forecast.

Here is a more detailed Southeastern forecast

Scattered showers in the Spring will still have cyclists inside on the trainer. Let’s face it being below 40 degrees and wet makes riding the trainer seem like a good idea! Here are 2x a week for 12 weeks worth of Wind-trainer workouts that will get you through those rainy days indoors. These workouts can be done on the Windtrainer or outside!

Bike WindTrainer

These workouts will make you

1) Leaner!
2) faster!
3) stronger!

What to expect:
-Heart rate based intervals of varying length and time each week.

-Steady state intervals for climbing and Time Trialing

-Individual Leg Training (ILT) for forming perfect pedaling circles

-Spin-Ups to increase leg speed

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Get all this:

$28.95 5 things for Fat Loss and weight management: – FREE!
$28.95 Stretching and flexibility for increased aero-dynamics – FREE!
$28.95 Four things for Stronger Cycling, training phases – FREE!
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How guys pee while cycling

When you hydrate, at some point, you have to take a nature break. And if you are a racing cyclist, sometimes you can’t stop to take a nature break.

I have found the ability to pee while riding has come in handy in a couple of races. I remember 1 race in Augusta that is on a Army Base, I didn’t realize that our vehicles were going to be inspected before we were allowed past the gates. I was topping off the hydration on the way there & basically had to go when I pulled up to the base – once my vehicle was allowed onto base – I REALLY had to go….. but, now I was cramped on time and had to go straight to race parking.

pee pee statue

I quickly dressed & hopped on the bike thinking I could find a porta-potty – what I found was the whole Pro1,2 field lined up and the referee giving pre-race announcements. I got inline with the other riders and a moment later we started the race.

So, there I was feeling like my bladder was about to burst before we even started the race….I basically had the choice to stop and have to chase back and probably be out of the race or pee while cycling. I choose to pee while cycling.

– This is best done on a slight downhill grade. Stability can be tricky while doing this, so a consistent and long, gradual down-hill grade is ideal. Make sure that the road ahead is clear of obstacles, potholes, etc. this maybe the worst moment to have a crash.

Also, it is best done at the BACK of the pack, with no one behind you.

There are 2 common options for this
1) Stand, put most of your weight on your right leg, rotate the hips to the right side, ideally you will be holding the saddle with your legs as extra stability, use the left hand to hold the H-bars straight, pull down bibs/shorts pull out hose, and ‘make water’.

bikepee

2) roll up right leg of shorts using right hand, shift the hips slightly to the right, stick out right knee, pull out hose, try to relax, make water allowing the flow to go between the knee and the bike frame. This allows the wind to take away the stream.

Here is a PG description from 1 of my favorite interviewed cyclists, Dave Zabriski:

It is best done on a long gradual downhill, however, if a downhill isn’t available or not long enough, maybe you can enlist the help of friends or a team-mate to assist you. NOW this can be tricky!
The key is to maintain a consistent push, because otherwise there is no telling who will get sprayed, or potentially fall and get road rash.

aPeefriend

It isn’t very difficult, but it will take a little practice. Just make sure that you are not somewhere it maybe illegal.

And if you are a woman – I have heard that standing and peeing has been done successfully, but I can not confirm that fact.

How to tell wind speed while cycling

When you are out riding or racing do you look at all the flags that are around?
I do! And if you want to become a better bike racer, you should too! Ride and Race tactics can change due to the wind. Sprint lead-outs can change due to wind variables. Paceline echelons can will change based on winds, and outcomes of races can change due to wind changes!

Knowing which way the wind is blowing can play a big role in rides and races. While doing the Winter Bike League I will sometimes have guys ask to swap sides of the double pace-line with me. Or I have seen cyclists jump out of a corner, just to swap which side of the road they are on to get a buffer from the wind.

Flat stages of races can often be fairly mundane – unless there is a stiff wind, then maybe a team will come to the front and change the pace-line and really put on the pressure. To me the windy stages can be just as exciting as the mountains. Being prepared for which way the wind is blowing and how hard can sometimes make the difference between being in all the action as it happens or getting shelled out the back of a race wondering why it got so tough. Racers who are aware of wind changes can often use it wisely to their advantage.

For example, if the wind is coming in from your left, and you are going to make a right hand turn, then you will have a tail wind. This is not the time for the break-away. As easy as it is to create a gap, it is likely just as easy for riders to close it back down. Each rider in the front will not be fighting a headwind, and they will most likely put more energy into reeling-in a break-away. However, for this reason it can be ideal situation for a sprinters team that are doing a lead-out. Each member will not be fighting the wind as they lead the field.

However, if the wind is coming in from the Left and you make a Left hand turn, you will be going into a head wind. This is a situation where the Time-Trialist riders have the best advantage of creating and maintaining a gap on the field. A break away has a better chance of creating and holding a gap with a headwind also, IF the break away riders work together and are committed to the break away. Remember, to close a gap, the pack has to ride Faster than those in the break away.

During a Time Trial, it is important to know which way the wind is blowing and to also adjust your Heart Rate and power output accordingly. If you start with the wind to your back and then have a head-wind on the way back, then chances are you are going to a much slower split than what is necessary. Save a little extra for the head-wind section. Also, if the Time trial has cross winds, it can be a factor to what wheel choice you make. A dish wheel and a strong cross-wind can be very dangerous.

I remember riding across America we had gotten to Las Vegas and the wind was blowing so strong that you would be riding in a normal upright position, but watching the sand blow across the road in between buildings. Then as we passed each building we would have to adjust our riding position to even stay on our bikes, only to almost fall over when the wind was blocked by the next building.

According the the Beaufort Scale Wind Speed (Bft) (size of the flag makes only a small difference) some easy way to approximate wind speed for are:

1-3mph – the flag only occasionally flips open, the outer end hangs lower.
4-7mph – the flag is mostly extended, the waves are deep, a large portion of the outer top corner flips back and forth.
8-12mph – the flag is completely extended, the waves are faster and smaller than 7mph
13-18mph – the flag is still completely extended, the waves are faster than 12mph. The changes from 20mph and up are more subtle and harder to distinguish from each other.
Info on flag related wind speed pictures, click here

Airports are a great place to check out the ‘wind sock’. At the airports you can see not only which direction the wind is blowing, but also fast the wind is going, due to how much of the ‘sock’ is extended. (if you have never seen them they are orange and cone like).

Psycho-Cross

As if the past couple of weeks haven’t been crazy enough, I wanted to go watch Psycho-Cross at the Dick Lane Velodrome this year. I have track raced at the Dick Lane Velodrome several seasons and it really improved my road racing. After being away from track racing for several seasons, I got back down there a couple times this year and got some video .

After missing it the previous year and seeing the pictures from the Psycho-Cross race I really wanted to attend the event this year. But as the registration deadline came upon us, things get set into motion and you become pulled in different directions attempting to fit in as much as possible with the limited hours employees call a weekend.

|Photo by Ben Brian|

What I thought was going to be a simple transfer of vehicles at the velodrome turned into chaotic string of phone calls, drastic change of transportation, spastic organization, and directionally challenged, hang it all out, let’s Party event!

After finalizing my ride with Geoff, Eddie informed me that we were heading to A.T.S. to grab my Mt bike – I would not be spectating, but indeed racing – whichever race was still available once we got there – luckily the Master’s had already started, and I registered for the B’s race.

Once there I got dressed, grabbed the wallet, headed to registration, got signed up, back to Geoff’s car – and it’s locked…. back past registration, search the sea of spectators, find Geoff, back to the car, drop off wallet. Get water – no bottles.?! No time! I grab a quick outfit for the event & race back to the start line where I have about 30 seconds for them to say “Go!”

It is a nice easy uphill start to the event then into some switch backs that is Great to thin the pack out right away. I started near the back, and things were not to get much better for me, but the fun hadn’t even started yet. After the first “there is no way they could better utilize space” of a course, switchbacks, the cotton-mouth was driving me crazy, and I had no water bottle to drink from, it’s warm for October and a far stretch from the 50* and rain of this time last year.

You come out of the top switch backs, down over the curb onto the asphalt that leads you into the velodrome, dropping into the infield for a suicide lap (right hand turns). After making it through turns 3/4 of the drome, you go through a chicane on the back stretch then back onto the grass for some switch backs that loop you back around to the backside field for the only set of barriers – this was cool, because you could now see who was behind you as you double back. Next you get onto the inner track of the velodrome, then onto the ‘run-up’ to the parking lot, through some more switchbacks -remember use of space here! – then onto the grass area switchbacks then onto the asphalt back to the velodrome again…. if it sounds easy, it wasn’t. It was pretty tough! Some guys were making the run-up this year, last year only 1-2 people did the whole day.

Finally by the end of the 2nd lap I knew I wasn’t going to be in contention for anything but the “lantern rouge” (last finisher) so I called out for not just any drink – the drink of mythical creatures, the drink that turns bar wenches into Angels – BEER! Interesting how during a cross race, it is not only appropriate, but almost expected for those racing to consume this liquid beverage.


|Photo by Peachtree Bikes|

Beer was indeed quickly handed out by several spectators that seemed to take pity on my suffering and willing to add quantities of fluids to wash away said cotton-mouth. Nervous at first of racing on hops and barley, I swigged gingerly, and did a lap. No problems except for the cotton mouth rearing it’s ugly head again.

|Photo by Ben Brian|

After a couple rounds of Psycho-Cross and refreshments from the Fans, the hairpin turns started to be smoothed out, I used my brakes a little less – whether I was more relaxed in the turns or not going as fast is debatable. But 1 thing for sure, the Fun was in Full effect!


|Photo by Ben Brian|

I couldn’t tell you where I placed in the race, and really I don’t care. I had a Blast, raced a solid effort (maybe I should say I got some solid race-pace efforts), and nearly drank my entry fee worth of beer < -- that alone is a great reason for you to get out and try a cyclo-cross race this winter! BUT the main reason that you should try doing cyclo-cross is not about winning, it isn't about how well you do. Cyclo-cross is truly about bike handling skills - mounting, dismounts, carrying, and steering through terrain variations. Oh, and having Fun while getting in a great workout that your body probably isn't used too.

No US Pro Race Radio

I was at the 2010 USPro race in Greenville, SC. While I was there I found out that the officials did not allow race radios. So the team directors could only talk to a rider if the rider slowed down so their team car could pull up beside him, or the driver was able to pull up beside the racer along a section of road.

Normally the team directors have instantaneous communication with their team members and direct information from race officials about time gaps, and where team members are along the road – besides this, they will also get information about upcoming obstacles and odd situations that the racers may encounter.

During the 2010 USPro race a young up and coming cyclist Ben King racing for the Shack, was in a 3 man break almost immediately, and on the 3rd lap, almost as soon as the climb started up Paris Mt. King pulled away from his break a way companions. It would be the last time he would ride with another cyclist that day. He climbed up Paris Mt, then through downtown Greenville, SC. Up Paris Mt again, before starting the final 3 laps on the finishing circuit in a Time Trial position.

I was chatting with different people and everyone seemed to agree that the pack would start to heat up, and a team would come to the front and reel King back in. I saw BMC come to the front. BMC had what appeared to be 4 riders in the next break, including George Hincapie, and Levi Leipheimer. Several teams kept the pace high in attempts to reel in King, including BMC, Kelly Strategies, Garmin Transitions – yet they were unsuccessful in reeling in the solo break-a-way rider King. In fact King seemed to hold his 2 minute lead around most of the downtown circuit.

King held a 2 minute gap against riders from 3 different teams. Would race radios have changed this?
Most USCF racers are not allowed to use radios, citing ‘too distractive’. Is this a sign of future racing – No race radios? Will this make for more exciting races?

Mens Racing Category

There was a question asked many times, about road racing categories and which category should a beginner cyclist join to attempt their first race? Hopefully, this will clarify some of these questions for beginners as well as give some racers a better idea of what to expect from teams and team strategies for racing in higher categories.

While this may seem like a basic question to the common racer, it is a often asked question from outsiders of the cycling racing scene.

I can only write about things that I have seen and experienced from racing in the categories and some USPro races in the South Eastern US.

Here in the US we have USA Cycling Federation that creates and enforces most regulations of ‘sanctioned’ races.
But as I look over their website, it seems based for riders that are into racing, not riders that are looking to get into racing. So, I thought I would compile the basic categories and some info on what to expect in each.

MEN Categories are as follows:

Beginners = Category 5, nearly all racers must start in this category. There will be 1st time racers as well as some folks that are used to doing group rides and are now starting to get the hang of what it is like to ride steady and finish a race.

Upgrading 5-4:
To’upgrade’ from this category you Experience in 10 mass start races. Mass starts are groups starts – IE. criterium or road races. NO Time trial starts will qualify.

Category 4 = These riders have competed in a minimum number of cat.5 races. There will be riders here that are still getting their feet wet, and some riders that like racing in this category and can win many races.
Expect the pack to roll along usually together, and chase most attacks from other riders, but usually no counter-attacks, Therefore, most races in this category will come down to a sprint finish.

Upgrading 4->3:
20 points in any 12-month period; or experience in 25 qualifying races with a minimum of 10 top ten finishes with fields of 30 riders or more, or 20 pack finishes with fields over 50. 30 points in 12 months is an automatic upgrade

Category 3: These racers are really starting to get strong. These riders are usually frequent group riders. They will have fairly good bike handling skills. Some racers will want to stay in Cat3’s and not upgrade – for a variety of reasons.

Expect these races to be often aggressive, but many still only attack the climbs, then keep a steady tempo, and chase any attacks. Therefore, many races may come down to sprint finishes.
Expect to see some team tactics, both failed and ones that work well. This is where team strategies will start to play a factor in the outcome of ‘some’ races.
Expect more climbers to show up at hilly races & more sprinters are flatter races.

Upgrading 3-2:
3-2: 25 points in any 12-month period
40 points in 12 months is an automatic upgrade

Pro1,2: These races are where the racing really hits the fan!
These are the guys that have ridden 100-200 miles each weekend over the winter. Some maybe moto-pacing. On group rides, they are the guys that are either chatting at the back of the group (because they know they won’t get dropped) or on the front, pushing the pace. These guys can ride tempo on the front of a group at 20 mph and still hold a conversation with you about drinking last night.

Upgrading:
2-1: 30 points in any 12-month period**
50 points in 12 months is an automatic upgrade

Attacks are the norm for this category! expect most races come down to a sprint – a sprint of who is still left in the break! Sometimes, the break gets shattered and the riders will come-in 1-2 at a time due to the speed, attacks, heat, terrain. Sometimes chaotic, sometimes controlled, the pace will vary based on who and if any Pro’s show up that weekend.

The pace may slow down just in time for you to breathe, but usually before you actually recover, someone will be flying off the front again!

Expect team-mates to be organized and team-members that are not afraid to be a sacrificial domestique for their team leader & chase anything down that they don’t like.

Master’s categories: In most Master’s races you can expect a steadier pace than in a Pro1,2 race. The attacks are there, but usually not quite as aggressive – these guys all know they have to go to work on Monday – they usually have families and don’t take some of the chances that the lower categories may try. The racing team tactics can be fierce! Expect the pace to be only slightly slower than a Pro1,2 race.

Some fields require a Master’s fields have 2 requirements:
A) ‘racing age’ over the category. So, if you are turning 35 in December or earlier you racing age for that year, then your ‘racing age’ is 35.

B) to be a cat4 or higher (no cat 5’s) but each race may have different rules.

I hope this helps clarify the questions about where to start off as a new racer, and a little of what to expect in each of the categories, and the differences to expect once you upgrade.

Stronger cycling

I have taken a week long break away from cycling in the Atlanta heat. It was a nice break during a heat wave that came through the South eastern US – good timing for me.

I spent two weeks in the gym working out again. This re-visiting squats, lunges, core exercises, and total body circuit training helps the balance the body back out from too much of a good thing (cycling) and allows you to tone up and hopefully drop some bodyfat % – ALL of that will create a stronger cyclist.

Now that I have been getting back on the bike I am starting to get in more climbing again. I have been getting out on rides that only had only a few people in the group. I have been able to do this on the Mt bike the past couple of weekends, but now I’m also getting some of that climbing with groups.

Last night I did the Smyrna Bikes Monday night ride. This is a fun group to ride with, and although the pace is not ‘race pace’ it is definitely NOT a recovery ride. For this ride, my goal was to ride how I felt, but climb in a harder gear than I usually would while attempting to stay with a group, this is possible with this ride because after each serious climb they will re-group. That allows me to work on my leg strength with out worrying about being dropped by the group or getting too tired to keep up with the group later in the ride.

A buddy of mine commented that I always seem to climb in a seated position. This is true, and not by chance. 1) For a non-climbing rider, you can usually put more power into the pedals being seated. Where-as a lighter rider is usually able to use his own bodyweight to add more power to the hills while standing.
2) staying seated on a climb keeps my heart rate lower than standing, I will stand to accelerate or stand just to get over steeper sections of a climb.

If you have compact cranks you can still do this type of hill training, the key is to use a harder gear than you usually would. Most people that have compact cranks end up spinning all the time. This is good on race day or Big events, but it does not create stronger legs. If you truly want to get stronger while cycling you have to mash a harder gear in training.

Remember train your weakness, but race your strengths.

Climbing hills in a harder gear than you are used too will give you ‘on the bike’ leg strength that is needed for stronger cycling. What happens is that you to fatigue your muscles, and only by stressing the muscles and allowing for adequate recovery do they get stronger. As you continue to do this, those mountains will become more like hills.

So get out there and hit the climbs.

Get the System that I and my clients use to become a Stronger Cyclist. In this ebook I will give you a system of how to set-up your training in a way that allows you to focus on 1 of the 4 parts of the puzzle at a time AND in the correct order. This will ensure you become a Stronger Cyclist.

Download this ebook instantly and get started today on becoming a Stronger Cyclist!
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Bicycle Racing Tactics

If you have been watching the Tour de France you will see some of the top climbers use all kinds of racing strategy (or at least carry-out the directors strategy via their ear-piece). But if the more you know about what is going on the more clear it becomes why some riders make certain moves, which the commentators are so eager to speculate on.

For instance in the 2010 stage 13 of the TdF, in the mountains Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador allowed Menchov to attack them and gain valuable time, while the two of them eyed each other. It’s hard to say what they each were thinking, strategy wise. But as one person put it on twitter:

Strange day. Andy seems happy w/ 30 sec. on Bert, and Bert happy to give time to Menchov and Sanchez. Blunder for both, or smart riding?

The reason that this is so important in the TdF is that they will be facing a Time Trial coming up, where their team-mates will not be able to help, and Menchov will be strongly favored over Schleck and Contador.

It’s amazing to watch the strategy of each racer in the tour as the days go by. Sometimes the strategy changes very quickly from winning to surviving. But rarely the opposite happens. The strategy of a multi-stage race has many differences and similarities to a single day race. A good team will know how to use their strengths for an advantage, and to avoid having a team mate in a tough spot.

This is part of what it is like to be able to ‘read a race’. Knowing how a race is going to unfold before it happens. Two of the best at it that I’ve seen were: at 45 years old 1996 Olympic alternate, Kent Bostick, and Jittery Joe pro, Jeff Hopkins.

Hopkins became notorious for telling a racer on the velodrome that they would be the next one out, then make it happen. He knew the race and the dynamics so well, that it was hard to combat his combination of strength and strategy. He is somewhat infamous for sitting at the back of a local Pro NRC criterium, and crashing because he was waving at some ladies – gets put back into the race banged-up and bloody – and rallies his team to get him into the top 5 for the finish. Later, his team mate said ‘when a guy like Hoppy says get me up there, you do it!’

As I raced with Bostick he would ask people if they were happy with 2nd and if you said no, he would just attack you. He made it in your best interest to say ‘yes’ and gladly work with him to get you to the finish line ahead of the main field. He would make sure that everyone in the break took a turn of pulling and then watch to see who was stronger and who was getting tired. Bostick knew how the race was going to unfold in his mind before it even happened. Even if he was the oldest guy in the Pro1,2 field and maybe not the strongest, he was able to use strategy to overcome his opponents.

1) Create a strategy. Some good ideas for strategy is to have a team meeting before the race starts. See who has the legs and strongest desire to win that day.

2) Plan the outcome. Next figure on a plan that will have the race unfold as you would like to see happen, and a back-up plan in-case it doesn’t.

3) Action. Next, when the time comes, take action! Act upon the plan that the team has created as best as you can.

4) Learn. Regardless of the outcome, always try to learn from what happened and improve your teams results.

Track Racing Video

Here is a little video insight into what it is like to ride/race at the velodrome. This was a Wednesday evening race series in July. The race was the B group (they have A,B & C categories). Good times & since everyone has taken a ‘track riding class’ and is on a fixed gear bicycle with no brakes, it is actually much safer than most road riding. No one can slam on their brakes. To slow down you simply don’t pedal as fast. Because the velodrome has 34 degree bank in the corners, riders will go high into the corners, then ‘drop down’ to pick up lots of speed before going into the straight-aways.

Here is a little article on the Dick Lane Velodrome in the Atlanta magazine

A great thing about racing at the velodrome is that everyone is very friendly and you can share race tactics in different scenarios, then go right out and attempt it right away since the races vary in length from single lap ‘chariot’ races to 50 laps and even the ‘unknown’ race in which only the director & their assistant of the velodrome know when they will ring the bell for the last lap.

DLV Wed. Night Race from Stephen Carhart on Vimeo.

Most everyone usually runs about an 88 inch gear.
For this nights races I was running a 95 inch gear (46×13) – challenging, but not on purpose (I had left my gears at home by accident). But it did make me mash a larger gear than I normally would. Although I usually don’t do it some track races will over-gear to gain leg strength.

Track racing will test your ability to push the same gear for a period of time, then get that gear up to your max spinning effort.

If you are in the Alanta area, the Dick Lane Velodrome has loaner bikes so you can try a beginner class and see what it is like to get bounced around on the lap of the Velodrome.