Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Tour of California

Well, after months of waiting, it was finally here. America's premier cycling event, the Tour of California. In its honor, my fiscal year now runs from February to February. In reality, the TOC starts even earlier for me. First of all, we get to see top pros like Scott Nydam, Alexandre Moos, as well as Levi Leipheimer, this year's winner for the third year in row, riding the back roads of Sonoma County on a regular basis.

Since I live in Santa Rosa, I also have the privilege of being in a city that has hosted a finish every year since the race started. As a result, many of the teams arrive in town 1-2 weeks early for training and scouting rides. This year we had Team Astana, Team BMC, the Bissell Pro Cycling Team, and many others riding our roads and hanging out in our local coffee shops. If you are a cycling fan the tension really starts to build.

Then it's Valentine's Day and the race begins. I watch the entire prologue on TV. And while I am pulling for Levi, who lives in Santa Rosa, I know that Fabian Cancellera is an absolute bad-ass on a time trial bike. Sure enough, Fabian takes the first stage.

The next real excitement came that night. Pedro sent me an invite to the Santa Rosa Bicycles for Humanity charity event. The evening's special guest was none other then Paul Sherwen. So after hearing him comment on the race during the day, we got to meet him that night. Of course, where there's Paul, there's Phil. That' right. Phil Leggitt also attended as did Craig Hummer. It was a blast chatting with them. It was also a very successful evening. Local cyclists raised over $10,000 far surpassing the goal of $8,000. (BTW - You simply have to love a wife who lets you spend Valentine's Day at a cycling fund raiser!)

It's now Santa Rosa's big day. And it's raining, hard. If you saw the stage you know just how miserable it was for the riders. Still, I arrive downtown just after noon and watch the Women's Criterium. It was really something to see this group of riders so dedicated to race in that rain. The Women's Crit photo was taken by Rodney Cox and the woman in the photo was the eventual winner. Her name is Emilia Fahlin. She is the youngest member of Team Columbia-Highroad and the current Swedish road champion.

Then the men came through. We actually got to see Mancebo get caught in the final lap only to sprint to the finish for the win. It was awesome. And Lance, as in Armstrong, was nice enough to be in front when they came by on the second lap so he was very easy to spot. When it was all said in done I spend over 5 hours in the rain watching cycling and hanging with my wife and cycling buds. Not a bad day at all.

On Sunday it was 5 hours in the rain and on Monday it was 5 hours in front of the TV as I watched Stage 2 from start to finish. (If you couldn't tell by now, I do not have children.) I wasn't feeling great Monday morning and I woke up to more wicked rain so it was the perfect day to sit in front of the TV all day and watch the Tour. Levis' attack on Stage 2 was simply unbelievable. I really do wonder what it must feel like to ride a bike at that level. I can assure you I will never know. I will also never know another feeling the Levi experienced that day. Pulling on the leader's jersey in a stage race. So with Levi now in the yellow jersey, I am ready for the rest of the Tour.

The really sad moment for me in this Tour occurred on Stage 4 when our other local man, Scott Nydam, crashed out of the race. It's one thing to hear about the crashes and quite another when it is someone you know and have had the chance to ride with. Although he broke his collar bone, again, he seems to be otherwise fine and I wish him, and all of the riders who crashed, a speedy recovery.

The remainder of the week was spent glued to cyclingnews.com during the day and Versus TV coverage at night. Everyday brought its own level of excitement and I truly enjoyed watching each and every stage.

Finally, the end came on Sunday. You know where I was. Once again plopped down in front of the TV to see if our home town hero could pull off his third win in a row. You already know the answer.

I cannot wait until next year when we get to do the whole thing all over again.

Until then . . .


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Power intervals, hide & seek, chivalry and a broken chain

Wow! How's that for a title. In case you haven't already guessed, I will be writing about quite a few topics this go around. However, I can honestly say, it's still all about the bike.

Last Sunday I went for my first training ride with Coach Tim. Now, Tim and I have ridden together a lot over the last 5 years. But this was the first time he was going to coach me during the ride. The plan? To go out and ride power intervals over 5 smallish hills. Of course, before we can ride we need our pre-ride pick-me-up from Flying Goat Coffee.

Then we're off. The first hill was relatively easy and more of a warm up. The only problem was my shifting. I was climbing in the middle ring but every time I went to the larger cogs in the rear the pedals would skip. This was more annoying then anything else so I just decided to deal with it and fix it back at home. Over the next 45 miles we power climbed 4 other hills. The goal was to stay in a monster gear, turn the pedals at a cadence between 50 and 60 rpm, and absolutely stay in the saddle. It was the last part that was the hardest for me. You see, I rather enjoy climbing out of the saddle. In the end, it was a great workout and one I definitely felt the rest of the day.

On the way home I stopped by NorCal Bike Sport and they checked out the sled. I had just cleaned it really well the day before and was assuming I knocked something out of whack. They took a peek and said that some road gunk (it was a rainy day) had clogged the cables. So a few minutes later I was good to go and at no charge.

Yesterday, Carmen, Dennis and I went out under very stormy looking skies and played a 60 mile game of hide-and-seek with the rain. We were mostly successful. While it rain on us a few times, we never really got wet. And, you could see by the water on the road that it had recently rained very heavily in some places.

It was during our very first wet section that I started thinking about chivalry for some reason. Don't get me wrong. The women I am lucky enough to ride with can definitely hold their own and have towed my back home on more then one occasion. Still, in my mind I asked myself this question. On a cold, windy, rainy day, is it more chivalrous to pull in front and block the wind while drowning the woman behind you with road spray, or should you ride behind her to make her deal with the wind and accept the free ride? I did not come up with an answer.

The only real issue on the ride occurred towards the end. Once we started riding, I discovered the bike was still skipping gears. What the hell! I guess it's back to NorCal. Then, at around the 50 mile mark, while we were going up a small grade, it started skipping with every pedal stroke. So I stopped to see if something was in the chain. And as I slowly turned the pedals to inspect the chain it simply fell off onto the road. Well, maybe that's the problem. The solution? Fortunately, I carry a chain tool with me and less then 10 minutes later, and 2 chain links shorter, we were on the way. The bike worked perfectly after that.

Right now, I am getting ready to head downtown to watch the finish of Stage 2 of the Tour of California. Look for news about that in the coming days.

Until then,


Monday, February 9, 2009

Living in a cycling mecca

Although I started cycling a little later in life then most, I really do like everything about this great sport. I love the camaraderie of group rides and the social nature of post ride coffee. I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself physically up hills and mentally on long solo efforts. It's fun to hear Sherry shout at the riders when we are watching it on TV and to ring our cowbells when we get to see races live. I read news and blogs about cycling everyday. And, I think Phil Leggit and Paul Sherwin are an absolute kick in the butt.

So how did a beach bum from Florida end up living in one of of the top cycling meccas of the world? I am not exactly sure but to quote Julie Andrews, "somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good."

Sonoma County is truly on the world-wide map for the cycling community. To begin with, you have our most famous Santa Rosa resident, Levi Leipheimer of Team Astana, constantly talking about how great the cycling is here. Scott Nydum, of Team BMC, now calls Sonoma County home. And Steven Cozza, of Team Garmin-Slipstream, was born here and still lives in Petaluma in the off season.

Then comes the Tour of California which will see Stage 1 end in Santa Rosa for the 4th straight year. The ToC has become such a great race that many of the world's elite cyclists will be lining up at the start. The field this year is arguably the most talented field of cyclists ever assembled on U.S. soil. And I can't wait.

So what does all this mean for a local cyclist? Basically, you get the chance to meet, and sometimes ride with, a lot of pros. Last November I rode with Scott Nydum and attended a welcome home dinner for Levi Leipheimer. In January, I rode the "Ride the Route" which included 4 or 5 women pro cyclist who will be racing in the crit during the ToC. This ride ended with a meet and greet of the Team BMC riders who were participating in the ToC.

Here is a sampling of just the last 2 weeks as teams have begun to hold training camps in Sonoma County.
  • On my way to work I stopped by Flying Goat Coffee and got the chance to chat with 3 riders from the Bissell Pro Cycling Team.
  • Over the next 2 weeks, I ran into 1 Astana rider, 2 of Astana's Director Sportifs, and some of the support staff.
  • Tim and I met 3 of the young lads from the Trek Under 23 Development Team, also at Flying Goat, as they braced themselves for the upcoming 4-5 hour ride in the rain.
  • Last Saturday, while Sherry and I were eating dinner at Riviera, Yaroslav Popovych came in with 4 other Astana riders. I also spoke with Alexandre Moos from Team BMC, who also showed up for dinner, as Sherry and I were leaving.
  • The Trek U23 Development Team rode by me, going the other way, on my ride Saturday.
  • Team Astana past 2 of my friends while out riding this weekend. Carmen was passed by them on Saturday and Pat said the "flew by" him on Sunday.

So you can see that Sonoma County is not just a great place to ride a bike. It's a great place to live if you love the sport of cycling. Then, when you throw world class racing, along with some world class wine, into the mix, well you just can't go wrong.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to find my cowbell.


Monday, February 2, 2009

The perfect 25 mile ride

This weekend was full of more spring-like weather with near records highs on both Saturday and Sunday. So, of course, that meant more riding. The plan? On Saturday we were going to climb Rockpile.

Rockpile is a favorite of our group. It's a 12 mile climb that begins at Lake Sonoma and heads out to a dead end. This means typically we have the road to ourselves. As you can see, there are a few minor descents but it is mostly up. Then, once you reach the top, it is a blistering fast descent back to the bottom. In the final stretch, the road is very straight at about a 14% grade. Anyone one with enough mojo can easily hit speeds over 50 in this section. (My personal best is 50.) This profile, courtesy of the Santa Rosa Cycling Club, actually leaves off 2 miles of climbing at the start of the climb.

A total of 7 of us head out from Cafe Noto in 30 degree weather. We are actually riding 3 different routes. Tim and Jeff are doing something a little shorter, which means they will miss the climb. Pat and Jim are going long (Pat has a double century coming up and did 115 miles.) And Carmen, Dennis and I are going to put in around 60 miles. This will be the longest ride of the year for me. And when you consider I am still rebounding from my cold, my plan is to ride conservatively and work on cadence, turning big circles, and focusing on my heart rate.

So we cruise through the vineyards of Dry Creek Valley and hit the climb. This will be the first time for Carmen and Dennis and you can feel their excitement and trepidation. Rockpile is a legendary climb in Sonoma County and must be treated with respect no matter how good you are.

The climb was mostly uneventful. Everyone rode their own pace and we all made it to the top while enjoying the views. We all took it pretty easy on the way down (I topped out at 45) and started the ride back. Pat and Jim peeled off to do their thing while Dennis, Carmen and I (well mostly Dennis) took turns pulling on the way back. In the end, I was very fatigued but quite happy with the day's efforts.

So, if I rode 60 miles, why is the title of this blog referencing 25 miles? Because that was Sunday's ride. Pat and I planned to meet at Bad Ass Coffee and head out for 40 or so miles. The purpose? To spin out the legs. We both discovered last year that the fastest way to recovery after a big effort was to go for a high-cadence, easy paced ride.

As I was riding to Bad Ass I was thinking, "If all I need to do is spin a little, then the 6 mile ride to Bad Ass and back should be enough." When Pat arrives I ask how he is feeling. Tired! How tired? Very tired! So I hint that we could get off the bikes and drink coffee. After thinking about it we decided we had to go little further. So a short loop later we are sipping a cup of Joe and talking about the beautiful day. During the time it took to finish our coffee, we watch 25 cyclists ride past. By the time I got back home I had a grand total of 25 perfect miles.

So there you have it. Great rides, awesome climbs, good coffee and fun with friends. It's no wonder I like this thing called cycling.