Monday, June 27, 2011

The SAG Wagon

I believe one of the most important things in life is the act of giving back.  There are thousands of ways to do this but it usually consists of giving time, money or both.  With that in mind, I spent a good chunk of last Saturday giving back to the cycling world that has brought me so much joy.

giro-bello-logo Carmen, my good friend and fellow cyclist, convinced me to help out with the Steven Cozza - Giro Bello Classic charity ride last Saturday.  It wasn’t very hard.  I’ve ridden in numerous fun rides over the years so I am happy to step off the bike and volunteer my services so other riders can enjoy the day.  My role was to provide SAG coverage throughout all three routes – the fun ride of 29 miles, a metric century of 68 miles, and a full century of 102 miles.  Needless to say, that’s a lot of road to cover.

I was actually on the road with Coach Tim as my co-pilot.  This was primarily due to my complete ineptness as a bike mechanic.  So, Tim and met up at the registration area at 5:30 am to begin our day.  Initially, we drove the route and place a few sandwich boards warning drivers and asking riders to stay in single file.  Then, we went to the first two rest stops to ensure they were open for business.

SAG Poster Now it was time to SAG.  As we drove the course, very slowly, making sure riders where doing great, we were also constantly on the phones talking or texting away.  I’ll never know what’s it like to be the Director Sportif of a real race but I think I got a taste of it on Saturday.  At numerous times we were on both phones and I’m sure if we had a third phone we would have been on that also.

Fortunately, all of the calls and texts were about pretty simple things.  We had SAG vehicles starting between 7:00 and 9:00 am.  As each driver checked in at registration they would give me a call to see what part of the course they should support.  It was all pretty routine thanks to some outstanding ride management by Carmen and her team of volunteers.

However, there were a few interesting instances that kept the lines buzzing.  My good friend Jeff called to say that a tractor-trailer, that was over 8-feet wide, was coming up the single lane road on the Geysers that our riders needed to go down.  So, we immediately start getting the word out to all SAGs and rest stops to pass the word along to riders to use caution.

There were the metal road panels on Chalk Hill Road (the ones they put down over holes and trenches when there still working on it).  Not only did they take up the whole road, they were at the bottom of a descent.  Although we did our best to warn people, numerous riders blew tires by hitting them to fast.  So, we left one SAG vehicle there just to help all those folks.

Giro SAG Of course, we finished the day by driving a few people back to the start.  There was one humorous incident in this regard.  We picked up a rider at the last rest stop and then we heard there was rider with a blown tire 2-3 miles back.  So off we go.  Well, we never found them (we learned later that another rider got them going again).  Just as we were turning around we heard the desperate shout of SAG!!! behind us.  We looked back and saw a woman waiving her arms.  I drove a couple of yards to park and she thought we didn’t hear her.  She told us in the car that her tears of sadness as we looked like we were driving away became tears of joy when she saw us park.

All in all, it was an awesome day.  The weather was perfect, Tim and I had a blast driving around and helping out, and most importantly, I think all the riders had a great day.  In the end, I logged 170 miles and countless laughs and that’s not a bad way to spend a Saturday.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Friends on Mont Ventoux

Sometimes, it’s okay to live vicariously through others.   I say this because three of my best friends just climbed the famous Mt Ventoux in France and I was with them in spirit on every pedal stroke.  I believe that living through others is okay as long as you don’t make a habit of it and also spend time living your own life.

Me on the summit in 2009. Actually, since I have climbed Mont Ventoux twice (2007 and 2009), it feels more like reminiscing.  I can imagine every thing they went through from their preparations to the actual climb and down a thrilling descent.  I’m sure they spent hours analyzing the profile and reading ride reports.  They worried about their conditioning and the wind.  (The French word for wind is vent so Mont Ventoux roughly translates into windy mountain.) 

I haven’t had the chance to really chat with them yet as they are still in France.  However, here is my version of how I think things went.

IMG_2707 It all starts in the town of Bédoin.  There are three routes to the top of Ventoux but the route from Bédoin is the one used in pro races such as the Tour de France.  They drove through town, found the bike shop, and got everything ready to go.  If they followed my plan, they then rode 9 kilometer round-trip to Crillon-le-Brave.  This is a perched village with a 1k climb that allows you to test the shifting on the way up and the brakes on the way down.  This village also has a hotel with a terrace bar that has the best view of Mont Ventoux period and is a great place to have drink once the ride is over.

It’s then back through town, stopping at the bike shop if they needed adjustments, and unto the task at hand.  They started on a very busy road but after 2k they made a left hand turn and started to climb.  And climb.  And climb some more.  Mont Ventoux is a 23k (13 mile) climb that doesn’t have any ultra-hard grades but it consistently stays in the 7 – 10% range and feels relentless.

During the first 19k you are in the forest and only get occasion glimpses of the summit.  In many cases, it doesn’t feel like it’s getting closer.  Finally, you pass Chalet Reynard, which consists of a café and cycling shop (it’s also the skiing HQ in winter).   In 2007, on my first climb, I was struggling due the wind and Sherry ran into the café and pass me an Orangina as I was riding.  I’m sure that’s what got me to the top.

Ventoux SummitNow, you only have 4k remaining.  Unfortunately, it consists of the highest average grade and now you are totally exposed to the wind.  The summit is now in constant view and it’s hard not to become fixated on the fact that still looks very far away.  Then it’s done.  You’re at the summit taking in drinks, laughing and talking about the climb, enjoying the views and planning for the descent, which you know is going to rock!

On the way down, they stopped on the cycling shop, which only has clothes and accessories, to buy a bunch of Mont Ventoux commemoratives to ride on the local group rides when you finally get home (at least, that’s what I did in 2009).  You then scream down the descent, passing cars and watching for sheep in the road.  In 2007, it took me nearly 2.5 hours to reach the summit and only 34 minutes to come down.

I did text them and ask how the climb went.  The only response I got back was “it was damn hard but we made it”.  And that’s all that counts.  My three good friends can now sit around in local coffee houses and while everyone else talks about the hard climbs in the local area, they can talk about the time they climb Mont Ventoux.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Fun on a single speed

Warning!  This post contains flights of fantasy, delusions of grandeur and strong profanity (words like damn and hell).

Thursday, I raced home from work, changed into my kit and hit the road on the single speed.  That’s the bike I grab when I just want to go out and have fun.  The plan was to just cruise along various bike paths and get in a solid 90-minutes of riding so I could justify having pizza for dinner.  As an added bonus, it was a beautiful warm evening, which felt wonderful.  It seems that summer is finally arriving to Northern California.

giro-bello-logo To be honest, the ride started out in a frustrating way.  I caught every light between my house and the bike path yellow.  However, I told myself to forget about it and soon I was rolling along and enjoying the ride.  Then my phone rang.  I take a look and the number is blocked.  This means it’s Sherry calling about the pizza or Carmen calling about Steven Cozza’s Giro Bello Classic.  (BTW – If your a cyclist living in the San Francisco Bay Area, you really should come out for this ride.)  Both are important so I answer it.  It was Carmen.

I’m now rolling down the path and trying to carry on a conversation with Carmen.  It was me talking and her hearing a bunch of wind (feel free to enter snide remark here).  Remember, I’m on the bike path so occasionally Carmen here’s me shout “on your left!” as I pass people along the way.  Then I hear “on your left” from behind me.  What?  I’m being passed.  That’s right!  A guy in a full kit and a very smug look on his face passes me.  I immediately start to chide Carmen with phrases like “see what’ve done, you’re making me get passed”.

Finally, Carmen gives up on trying to hear me and tells me to enjoy my ride.   As I put the phone away I noticed that on-your-left guy isn’t that far ahead so I decided his smugness needed a lesson in getting dropped.  I reach down to shift into the big ring and . . . wait, I don’t have a big ring because I’m on the single speed.  Even better.  Now, I plan to drop his ass on a single speed.

I come out of the saddle and start to hammer.  As a result, I am gaining quickly and thinking to myself how great this is going to feel.  As I get a little closer, I notice he is in his big ring, which is just perfect.  Then he sees me and accelerates.  Damn!  It doesn’t matter because come hell or high water I’m dropping this dude.  I push harder and can see he’s starting to fade.  As I get ready to pass, I’m afraid I’m going to fast.  After all, I want him to see it’s me and not just a blur of color flashing by.  I need to pass him with enough speed to raise my testosterone level and his estrogen level.  I shout “On, Your, Left” in my smuggest voice and blow past him without even a glance in his direction.  About a minute later I look back and he’s gone.  I can only imagine he’s sitting on a rock by the creek posting his bike on Craig’s List or calling his wife to come give him a ride home.

At least that’s how the whole scenario played out in my mind.  In reality, he turned and went a different direction right after my call with Carmen.  That’s was good because I needed an excuse as to why I didn’t have to chase him down. 

Of course, if he hadn’t turned then that whole drop scenario would have totally happened.  And, since we’ll never know, I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.

I told you riding the single speed was fun.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dodging the Rain

June is a beautiful month for cycling, or just about anything, in the Sonoma Wine Country.  As the temps start to go up you can finally put away all of your winter training gear.  June is the typically the month when we transition from arm warmers to sun screen but not this year.  A new word has been created by our local weather peeps.  There all saying it’s Junuary!

Our first June weekend got off to a very wet start that is very, very unusual for this area at this time of year.  You know you’re in for an unusual weather weekend when it makes the headlines of various weather web sites.  For example, did a big article on how San Francisco historically receives 0.13 inches of rain in June.  Last Saturday, they received 1.07 inches of rain in 24 hours.  It’s all because this low pressure system was sitting just of the coast and spinning storm after storm our way.

Necessary tools for surving a winter storm! So, what’s a guy supposed to do.  Well, I actually like running in the rain so that was the plan.  After sleeping in a little on Saturday (which means getting up at 6:30 instead of 5:00), I get up, make coffee and settle in to goof around on the computer a bit.  I figured I would hit the road around 7:30.  It didn’t happen. Not only was it pouring but the rain was coming down sideways due to very strong winds.  Fine!  If the weather was going to produce a winter storm then I was going to follow my winter routine by refilling my coffee and staying inside.

Sunday was a little more promising.  It was still raining but the winds had died down dramatically.  I arose at my normal time and started hitting the weather sites.  The chance of rain was down from 60% to 30%.  The only issue was when it was raining, it was pouring.  These were not nice little misty rains.  These were deluges from the heavens that still made riding a bit sketchy.

Around 7:30 I threw on my running gear and hit the road.  With the threat of rain still very real, I started off at a nice pace.  I never slowed down.  In the end, I managed to get in a 3-mile run, at an 8:30 pace, without rain.  Now, I am normally a 9:00 minute mile kind of guy so I guess that one of the upsides to rain is that it makes you run faster.

Later in the day, Sherry had to go to the office for about 3-hours so I decided “rain be damned” I’m going for a ride.  It actually hadn’t rained for several hours but the threat was ever present.   I decided to ride straight up Old Redwood Hwy, which would allow me to turn around and head home if the skies opened up.  They didn’t.  I managed to get all the way to The Flying Goat in Healdsburg 100% rain free.

Vineyard under cloudy skies. After a quick cappuccino, I head for home.  This is when I got adventurous.  You see, I was dressed for rain and since it hadn’t found me, I went looking for it.  I rode towards  every dark cloud in the sky.  This took me into the surrounding vineyards and I began to really appreciate just how beautiful and green everything was because of all the rain.  And, if you add in the lovely grey skies and clouds as a back drop, then it becomes stunning.

Ultimately, I managed to make it home without any rain.  Not bad, eh?  A 3-mile run and 43-mile ride under dark heavy skies and I stayed dry on both.  Still, I’m ready for the sun, which is scheduled to arrive later today.  I’m looking forward to a weekend of basking in the sun’s warmth and riding under blue skies.

Of course, we humans are never happy with the weather for very long, so how long will it be before I start complaining that it’s too hot?

Until then . . . I’ll just keep riding.


Friday, June 3, 2011

My First Cycling Trophy

I finally have my first cycling trophy!!!  It took a while since I don’t race.  It’s amazing how not racing really limits your ability to get trophies.  Oh well, obviously there’s a story behind all of this but first we need a little historical perspective.

WCCP 3[9] Last year, Coach Tim introduced his Wine Country Cols & Pavé rides.  These rides were meant to be a nod to the European spring classics and follow the mantra “it doesn’t have to be paved to be a road”  Here’s his recap of the three rides that completed the series in 2010.  (You can read my blog about the first ride here.)

Ride #1 - River Snake:  48 miles with 9 climbs and 8,000 feet of elevation gain. Oh, did I mention the 10 miles of dirt and trails. 

Ride #2 - Calistoga Delight: 58 miles with 2 Cat 1 climbs and 7,200 feet of elevation gain and 3 miles of jeep road in 95+ degree heat.

Ride #3 - Ocean View "the hard way": 41 miles with 2 Cat 1 climbs and 6,200 feet of elevation gain.  We also threw in 5 miles of dirt and single track and a river crossing.

All three of these rides were a blast.  Even the hot one.  I choose to participate for lots of reasons.  The rides were by invitation and the group that was invited were some of my best friends and people I thoroughly enjoy hanging around.  There was also the challenge of the actual rides, especially considering I was the only rider who does not mountain bike.  But mostly, it was for the t-shirt.

That’s right a t-shirt.  Tim has promised that everyone who completed (not started) all three rides would get a t-shirt.  I almost wrote a blog titled The Stupid Things We Will Do for a T-shirt.   Well, the rest of 2010 came and went and still no t-shirt.  Since I also work with Tim, and see him every day, I was relentless in my harassment and threatened to boycott all future Cols & Pavé rides.

Now, flash forward to 2011 and Coach Tim is ready to start the series again.  As the date approached for the first ride, I held firm with my boycott.  I told Tim flat out that I would not participate until I got my 2010 t-shirt.  (Ok, the real reason I didn’t ride was due to my half-marathon training but I still called it a boycott.) 

IMG_3355 Then he asked if could at least meet for coffee before the ride to receive my hardware.  WTF???  Hardware?  Intrigued, I agreed and after my morning run I met him and the 2011 Cols & Pavé riders for coffee.  Then, just before the ride was ready roll, Coach Tim handed out our trophies.  That’s right!  We each got a trophy and not a silly t-shirt.

PR trophy The trophy was friggin’ awesome.  It is actually modeled after the trophy presented to the winner of that classic of classics, Paris-Roubaix, which is one of the cobbles the race goes over.  I don’t know how much work Tim put into these but I can tell how much we all really appreciated his effort.

So there you have it.  My first ever (and probably last) cycling trophy.  And, I didn’t even have to race to get it.  I just had to go over the hills, through the river, through the woods, climb through fallen trees, go over more hills, and have my body bounced all over hell and creation as I rode along on what used to be a road. 

You can bet that if Tim does these rides again next year I will be there.  After all, I finally got my reward even if it wasn’t a t-shirt.