Monday, March 22, 2010

The slinky race

I realized today that I don't really have a pain face. I had never thought about it until I mentioned that today was the hardest race I've ever done. And someone said, "Really? It didn't look like you were hurting that bad." It upset me for a minute. I thought about it. And I realized that I've been trained since I was three years old to perform stoically: to seem serene even though you are breathing heavy and close to vomiting. Roller skating is a pretty-type sport. A lot closer to dancing than to bike racing. You put on a face, you perform, you leave your emotions (and your grimaces) in the pit with your coach.

On top of this, I'm not a vomiter. I didn't (I'm told) vomit as a baby. In my memory, I can only think of two times it's happened: after a bad chimichanga at the Rio hotel/casino in Vegas, and after an accidental overdose of acetaminophen after having my wisdom teeth out. If I was a vomiter, today would have been a vomiting day. Instead I've been stuck with this low grade stomachache that persisted for roughly 6 hours after the end of my race.  

But that being said, I don't think I've ever been more happy with a bike race result. Of the 40 minutes we were racing today, I was dangling off the back, yo-yoing between on and off, for roughly 35. But not only did I finish with the pack, I was genuine, coming-across-the-line-somewhere-towards-the-middle-of-the-group pack fodder. Considering I got dropped during both Rutgers races, sat in a van fixing people's problems during Grant's Tomb, skipped Stevens, DFL'ed* during the circuit race yesterday, and spent the grand majority of today's crit thinking I was mere seconds from from popping off and being pulled, I'm ecstatic. 

Today was really a show of who has been doing their top-end and jump intervals. And who has handling skills. There seemed to me to be three groups in the pack: the first third was simply plain stronger than everyone else, or had a good mix of strength, pop, and handling skills; the second third had the pop to jump after each turn and catch back on the pack; the last group had fantastic skills, but not so much pop. There were a few of us who were having trouble getting back to the pack on each turn, but going through the turns without hitting the breaks caught us back up every half lap or so. Then, invariably, we would come to turns 2-4, and the middle group would hit the breaks (hard), sending us back 30 feet and we would once again have to pop and sprint in order to hang on. Back and forth, like a yo-yo. Or a slinky.

I remember looking up at the lap cards when 12 to go was showing and thinking that I might last another lap. Maybe two. But somehow, I worked through it. I finally caught a break when there was a crash just before turn 6. I had to skid to avoid it, and thought I had been gapped permanently, but ended up getting a lucky break and the pack decided to take a half-lap rest. Since I had momentum coming up to them, and knew there were only two or so laps to go, I just kept going, and tucked in right towards the front of the pack. I am not sure those girls have ever seen me before. My intention was to help my teammate up there if I could, but it took roughly 10 seconds for me to realize that it probably wasn't going to happen. I just hung on to strong wheels for dear life and glided in for a well-deserved 18th.

*DFL = Dead Fucking Last, a position I cherish in hilly races, considering DFL > DNF (did not finish)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Why I love Triple Ts

About halfway through last season, I realized that TTTs are my reason for living. Well, TTTs are at least my reason for bike racing. In anticipation of the first TTT of the season, I decided to share with the ECCC blogosphere why I love them so much.

1. TTTs operate within a controlled environment. Ok, I know the environment isn’t totally controlled. Last year at Philly we got rained on, Shane got a flat, and then a flock of geese slowed our TTT to a clipping-out halt. When I say, “controlled,” I mean that in general, there are no surprises. I know what to expect from each of my teammates in terms of speed and length of pull, how their elbows look when they wave me forward to take my pull, what their complimenting voices will sound like when I peel off the front (“good pull, Liz!” or the ever-famous “you got it, girl!”), who will take us down hill fastest, and who can lead us uphill the fastest. With all the uncertainty in bike racing, especially when one is still fairly new to the sport and is still going through the “ZOMGWTF” stage, TTTs provide the most controlled environment a bike racer can ask for.

2. Nobility. Glory. As the weakest rider in the Columbia WB quad last year, I grew to appreciate what it is to be a noble teammate and go down in glory. There something totally awesome about wasting yourself for your teammates only to have them leave you behind on the course. Last season, this moment usually came about 3/4s into the TTT. Inevitably one teammate would propose that we “pick it up a bit.” At that point, I would take my final pull, peel off, and say, “go on without me.” It’s pretty glorious to drain your tank for your teammates.

3. Team work. This one sort of goes without saying since the word “team” is in the title, “team time trial.” But, I love the teamwork involved in a TTT. As someone who is no stranger to a reverse breakaway, it’s not often that I get to work with my teammates in a mass start race. Hopefully this season I’ll be able to break out some bad-ass team moves. Until then, the best time I get to work with my teammates is in a TTT. It may sound cheesy, but being part of a team is probably half the reason I’m into cycling (the other half is because I like to measure the circumference of my calves as my legs get stronger).

4. It’s fun to win. Last year, the Columbia WB squad took fourth place at Philly, fourth place at Army, and first place at X-Pot. Taking fourth place was pretty cool, but taking first place was really cool. Seeing the four of us lined up in the Velocity Results photo was too fun. I think that little photo is motivation enough for us to kick some ass this year. So watch out WBs, the Columbia Killer Bs are back! And we’ve got a pretty fierce group of women this year.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wheelin' Around

After running around frantically for two days getting permits from 548386930458943 city agencies, plus the torrential downpour this weekend, coupled with a 5 day visit from mumsie dearest (I don't actually call her that if you were wondering), I haven't been on my bike much since the middle of last week. I don't think 15 minutes on the rollers on Monday counts. So today I really needed a hard workout. Short, fast, the kind that are perfect to do in Central Park in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday.

Except not. I forgot a little detail: today is the most drunken day of the year in NYC. And I happened to plan my ride right in the middle of the green zone, as the parade was making it's way along 5th Ave. While I didn't see any dishy men in skirts, I did see plenty of drunk, fat tourists walking in the middle of my lane. Not the normal type of walking in my lane where they are just oblivious to all other types of traffic, but blatant, I am drunk and I just want you to fall off of your bike-type of walking in my lane.

So, instead of waiting for my head to explode, I called it quits on the park loops and did Harlem Hill repeats for 45 minutes. Ouch.

You would think that I would have learned my lesson. Almost. But not exactly. My next task of the day was to go pick up something at Rob's down on 23rd St. The worst thing about going to Rob's is the walk. The easiest subway is the R-W. Which stops at 23rd and 5th. One then has to walk all the way past 2nd. It doesn't seem like it would be that long. But it's half the island, and takes about 15 minutes. So today, I decided to bring my skates. While riding in the park (where I get all of my brilliant ideas), I decided that it was beautiful outside and I should take my skates for a spin, since there was no way I was getting my bike down to 23rd St with all of the parade traffic. And what better way to break them out than to get from 5th to 2nd aves? Right? Wrong.

To be fair, I did get there in roughly half of the time it would have taken me to walk. But I forgot a few things about my trusty Carerras in the year or so that I have let them languish under my bed. One, they don't have any toe stops. Second, they still have figure skating wheels on them. Which are super hard and made for doing things like this (me) or this (not me) on an indoor, sealed hardwood floor, but not made for skating over pavement. Not to mention, they are $150 skates. Meaning they don't fit that well and the cushions on the plates are crap.

This story is getting a bit long, but let's just say that 15 years of roller skating is the only way that I made it through the throngs of drunkards and uneven cement on 5 blocks of 23rd Street alive. Nothing is easy in New York. That being said, now I know that all I need is some outside wheels and decent toe stops to make the crosstown bus a thing of the past.

Monday, March 15, 2010

I thought I was the man, and then I moved up a category

In the first bike race of my life I got third place. And it wasn’t even that hard for me. I mean, I only got third because I forgot to sprint in the big ring. So I thought I was the man. But that, as Jet Li might say, was a mistake. Because I was about to get served. After “conquering” the D category—I’m sure the Romans defined conquering differently than doing well in one event—, I decided to cat up to C, where, I thought, I’d find some riders my own size to pick on. That’s funny because after two C races, I don’t feel like the man anymore. Actually, I feel more like a small boy. A small, quadriceps-deficient boy.

In both C races, I hung on—barely—to finish in the bottom half of the pack. I really shouldn’t have thought it would go any differently. It’s not like there’s some other, better league for collegiate cyclists in the Northeast, and the ECCC is where the scrubs compete: if you race bikes at the collegiate level, you compete in the ECCC. So naturally, the competition should be good, and it is. Which is great. I wouldn’t want it any other way. It should be hard to just hang on. That way, you're forced to race a smart race, because it is going to come down to who has five percent left for the sprint, and who doesn’t. This is something I’m learning, the hard way—I did not have close to five percent left for the sprint. Is it possible to have a negative percent left…?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Our new motto

Columbia Cycling: we put on races in hurricanes.

Despite the awful weather, we had a steady turnout of riders throughout the day. I and all the others that were sitting in the registration van watching (decidedly NOT racing) were very impressed. Being from California, I feel that there is but one phrase to describe today's events: gnarly dude.

It's time for me to get warm.

- Shane

Monday, March 8, 2010

Racing season went off with a bang this weekend as we all (some) headed down to the dirty Jerz for a weekend of Rutgers racing. I didn't go into the weekend with very high expectations. You see, I spent the better part of the last six months here:

Despite the fact that this one little race called the Tour de France ends roughly 2 km from this very spot annually, Paris is not very conducive to riding a bike. Especially when you live with a host family that isn't excited about your dirty bike being brought into their house. So I went to Paris sans velo. I felt naked.

To make matters worse, they have these crappy little bikes called Velib's, which are stationed all around the city and cost less than 1Euro per day to use.

Which is great if you are a high-heeled Parisian woman who just needs to ride a mile or so to get to your high brow job at the post office (everyone in Paris works at the post office). It's not great if you are a newb to the city who knows what it feels like to ride a Trek Madone. Even if I could bear to get on a $50 plastic bike-like object, it wouldn't actually do me any good transportation-wise. When cities are built over the course of several thousand years, they tend to look like this:

When you don't know the language, nor the traffic patterns, nor the direction you are going, it's best to stay on the sidewalk. So while the ECCC was busily combining my racing category with some really hardcore women who were undoubtedly training twice as hard as I would if I were home, I was spending 4 months walking around the city dreaming about poor Roxanne all cooped up in some random apartment in Inwood (thanks to these guys).

The point is that I showed up to Rutgers this weekend on two months of training (ish) after four months of nothing but macarons and then was thrown to the dogs (bitches; and by that I mean the A women in the most respectful way "bitches" can be construed). I felt like it was my very first race all over again. In the sense that I had no idea what was going to happen and in the sense that staying in the pack was a vom affair. Sure enough, I got dropped. Hard. I spent the better part of the weekend chasing the main pack. On Staurday there wasn't a chance. On Sunday, however, four of us were just dangling past the edge of the field. I might have had the energy to bridge the gap had I not spent a good deal of it shouting at our disorganized group to get in a straight line and PULL. Dear B women: please learn how to ride in a paceline before Grant's Tomb. I don't want to waste my breath.

It's one thing to wheelsuck or block when you are in the pack or in a break. Those are tactical concerns. It doesn't mean I'm not going to yell at you, but at the end of the day I at least understand it from a logical perspective. But when there are four women dropped off the edge of the pack, there are less than 10 miles to go, and you are just hanging out on the side of the other three, what's going on in your mind? "Hmm...let me just hang out here in the wind, doing as much work as the person on the front pulling but not actually helping the group get where they want to go." I feel like this girl got told that she should block for her teammate during the race (who ended up winning I think), but no one bothered to tell her that once she was dropped that rule was void.

As much as the racing this weekend really sucked on the scoreboards, there's really nothing like the first race of the season to get you pumped up. It's interval time. It's time to get my legs moving and train the Parisian laziness out of my muscles. 

And, I can bittersweetly report that after a 6 month effort to reduce skin discoloration on odd parts, the kit tan is back after one 60 minute circuit race in short sleeves. I think I have the unique blend of Native American and Italian blood in my veins to thank for that physiological phenomenon.

Next week: Grant's Tomb. It looms large, like the heaping mass of stone that it is. 

Outfit of the week

Mikey, representing the Jerz with the white track pants...

Or Nate representing babies everywhere with the reindeer costume??

Cast your vote in the comments, the winner will announced sometime this week!

My First Race

This past weekend, at Rutgers, I raced a bike for the first time. For me personally, there was a lot riding--yes of course the pun is intended--on these couple of races. And it was more than being able to tell people that I didn't shave my legs for nothing. Over the past couple of months, I've invested a lot of time and energy in this thing. It probably wasn't much compared to what more serious cyclists do, but for me, it was a lot. And besides the actual training, I had made bike racing one of my main things. I told my friends about the training, and how much I cared about it; I told myself I cared a lot about it; I gave up other activities to make time. And what's more important than your time?

So I was naturally anxious about the answers this weekend would provide to some of the questions I'd had for months: would I enjoy racing as much as I predicted I would? would I do well enough to justify all my training? and what the hell is a crit, anyway?

Well, I got my answers all right. To sum up, racing bikes is just about the funnest thing I've ever done. Ever. Sure, it helped that I did well, but the main thing was the feeling of being in the pack, going over twenty miles per hour, my senses heightened and my focus laser-sharp. Everything happens so quickly. At one point during the crit, there was a crash right in front of me. It took everything I had to avoid it and stay on my bike. But after narrowly escaping the crash by going off-road into the dirt for a few seconds, and sprinting to catch back up with the field, I found myself smiling. Because that's what it's all about--the high stakes; the danger at every corner; and the rush of getting out alive. All I can say is, I can't wait for the next race.

It's coming!

With one weekend down and seven to go, it's time for Drafting Off a Taxi to come back in full force. Look for updates this evening or tomorrow morning, and of course, the winner of this weekend's Best Outfit...

- Shane