Friday, April 20, 2007

My Mountain

One of my New Haven interval training staples is East Rock Park, which is a two-minute ride from my house and consists of a one-mile gradual uphill (to the monument) on a winding access road often closed to traffic. It's a mini-Alp, with - laugh your hearts out - a maximum elevation of 359 feet! As with training anywhere, you use what you have. The 425-acre park was designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted, designer of Central Park and many others, in realizing a vision of urban areas "bejeweled" with green space. (My teammate Leigh Valetti is an urban planner who is an expert on matters of Olmsted, so I hope to rack her brain in Georgia next weekend...) Here's a 19th-century painting (by William Ekgel) of the park, as well as a photo of the access road.

So-Pro Sick

Being a pro bike racer has often struck me as suspiciously similar to being sick. The optimal lifestyle is basically to train, eat, stretch/massage, then sleep or lie in bed with your feet up. I've discovered this is probably not my optimal lifestyle for bike racing, since I tend to get bored, no matter how many good movies I watch or books I read. Up to that ever-elusive tipping point, adding in other endeavors such as school and teaching actually makes me race a bike faster, and lends a useful sustainability to the endeavor. I have bouts of wishing I lived in California or Colorado, of wishing I were just going for it, but I have it pretty good: a great program at school, a team I am very fond of that is giving me a ton of racing opportunities and whose management is eager to work with my schedule, and a beloved cycling community here in New Haven. But the consequence of this schedule is that I am not always so pro in my approach to recovery, in fact I am often ridiculously on-the-go, and it just caught up with me - on Monday I got walloped with the flu/cold something. Out of dire necessity, I have had to drastically scale back everything this week. If I had scaled back a bit more in past weeks I probably would not have gotten sick and lost a whole week of training. Ay. At this point all I can do is be patient.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Key Lime Bike

Welcome to my life, key lime bike. Let's have a super-fast season! Stealth bike with your ridiculous shark-fin seatpost, thanks for a great last two years. Commuter bike, I will never leave you (but I might change your tires).

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bethel is Done!

Kathleen, Mandy, and I raced the final Bethel today. It was 30-something and pouring with an increasingly-driving wind, in what's billed as the biggest Nor' Easter since 1992. We had a field of four. In the interest of staying warm, we raced it with reasonable zeal. I tried to meet some sprint training objectives during the race, and ended up riding with Kathleen, who bested me to the line. Bethel has been a great training tool for the team this year. Many thanks to the promoters.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Missing the Killer Instinct at Battenkill-Roubaix

Battenkill-Roubaix has come and gone, and in retrospect it all seems a bit anticlimactic. This has as much to do with how I raced it as anything about the race, but I was hoping for a true EPIC that I did not find nor create. No snow, no flat tires or broken wheels, no hills so steep I had to walk, no tires sinking into mud, no harrowing bike-handling moments, no implosions, no finish-line collapsing... After racing stupid-aggressive at Richmond, our team plan was to let the course do the softening, race hard in the second set of steep dirt hills that came midway through the race. And so we did a lot of nothing - the kind of doing nothing that makes me hate regional women's racing, that makes promoters want to cancel and shorten our races - but I lacked my usual desire to go madly on the attack, so I embraced this nothingness. I can't say I felt that great - the first hill felt way harder than it should have - but if there is one thing I've learned from various mentors it's that feeling is overrated, to the point that I recently told someone when she asked me how I felt, "I don't feel." But while I know it rationally, I don't always internalize this lesson. We were preparing our team assault about 25 miles in, but Advil's Elisa Gagnon (my former Lipton teammate - and star pianist - who is riding very well this year) launched a good attack up one of the steep dirt hills. I followed with another women named Mary from the Boston-based Nerac team, a featherweight who seemed new to racing but who was at that point strongest of anyone on the hills, and we built a gap on the upper part of the climb. We represented the only three teams with numbers in the race. Advil's Heather Labance and my own teammates were the other strongest riders there. Ultralink's Jen Stephenson, who was clearly strong but lacked teammates, tried to bridge but didn't make it. Elisa got dropped on a steep pitch and I feared the break might be doomed without Advil, thought I had a better chance of beating Elisa than Heather, so I sat up and waited for Elisa. Elisa was not going to close, but I saw Heather coming across alone and knew she would join us, that the break would be safe. Maybe I should have made her work harder. The whole race I had about the tenacity I might have on a bike tour - Richmond and a rough week of training killed my confidence. Heather, Mary, and I worked together for the remaining 30 miles; it wasn't very hard. The final climb with ten miles to go was supposed to be some hugely steep mountain but it was anything but - it was the kind of gradual grind I can do pretty well. I felt stronger than the other two on the climb, gapped them at one point just riding tempo slightly harder than our usual pace, but doubted myself. HELLO: ATTACK. I had nothing to lose - we were way gone from the field (5 minutes it turned out) - and if I attacked it would have either worked or not. I would either give myself a shot at winning solo or find myself back in a group of three in which I was pretty sure I was the second-best sprinter. But instead I did nothing. I planned to attack in the last 1k to avoid a straight-up sprint, but I hadn't scouted the finish (HELLO: ERROR). Suddenly there was the tent (no signs indicating distance to go), surprising us all. Heather and I sprinted and she won. Silly (non-)racing by me, not exactly the training of my high-end that I so desperately need. Kathleen won the field sprint to take 4th, aided by Mandy's top-notch lead-out. Mandy is getting stronger by the day. Hiroko is adjusting to a brand-new bike position that will be an improvement but that is for now borderline- crippling. Nina fought hard through the tough climbs. Andrea has been struggling with the work-racing balance these last few weeks, something we all know too well. Watch out, she will be back soon! Here's a photo from last year's race to give you a sense of the event. It's pretty awesome: massive numbers of volunteers put on a race that's a single exceptionally-marshalled 55-mile loop (something increasingly rare in a world of parking lot crits), over 1000 racers participate (drawn by love of sport, not prize money), women get to race a distance equal to the men, and the terrain is spectacular - rural New York at its best (to acknowledge bias: the race was just an hour from my hometown). The tiny town of Salem, NY, which hosted the race and offered its downtown for a finish line, seemed to embrace the event. There were tons of food vendors and spectators, not to mention the volunteers. As the first real New England/New York road race of the season, the tone was one of a kick-off event, a chance to catch up with racing friends and launch the 2007 season with exuberance. I just read Sea Otter (the national-level circuit race taking place in California today) got cancelled mid-race due to rain and plunging temperatures. Officials need to make safety first, but.... now that's anticlimactic. We should have had all those teams racing Battenkill. It would have been EPIC.

Finding the Lessons in Richmond

Ok so I have to update the blog in the next ten minutes before I go to the next race just so I don't appear to be a fair-weather blogger: I raced horribly at Richmond, had no legs and raced dumb. I was very disappointed in myself. As a team we were pretty bad - we have a lot to work on and will improve, provided we learn from each experience. Other features: I-95 travel leaves something to be desired, we minimized climate impact by traveling five people in one station wagon (reminiscent of childhood carpools, except we are now all twice as big), I don't love women's races that are the side show of men's events, it was snowing at the line, and I really really need to get a jump. A bit more now one day later, in the spirit of learning from one's experiences: Hats off to Tina Pic and her teammates Iona Wynter and Andrea Dvorak, who controlled the race and took home the win. And to Heather Labance, who took 3rd which gives me hope but adds to my personal sense of missed opportunity. GOOD: 1. My teammate Robin rode like a superstar, well-positioned the whole time, alert, using her energy well. She finished 9th on the day in spite of all the work. 2. Hiroko can sprint! She finished 8th. 3. Everybody did her best, on a day when many of us were struggling. 4. On a personal note, I tried to help my teammates and did contribute to bringing back the break we missed. 5. Greg is so dialed in with information it's not even funny. 6. Jorge Romero helped us out again. He is such a positive and leveling influence on the team. COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: 1. As a team we need to establish a place at the front of the field, define it as our own and race and look out for each other from there. Instead, we basically had one person cover attacks until she died, then another person came to the front, instead of sharing the workload. 2. When the course turned out to be less-selective than previously thought, we needed to change our race plan from attack-attack-attack to covering but preparing for a bunch sprint. We made a lot of ineffectual attacks. 3. I did not think on the fly, assess the situation described in 3 and make a change. I should know how to do this. I didn't have good radio contact, but this isn't an excuse. It's next to impossible for any director to direct a race that's a 3-mile loop with no race caravan - the riders are going to need to make the call. 4. We needed to save our best sprinter (Robin or Kathleen on this day) for the finish. 5. I needed an 11-tooth cog for the downhill, given my compact crank. The ability to move up easily on downhills is an advantage I have since I am bigger than many other riders, and I should not throw this away. 6. Even though I felt awful, I should not have thrown my chances to the wind. If there is a finish that's made for me and my fitness right now - it's a long slow drag up a gradual hill and into a headwind. Instead I wasted energy attacking and thus wasn't there at the end. 7. We didn't help ourselves by traveling late the day before, arriving at 10:30 pm after a 9-hour drive for a 10:00am start. We all have stories of great races raced on no sleep, long drives, and ice cream for dinner but getting the details and logistics right does count for something. 8. We were all kind of bummed after the race, but instead of having a meeting and saying "here's what went well, here's what didn't" we had chaos: Nina in an ambulance, Robin in drug testing, the rest of us freezing and eager to shower. Good thing it's only April! We have our work cut out for us. Photos by Emory Ball.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Local Weekend

Even with the distraction of illness, the race in El Salvador served to identify strengths and weaknesses. Now is a chance to take this feedback, stay local, and prepare for some of the big races coming up. We race a one-day circuit race in Richmond, VA this Saturday, then will race locally until a series of criteriums in the Southeast starting April 28th. After this we are pretty much off-and-running with the season. For me now is also a time to be uber-organized at school, to finish off the semester strongly and train and recovery effectively. Did the Yale ride on Saturday, the first real spring day, and I can't say how lucky I am to have this great group: Curtis with his horsepower, steady wheel, and masterful knowledge of roads, Pete for instigation, Stefan for his perpetual smoothness and climbing fortitude, Hiroko finally recovering from illness, Vermonter Katie about to launch a great season, Brigette new to racing and soaking it all in so fast, Kristie super-strong as always in spite of dissertation, and even Chris Jones hot off a top-20 at Redlands, everyone full of stories and conversation. Sunday my team raced Bethel and I ended up off the front again. It wasn't exactly the plan - the purpose of Bethel is not to bully, the repetition is not so useful as a learning tool for the team - but I responded on the chance to counter. It's pretty lame when you work hard in a break, get caught, and then no one on your team counters, so I did. And while silly, because I have ridden off the front in past races (something enabled by our having a huge numbers advantage), and maybe because I have this series leader's jersey, I think people think I am stronger than I am and have some resignation. Whatever works. A highlight of the race was Mandy doing a fantastic lead-out for Hiroko, who took the field sprint, in her first-ever sprint win! After that I raced masters 40+, sitting in but still enjoying the chance to race with Targetraining's masters men's team, including Curtis. Started the 1/2/3 race but I was dead and freezing by then and probably it wasn't a good idea. Here is a photo from a recent Bethel (3/11 I think), (, copyrighted), as well as one from Juneau, Alaska, where my brother is and where I am glad I am not living and trying to train.