Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A great start to the off-season

The off-season!  This really is one of my favorite times of the year.  Not only is it fall, which I love, but my cycling takes on a whole new dimension.  Gone are the hammerfests of summer where the name of the game is racing to the next regroup point.  Gone are the mid-week hill repeats.  And gone are the rides where heart rate average is more important then scenery.

The funny thing is that there is no official start to my off-season.  For my friends who race it’s easy.  The off-season starts after the last race of the year.  For me, well, it kind of starts when I want it to and that’s typically once the days become too short to ride after work.  Yeah, nothing says off-season to me more then climbing on the trainer for my mid-week workouts.

There is one more key indicator to the start of my off-season.  I completely lose almost all motivation to ride.  I typically log over 3,000 miles on the road by fall, with many additional hours on the trainer, so I am mentally ready for a break.  This makes it hard to find my mojo for wet conditions, high heat, big climbs, or long rides.  I simply don’t feel the need to push it this time of year and so far, my off-season is off to a great start.

It started 2 Saturdays ago with the West County Revolution Soup Spoons & Carbon Forks ride.  We all headed out to climb Pine Flat as high as we wanted to go.  I was feeling very good but instead of pushing a lifted pace I settled into a very gentle rhythm that took me all the way to the top.  I also refrained from all of the pace lines on the way out and simply enjoyed the ride and chatting with friends.

On Sunday, I woke up to the first rain of the season.  It was a very light, and warm, rain so it really wasn’t a big deal.  In the spring or summer, I would have easily cranked out 40 or more miles in those conditions.  However, on Sunday I simply reached for my coffee cup and settled in for a nice relaxing day.  That was the first day of an impromptu break where I was off the bike for eight days.  I just didn’t feel the need to get on the bike and that’s got off-season written all over it.

Last Sunday I was finally back on the bike to ride with friends.  We were supposed to climb to the second peak on the Geysers and then climb Pine Flat.  It was a beautiful day but it was also going to be very hot.  We roll from The Flying Goat in Healdsburg and head straight to the Geysers and once got there I headed straight for my triple ring.  I took it slow and steady with my friend Carmen, who raced the day before, and we chatted all the way to the first summit.

IMG_0361 As we reached the top of the first summit it was already pushing 90 degrees.  That’s too toasty for me so I bid my friends good bye and headed back to town.  As they continued climbing to the second summit I did my own version of a second Geysers stop.  I stopped at the Geyserville Mud Cafe for a quick espresso before heading home.  The ride should have been around 50 miles and instead I got in a grand total of 31. 

There you have it.  In the span of 8 days I started the off-season, wimp out on a ride in the rain, bailed early on a ride in the heat, and my trainer has a slight coating of dust on the seat.  I am supposed to head to the trainer right now but somehow I already know that I won’t get any further then the coffee pot.


Friday, September 17, 2010

A cyclist’s signs of Fall

Fall is coming.  Although the calendar says it’s not official until next Wednesday, the early warning signs have already arrived.  The shorter days, a coolness in the air, trees just starting to turn colors, our first potential rain forecast, and the start of the grape harvest are sure signs a change is taking place.  However, if you are a cyclist, there are even more indicators that Fall is near.

The cycling “season” in Northern California is a long one.  We start having perfect riding weather as early as March and it continues on into October.  This makes for a lot of rides, a lot of miles, and in the end, a lot of tired cyclists.  So, just as the weather seasons change so does the cycling seasons and you don’t need to be Daniel Boone to read the signs.

Let’s start with FB.  In racing season, all through Spring and Summer, my cycling friends are always posting comments about their races.  You know, things like where they finished, how team mates did, and how they can’t wait unit the next race.  Now, the posts are different.  There’s a lot of comments like not being sure of having the legs for the next race or thanking their sponsors and friends for a great year.  This is definitely a sign of easier riding days ahead.

Ride descriptions are also starting to change.  Instead of long rides full of hills and pace lines, you are seeing more descriptions with the words easy, mellow, relaxed, and social in them.  This is another sure sign that the racing season is complete and the more relaxed riding of Fall is just around the corner.

There are also the post-ride descriptions.  This time of year you still have some people posting big rides like climbing Pine Flat or the Geysers.  Then, on Monday, when you ask how the climbing went, they pause and explain how they just weren’t feeling it so they skipped the climb and just went for a easy mellow ride.  And these are people who seek out hills with the same intensity that most of us seek out pastries.

There is one sign for me that stands above all others.  Trainer rides!  I loathe riding on the trainer but I understand the need to do it.  So, now that the days are shorter and I don’t have enough time to ride after work I have already completed my first trainer work out of the off season.  It was boring as hell but I got through it.

None of these changes mean we quit riding.  Not at all.  We still plan, post, and text about the upcoming weekend rides.  We just ride differently.  We don’t shift to the big ring quite as fast.  Some of us leave our heart rate monitors at home.  We are much more likely to pass on climbing a big hill in favor of stopping for coffee.  In fact some of our rides are designed to go from one coffee shop to the next. 

For many of you out there, me included, Fall is our favorite time of the year.  This is when a lot of us get back to the simple joy of riding.  We get back the joy of rolling along with friends chatting, laughing, and telling (perhaps re-telling) stories about our cycling adventures for the year.  We also sit up and enjoy the view.  I look forward to this change every year because these are my favorite rides.

Yes, Fall is here.  And we know that Winter, with all its rainy, cold, nasty weather can’t be far behind.  That’s ok.  Until it gets here I will simply enjoy the cool days and beautiful color-change in the vineyards as I ride along laughing with friends and trying to decide what I’m going to order when we get to the coffee shop.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Smartly pushing the pace

This was a great weekend of cycling.  Not only did I have two great rides but I had friends who performed very well in their various races this weekend in events ranging from mountain biking in Annadel to a 3-day stage race in Folsom.  Everyone seemed to have a blast and that’s what cycling is all about. 

What made my rides this weekend so special?  Well, it was a combination of pushing the pace and riding smart.  I was planning to ride "Sonoma County's Finest" Bike Tour with Brian and a few members of his Blue Line Cycling Team.  This was the inaugural ride benefitting the Sonoma County Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Service, which I think is a great cause.  These people do so much to help others cope with terrible circumstances.

Saturday morning dawns crystal clear and you just know it’s going to be a great day for a nice relaxing bike tour through the Wine County.  Alas, that is not what happened.  You see, I ended up riding with just Brian and his coach Fran.  At this point I need to mention that Fran is a Cat 3 rider and Brian, who I used to be able to hang with, has become an animal on the bike.  At this point I decide to ride smart and hang with them as long as I can.

At 8:30 we’re off.  The pace was solid and lifted from the beginning.  The course was what we call Sonoma County flat.  This means it was a lot of rollers and the occasional small hill.  As Fran settled into a rhythm, I settled in behind him.  Then Brian take the front for a while as I simply drafted to save energy and continued to hang on.

We reached the first rest stop, at the 20 mile mark, in basically one hour.  That is fast for me.  At the rest stop I told them that if I drop to keep going.  They are still training and I am not.  Besides, I knew the way the home. 

As we left the rest stop the pace started lifting again and we were cruising  at 20+ mph at this point.  Fran got things going with a very long pull.  Then Brian held the front with me on his wheel.  Then he pulled over and I was on the front.  Decision time.  They knew I was slower and had basically said it was ok to draft to the end.  However, I felt I needed to take the front at least once.

Brian came off the front at the perfect time.  We were on a short rise that was followed by about 2 miles of flat.  So, I used this section of road to take a decent pull then got back into my draft position.  This is where I stayed for the next 10 miles until I dropped back on a small climb.  By the time I got to the top they were gone.

From there, I settled into my own slightly-lifted pace and finished the ride.  I am very happy with my efforts for how long I stayed with them and that I was never passed once I was on my own.  In looking at the post-ride data on the Garmin, I can see that we averaged 20 mph from mile 10 to mile 35 (they managed it to the end).  I have never held that speed for that long (my average for long rides is typically around 17 mph) so of course I am pretty excited about it.

Sunday was supposed to be an easy recovery ride.  However, some of us were riding to the start and a flat tire from a fellow rider at the very beginning put us behind meant we had to kick it.  This is not what I needed but I managed to dig deep and take some big pulls on the front at 20+ mph once again.  Was I still being smart?  I pushed hard to get us there on time then back off the pace dramatically.   So in essence, I did a 10 mile interval followed by 30 miles of recovery and it worked out just fine.

There you have it.  Two great rides where I pushed the pace but in a smart way.  Apparently, it’s not just my legs getting stronger and that’s a very good thing.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ode to Riviera Ristorante

I have mentioned Riviera Ristorante numerous times in this blog.  It is a great  Italian restaurant that is one of the favorites of the cycling community.  It is a fabulous little place owned and run by Giampaolo, Luca and Rita.  After all these years, I decided it was time to let the rest of you know just how great these people really are.

Let’s start by saying all three of them are great riders.  Some of the stories about them have become legendary.  There is the time Giampaolo dropped half the Astana team on a local climb or the story of him riding the Terrible Two every year in about 11 hours and then working in the restaurant the rest of the night.  Luca has been heard to cook all through lunch and then get in a “quick” 75 mile ride before coming back to prepare for the dinner crowd.  Rita once ask friends if they wanted to join her for a short ride that turned into a 90-mile adventure on nothing but one water bottle and two pieces of focaccia.  I happen to know that at least two of these stories are true (I’ll  let you decide which two).  The point is, these folks are strong riders.

IMG_3079 Maybe it’s not so surprising that their restaurant would become a gathering place for cyclists.  And, I’m not just talking about the locals.  Of course we all eat there often but so does some of the greatest cyclists in the world.  We have our local pros Levi, Scott and Steve as well as local Teams BMC and Bissell who are all there on a regular basis.  However, we also get to see pro teams from around the world as they come to Wine Country for training camps.  I’ll be there waiting for an order to go and Giampaolo might tell me, in his Italian accent, something like Team HTC-Columbia called for dinner reservations.  I also know that Team Radio Shack and Team Astana have held dinners there are well.

This close connection to the international cycling community means that they have an  impressive collection of signed jerseys, photos and other memorabilia.  So, while the food is definitely Italian, the decor is cycling.  There are enough framed signed jerseys on the walls to make the US Cycling Hall of Fame jealous. 

IMG_0322However, here’s the real deal.  You could replace each and every jersey with fine needle point “art” from Ben Franklin Crafts and I would still eat there just as often as I do today.  Why?  Because their food is just that good.  It takes more then a few jerseys and the occasional mention of Dura Ace to attract food savvy Wine Country cyclists.  It takes great food with good wine and Riviera has both.  While I have my favorite dishes I always have to hear the specials first.  There are a few specials that appear regularly and some of these are simply too good to pass up.  (I wonder when they will have the spaghetti and crab pasta special again?)

Now, here’s where it all comes together.  A few months ago Riviera was closed for remodeling the garden patio.  And, while they were only closed for two weeks, the patio was out-of-commission for a while reducing their capacity by about 20 diners.  They also closed for lunch completely until the patio was complete.  If you’ve ever run a business then you know that when you are not open you are not making money.

IMG_3083 That’s when the cycling community rallied to help jump start Riviera with its new and improved patio.  Jonathan Lee, team director for the Red Peloton, send out emails, tweets, FB invitations, and any thing else you can think of to invite cyclist to the Jump Start Riviera dinner on August 30th.  The 78 available seats sold out in about two days.  So, there is a second one on September 6th.  I was at the first one and you can bet I will be there tomorrow as well.

After all, it’s the least I (we) can do for a group of people who have done so much for our cycling community.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to place my order.