Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Lance Effect

Make no mistake: this year's Tour de France was what it was because of Lance Armstrong. There are many who, for various reasons, are not fans of Lance, but there is absolutely no denying the effect he has on the popularity and intensity of that race. Fans want to get as close to him as possible, reporters want to ask his opinion on everything, shoot, even the other riders want to chat with him or ride near him. His aura is captivating.

Not only does he rally his team and bring out the best in his competitors, but he now is able to do it in a way that really says "I'm just a country boy from Texas." Mellow Johnny is what his friends used to call him; a play on words of the French term for the yellow jersey (maillot jaune) and how the Texans would say it. And it wasn't all that long ago that he really was just a country boy from the US, taking on the best in the world and winning their race.

Like anyone at the top, he has detractors, and like anyone at the top would, he ignores them. He politically deflected questions about the tension between him and Contador, while giving enough sound bytes to make reporters wet their pants. He referred to himself during and after the race as an "old fart" who was just trying to keep up with the kids, but not only did he keep up - he was on the podium and made it look so darn easy. After a 4 year hiatus from the highest level of the sport, to come back and ride that well was simply not something most thought he could do.

I have long considered Lance to be among the greatest Tour riders of all time, which would go without saying that he is one of the greatest cyclists of all time, but I felt his insular focus on the Tour would prevent him from being considered the greatest of all time. Surely Eddy Merckx "The Cannibal" or Bernard Hinault "The Badger" would own that title. The way they rode in their heyday was mythical; the stuff of legends. If a competitor pissed off Eddy, he would put his team on the front and punish them when the race was already in the bag. Or, he would solo to a win just because he could. He was ruthless; he won 8 stages in a single Tour, snagging wins in the mountains, the flats and the time trials.

But to compare these great riders to Lance is the same as attempting to compare Babe Ruth to Hank Aaron to Barry Bonds*. They played their sport in a different era when the nature of the sport was different. Back when those two were in their prime, every cyclist was a jack-of-all trades. Now we deal with specialists. There are prologue specialists, long time trial specialists, sprinters, climbers, power climbers, lead-out men, super domestiques. I had a notion that in 2004 or 2005 Lance was going to attempt the nearly impossible - to be in yellow wire to wire. I am pretty sure we'll never see this happen, but I thought, just for a minute, that if anyone could do it, it would be him.

As aggressive a rider as Eddy Merckx was, he is also very stoic and contemplative. He's a man of few words, but when he speaks, everyone listens. Miguel Indurain, I don't think he ever said any words. He just went about his business, got things done. Hinault, a little more colorful. Then there is Lance. He used to seem so uncomfortable with the formalities of the media, but he's developed into a surprisingly candid, if not political, ambassador for so many things. Needless to say, I called bullshit throughout the three weeks of the Tour when they really tried to act like the team was cohesive.

It was pretty clear that there was a group of riders that were largely loyal to Contador (including the vociferous Benjamin Noval, who was left off the roster for what he felt was being "too loyal" to Contador). There is no doubt in my mind that Johan Bruyneel wanted Lance to win, wanted to set the team up for Lance to win, and was hoping that Lance would have beaten Contador in that first time trial so he had a legitimate argument to make to ride for Lance. There were guys loyal to Lance, like Popovych, Kloden and Leipheimer, and no doubt these will be the ones that ride for Team Radio Shack next year.

Where will Contador go? Well, reading some of the post-Tour news and even though the Tour is not the end of the season, it has a feeling reminiscent of the days following the World Series or Superbowl - who will get dealt to where. The problem for Contador is he has an entirely too high asking price (est. 1.5mil-2mil Euros annually) and that doesn't even take into consideration his entourage of staff and riders necessary to build a winning team.

As it's always pointed out, sometimes the strongest rider doesn't win because they're not on the strongest team. There are those who feel that Cadel Evans is in this category, because he's a great rider and his team has never been quite strong enough to launch him to that final position in Paris. Twice runner-up is as good as he'll ever do. But to me, he was 2nd in soft years of the Tour, and has never proven he's a worthy champion. I will say that his tenacity and willingness to attack are admirable, he's never done it in an effective way, and when things aren't going his way I've seen him give up. Not boss-like.

Contador is definitely a skilled rider, and with 4 consecutive grand tour starts and victories, any team would be crazy not to look at him and salivate. Not many teams, unfortunately, can afford him, and there are some that really don't care to have him. Caisse d'Epargne, a Spanish team, would certainly like the chance and I'm sure he'd ride for them. Their stars have all but fizzled out, in guys like Alejandro Valverde and Oscar Pereiro. Valverde was always tapped as a successor to Lance Armstrong, but poor Tour performances and now a ban from racing in Italy for 2 years limits his effectiveness, and Oscar Pereiro, who won the 2006 Tour (by disqualification of Floyd Landis) is just a baby.

Garmin has expressed interest in Contador and I could envision them pulling a cheeky move like that, but they have neither the resources nor the management to build a team around him. I'd guess as long as Astana gets their act together he'll continue to ride for them under whatever new management they have going. After all, he's won two Tours and one each of the Giro and Vuelta, at this point unless he really cares about a legacy he'll just ride for the money.

Lance, meanwhile, couldn't care less about the money (something rich people say, cause they have lots of it). He wants another crack. He can do it, of course, and he'll pay attention to every detail, build his team around it and train harder than he ever has before in order to do it.

One thing I do know is that Alberto Contador is definitely not making any friends in the peloton after his dismissal of Lance Armstrong on Monday: "My relationship with Lance is zero. He is a great champion and has done a great Tour, but on a personal level I have never had a great admiration for him and I never will." This coming just after the Versus little profile on him where he said that during his recovery from a life-threatening brain aneurysm he read Lance's book and it inspired him to come back.

Hmm, curious. Sounds to me like someone had his feelings hurt. In fairness, I can see Lance being a little bullish during the race and isolating this non-English speaking teammate, much like I isolated and made fun of just about every kid that ever came onto my team that I didn't like.

A quick note about Johan Bruyneel, before I forget. I'm tired of everyone sweating his nuts. He is a paper champion. I do not doubt the guy is smart, a good tactician, but to me he's like Phil Jackson. I'm pretty sure I could win a gazillion NBA titles too if I had players like, oh, I don't know, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant playing for me.

So when you look at Bruyneel's grand tour performance you think geez, he's got two wins in the Giro (Contador 08, Salvodelli 07), a win in the Vuelta (Contador 08, Heras' may still stand but he cheated so I won't count it) and 9 wins in the Tour. But of those 12, 10 came from 2 people, and 1 has seven alone. That would be like me taking credit for Ben's marathon, because I ran with him a few times and yelled at him on the track. I'd almost be more concerned with the fact that he has been involved with many cheaters - Heras, Landis, Hamilton.

Postal/Discovery/Astana has really been solely focused on one goal each year. It's nice they have that luxury - their sponsors are willing to see them not win any other races ever. During the Lance1 era, nobody was allowed to win stages, and I always felt bad for George Hincapie because he just wanted to win Paris-Roubaix and nobody would ever really ride for him. Or like when Levi tried to win the Vuelta and Lance wasn't really doing much, I figured he'd ride to help him out. Nope.

In the era P.L. (post Lance), when they didn't quite have a Tour win in them necessarily, or at least it wasn't a given, they started to move towards winning stages and other races, but it almost seemed more like dumb luck than real strategy. Now you have Columbia boasting 58 wins or whatever they have this year, again, I could show up at the People With No Legs 5k and sneak a win, and also having Mark Cavendish doesn't hurt. They surely have a good team but no real big wins.

Then you look at Team Saxo Bank and Bjarne Riis. A Tour winner himself in 1996 (even though he publicly admitted to using EPO during this time and offered to give back his jersey, but everyone was cheating then so really it's moot), he has built a team that can win just about any race all the time. He's got two overall contenders in the Schleck brothers, even if Andy has cemented the fact he is the better of the two; he has a legitimate Classics/weeklong stage race/prologue/TT rider in Cancellara; he has the most aggressive and fun-to-watch cyclist in the world in Jens Voigt; he's got wins in the biggest races throughout the year. He's a guy that I would not mind having as my directeur sportif.

But it all comes back to the Lance effect. He essentially made Bruyneel the director he is considered today. He blew up Chris Carmichael's Training Center, leading to probably boatloads of dollars for Chris. He is King Midas, only everything he touches turns to a bright yellow.

In all honesty, Lance Armstrong is the reason I ride a bike. He's the reason I (along with millions of people) watch the Tour. He's the reason I don't have a reason to not train. And I'm pretty sure he'll continue to be the reason I have to get back to racing as I work through this recent setback.

There are people that choose to use their powers for good in this world, and people that choose not to. Lance is one of the good guys, and the world needs more people like him around. But something to always keep in mind is that the higher up on a pedestal he is, the longer the fall to the ground. People are so invested in him that I think if he ever said "I cheated" that cycling would collapse and millions of cancer patients would pull the plug.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

4 Seconds

As Don Cheadle chimed in the old Superbowl commercial, "how much is 4 seconds? 4 seconds is 4 seconds."

I think it was actually 5 seconds in the commercial, but 4 seconds was more relevant given the results of Stage 19 into Aubenas yesterday.

Sometimes everyone gets it wrong, including the peloton, and yesterday was one of those days. A huge breakaway of 19 riders was away early, with 14 of the 20 teams represented. A few teams had no interest in the break, but there were 1 or 2 that for whatever reason did not make the break. One of those was the team from the Netherlands - Rabobank. Their GC hope, Denise Menchov, won this year's Giro but is finding out how hard it is to double. Their sprinter, 3-time World Champion Oscar Freire, has not had the legs to make anything stick. They weren't very noticeable in breaks, or in the mountains, or in any points competitions. So when they missed the break, their team director must have been screaming at them to chase it down.

Normally a break of 19 riders will stay away until the end, as long as nobody poses any threat to GC. You could see a wicked pace was being forced by the orange and blue Rabobank squad, and they quickly neutralized the breakaway and brought the race back together. Probably too quickly, because there was still a lot of riding to go and the speeds they were traveling at were insane. They essentially set up the win later for the fastest sprinter in the race, Mark Cavendish, but not before Laurent Lefevre took a flyer. Current World Champ, Alessandro Ballan, bridged across and the two had a decent go at it, summiting the top of the Cat 2 climb and then descending into the finishing town of Aubenas, getting caught within the last 2km.

Here's where it became interesting. Half the peloton was way off the back. It seemed like the group was together at 25km to go, but one large group lost 18 minutes in those 12 miles. Then there was another group that finished at 2:00 back. Further up the road, there were 12 people that crossed the line in the "bunch sprint" that was awarded the same time. One of those was the unmistakable black and yellow helmet of Lance Armstrong. It was fun seeing him have a little dig at the sprint - not that he was ever in contention, but he was definitely sprinting to stay up there. And good for him, because there was a noticeable split between groups and if there's a gap, the race officials are required to give split times. So all the other big names - Schleck, Contador, Kloden and Wiggins - were all in this next pack and lost a silly 4 seconds to Lance.

It will likely not make a difference to Contador, who is still up 5:21 on Lance and for him to lose that time today is next to impossible. But for Andy Schleck, that makes it 1:10 back to Lance now, and for Wiggins, Kloden and Frank Schleck, it extends Lance's lead by a few more ticks of the clock. It's another example of Lance Armstrong riding heads up, being alert and paying attention. It's this attention that won him 7 Tours.

It will be interesting to see what happens on Team Radio Shack next year, with Lance coming back to race and more than likely will have Levi Leipheimer riding with him. Contador, eh, I'm going to guess not. On a side note, Alex: "Radio Shack? Do they even exist still?"

Stage 20, Montelimar to Mont Ventoux

I woke up early today to watch the live coverage at 7am. Either the race didn't start yet or they don't care to show us the footage yet because it's been a lot of commercials and too much Craig Hummer and Bob Roll. They're setting up the commercials in advance of the hour-long, commercial free coverage as they climb Ventoux.

Conditions appear to be pretty nasty on the top of the mammoth climb, with whipping winds. I'm not sure how this will affect the ride today, or whom it will affect most. I can tell you from experience that when you're tired, and if you're not on good form or feel like you don't have the legs, the last thing you want to deal with is wind. I think it could finally be a day for Wiggins to crack. I don't think the Schlecks will be greatly affected, nor will Contador.

What I'd like to see happen is Lance ride everyone off his wheel, maybe with Contador and/or Kloden helping set a sick tempo or help with attacking/covering attacks, to set Lance up for his first win atop Ventoux, and get him up to 2nd. Andy Schleck can't worry about Frank trying to get 3rd now because more at stake is the 2nd place position. It's going to be interesting, I think there's going to be a lot of defensive riding, a lot of strategery...

Whatever happens, we'll see it in about 4 hours from now!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The 'L' Word

Lance Armstrong is many things: a father, a son, a cancer survivor, a cyclist, a philanthropist, a baby daddy, an ex-husband, a 7 time winner of the hardest cycling race in the world, a marathoner. Lance doesn't know how to lose.

But, for the first time since he rode the Tour as a brash World Champion, he will not finish atop the podium in the yellow jersey in Paris.

I watched yesterday's stage with incredibly admiration for the role that Lance was playing. During the years of 1999-2003, Lance rode only select races throughout the year and expected his team to ride only for his cause at the Tour. He treated them well, paying them bonuses out of his own pocket following the race. One thing he did not do, however, was repay them in a different way - working as their domestique in other races. It was beneath him, it seemed.

He wouldn't ride in support of Levi or Roberto in their respective Vueltas, nor would he ride for George at Paris-Roubaix or any of the other spring classics. It was the one thing that made him less of a champion to me.

When he announced his return to cycling, my initial reaction was "does he think he's able to win the Tour?" In all the press conferences though he remained adamant that he was coming back for different reasons, to bring the global fight against cancer back in the public eye. He was riding without a salary. He was doing different races and more races, presumably to gain exposure. Not that he ever needs any, but it was awesome to see him doing the races he had always avoided because they didn't fit into his Tour preparation.

Then his form started to come together and winning the Tour was a definite possibility. I was perplexed by the Astana team's decision to ride with 4 potential GC contenders, after all - how would 5 others protect the collective interests of these 4? At some point, one of the guys was going to have to work for another.

In the first week you could cut the tension with a knife. The biased media we receive here in the US of course made us all feel like Contador was acting a primadonna, and that he was neither qualified nor worthy of being the automatic team leader. For us here in the States, sadly, it appeared as the race went on that Lance just wasn't capable of accelerating in the mountains like he once was, and he relegated himself to the role of super domestique. He covered moves, he slowed down the pace, playing a superb teammate.

I think everyone was surprised yesterday when Contador essentially attacked his own teammate late in the stage, but many felt that Contador would likely lose time in the individual time trial at Annecy today to the likes of Kloden, Wiggins and Armstrong. Needless to say, what developed in the 40.5km circuit caught me out like an echelon in a crosswind.

For those unaware of the rules of an individual time trial (hopefully there aren't too many), riders start in reverse order of the overall classification, one by one, in a race against the clock. 40.5km is 25 miles for us non-metric users, and to put it into perspective I can ride 40km in about 58 minutes, maybe just under. Since there are still about 160 riders remaining in the race, the early riders go at 1 minute intervals. You never want to get caught by your one-minute man. That means you don't want to get caught by the dude that started a minute behind you. Never a good feeling. It is, however, a great feeling when you catch your one minute man. And your two minute. And your three minute.

Swiss time trial specialist (Olympic and World Champion in the individual time trial) Fabian Cancellara was one of the early riders and set the bar high at 48:33. That's 48 minutes and 33 seconds to ride a bike 25 miles. 31 miles per hour, roughly. And there was a climb in the middle of it. Other TT specialists such as David Millar (Scotland) and Dave Zabriskie (USA) slotted in behind this position, and these guys are among the best at this discipline.

When the race gets down to the last 10 or 15 riders on GC (general classification), riders leave in 3 minute intervals. That meant the order on the road was going to be Wiggins, Kloden, Armstrong, F. Schleck, A. Schleck, Contador. The way I thought the race would go: Wiggins pulls time back on everyone, but Lance pulls himself into 2nd, and the top 3 would be Contador, Armstrong, Wiggins. Boy, was I way off.

Armstrong's time checks were just never there, and he continually lost time to Wiggins throughout the stage. Kloden rode very strong, ultimately finishing faster than Armstrong, and then Frank Schleck had a poor ride. Andy Schleck, however, rode like a man wanting to fight for yellow, and then Contador rode like he deserved yellow. Ultimately, Contador rode just under 3 seconds faster than Cancellara, winning the stage and opening the gap in the overall race.

The thought of this diminuitive Spaniard racing faster than Cancellara and these other time trialists was mystifying. I have had the opportunity to be on hand for 3 time trials at the Tour, though, and I've seen my fair share of crazy things. Like Michael Rasmussen crashing 5 times and changing bikes twice, going from 2nd or 3rd overall to 5th in 50 short kilometers. I've seen Lance put minutes, MINUTES, into everyone. So now it's clear: Alberto Contador is the best rider in this year's Tour and deserves to win.

The only thing left to decide is the final pecking order in the overall classification. Andy Schleck sits in 2nd at about 4:30 back, and then it's another 1:14 to Armstrong in 3rd. On the unforgiving slopes of Mont Ventoux it is easy to give back that kind of time in just a few kilometers towards the end, but against a rider who is going well at the moment, it is highly unlikely. What Lance needs to watch out for is the pack of 3 that sits just a total of :34 behind him. Third place is in serious jeopardy with the likes of Frank Schleck, Bradley Wiggins and Andreas Kloden, chomping at the bit to have their day in the sun in Paris.

Friday's stage is a rolling transition stage that shouldn't feature any surprises or challenges to the overall contenders. I would look for a small breakaway of 3-4 to be allowed freedom and survive to the end. With a second category climb late in the race, the teams of the sprinters won't do any work to pull back a breakaway if their men are not on good form, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Thor Hushovd and his Cervelo Test Team at the front if they can get the Norwegian over the climb. This would enable him to pick up enough points to put the competition for the green jersey out of reach of Mark Cavendish.

However, it could also be a good day and last opportunity for someone from a team that hasn't done anything this Tour - perhaps Silence-Lotto, Katusha, Rabobank, Lampre - or maybe a rider like Juan Antonio Flecha or Oscar Freire to get away with a kilometer to go and just surprise everyone.

Either way it all culminates on Saturday's stage from Montelimar to Mont Ventoux, and there will certainly be a battle there.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

L'Etapa Reina


Stage 17

I started watching bike racing back in 2000, when Maryland finally decided to provide us with cable and we got OLN. It was awesome. It completely changed my outlook on all sports, most notably the notions of tactics - both individually and as a team. If you want to learn how to succeed in anything, just watch 3 weeks of cycling every July.

I watched every second of the 2001 Giro d'Italia as Dario Frigo claimed the magglia rosa and even though he went on to get busted years later for drugs, it was still awesome. The greatest sprinter on the greatest sprint team of all time, Mario Cipollini, aka the Lion King, never disappointed. Italians loved their bike race.

That summer's Tour de France featured Lance attempting win #3, and OLN really gave great coverage. It was from this Tour that the now-infamous "look" was given by Lance, to all others, on the slopes of L'Alpe d'Huez, and he went on to grab his third yellow jersey in Paris.

Now I was officially hooked, and I started thinking about taking a trip out to watch the Tour. 2002 went by and I was glad I didn't go to that one as it was super boring. Largest margin of victory, over 7 minutes, to Ivan Basso (a drug cheat). Most of the main competitors, including Jan Ullrich, weren't there. 2003 flipped the script, as he was having a go at #5. Every stage was crazy, from the Paris-Roubaix style early stage that knocked out a few competitors, to the crazy stage on Bastille Day where Joseba Beloki crashed, to the dehydrated TT, to the final TT in the rain that saw Ullrich crash and lose the race.

I knew there wouldn't be too many years left in Lance's legs for the Tour, so I had to get out there in 2004. I flew from JFK to Nice and headed into the Alps. All I had with me was my little black backpack, some cotton undershirts and a light sleeping bag. I trekked up the mighty Alpe d'Huez and slept on a steeply sloped field under the Alpine sky, and watched Lance decimate the field in the next day's TT. He had just won the prior day's stage in the Alps, and the next day, Stage 17 from Bourg d'Oisans (the village at the foot of Alpe d'Huez) to Le Grand Bornand would prove to be one of Lance's greatest victories.

I watched the stage roll out and quickly made my way to get out of town to the finish line. I had no idea how things transpired out on the route, but at the finish line it was Lance snatching a sure-win away from T-Mobile's Andreas Kloden. After watching the footage it appeared as if Lance's Postal teammate Floyd Landis (another drug cheat) set such a mean tempo all day that a select group of 5 came into the closing kilometers together - LA, Floyd, Ullrich, Kloden and Basso. Lance was more than happy to give Floyd the stage win, as he had done tremendous work on the day, but Kloden had a go of it just before the 1 kilometer to go banner.

His gap was unreachable, or so it seemed, until Lance pulled it back, impossibly, right on the line. It was after this stage that Lance uttered the French phrase that Eddy Merckx had told him: "Pays Cadeaux." It means "no gifts," and Lance was certainly not giving his competitors an inch that Tour. You think you can beat me? Think again.

That was a long buildup to my impressions on this year's Tour, but it was relevant to the story, because today, Stage 17, was into Le Grand Bornand again, and I honestly felt a similar situation would occur. I thought that 5 riders would make it to the summit of the Col de la Colombiere and race down into the finish at Le Grand Bornand and that it would again be Lance Armstrong victorious. And it would have been, too, if not for that little skank Alberto Contador.

What I don't like about AC is that he lacks respect. Respect for the bike races, respect for competitors, respect for the history of the race. He feels entitled, and as the 2007 race winner (along with his 2008 Giro and 2008 Vuelta wins) he thinks that his teammates are there to work for him. When he pulled his bitch move in the mountains of Andorra in week 1, I felt it was a slap in the face but perhaps that it could help establish some order in the team. After all, Lance said all along it would be foolish to fight and fight, but not have someone on the team wearing the maillot jaune.

As I've watched Lance ride throughout this Tour, it's almost as if nothing's changed since his last ride nearly 4 years ago. In that time he's run 3 marathons, somehow popped out another kid and raised millions of dollars for cancer research. You can think whatever you want about Lance Armstrong, but the dude is a BOSS.

And that's how he rode this Tour - as the boss. You have to be very good to win a Tour (let alone 7), and also have to have some good luck. You never saw Lance dawdling in the back of the peloton, waiting to be caught out. He rides at the front. He rides attentively. He knows more about what's going on in the race than anyone, and it shows during his interviews. In the stage 4 TTT it was Lance setting the pace for his team, doing the big pulls, directing the team. When they finally hit the Alps and he couldn't respond to the vicious attacks, he was okay with working for the team.

Astana has had a huge advantage over the other teams this year because they had 4 riders who could legitimately win the Tour. I've never understood this move because people think they're riding great in weeks 1 and 2 but the 3rd week proves final. Lance did an awesome job in Sunday's stage to ride as a teammate in support of AC, and when he saw an opportunity to bridge the gap, he went. As Alex said, "his patience is as impressive as his athleticism." Lance never panics, and he smoothly worked up to the group so as to defend his position without helping others advance theirs.

I was excited for today's stage. I was craving it. I expected that Kloden, who has looked unbelievably strong for days, would set a good tempo and only AC, Lance and the Schlecks would be there at the end. And since Kloden and Lance are the faster sprinters, I thought it might again come down to those two battling for a stage win, with Lance reminding Kloden what happend 5 years ago.

Then I'm watching the stage and it wasn't quite unfolding how I'd expected. Lance covered a Schleck move on the steep climb of the Col de Romme, a first time climb in the Tour, and then another attack hit from Andy Schleck. Contador and Kloden were on it, and Lance simply marked Frank Schleck and Bradley Wiggins. Smart, and very team-oriented. Lance looked great, I thought, and the race would come back together. Frank Schleck made a move at one point and Lance shut it down, but then he was dragging Wiggins back up so he slowed up and Schleck went again.

This time, Frank bridged to the 3 up the road and Lance just sucked Wiggins' wheel. They were losing quite a bit of time, but if it meant that Wiggins was losing time, it was good. About 2km from the top of the Colombiere, the day's last climb, Contador made what seemed like a good move for a second - but it completely backfired. Instead of shelling the Schleck brothers, he only managed to get rid of his own teammate. And now he couldn't slow the rivals down, so he had to go with them. Lance, meanwhile, looked calm and collected, and when his opportunity came to drop Wiggins, he went.

Towards the end of the descent into Le Grand Bornand, Lance managed to bridge to Kloden (with youngster Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas) and they rode in - but the damage had been done. Contador and the Schlecks picked up 2:18 on Lance at the line. Really it was a brilliant piece of riding by Lance, but a super impressive effort by the brothers from Luxembourg who put time into Lance on a descent. Now the overall picture looks bleaker for Lance, who sits in 4th, at 3:55 back. Andy Schleck is in 2nd at 2:26 and Frank is 3rd at 3:25. Kloden is now in 5th at 4:44.

Originally I felt like no time gaps would have been made today between those 5, and that either Lance or Kloden would have won the stage. Then I felt like Lance and Kloden would have ridden amazing time trials tomorrow and placed themselves squarely in 2nd and 3rd. Now it looks like a tall order. Contador can time trial, although a flat 40.5km is not his speciality, and the Schlecks are likely to lose big time. I feel like Lance will end up in 2nd overall and pull maybe 1:00, 1:10 back to yellow. But instead of that putting him within striking distance of yellow, he'll likely be too far away now, with just a decisive finish up Mont Ventoux on Saturday as the only real test before the finish.

Mont Ventoux, the geant de provence, is a fabled mountain in Tour history. A British rider (Tom Simpson, maybe?) died when he reached the summit back in the 60s. In I think the 2000 Tour, Lance rode up with Marco Pantani and "gifted" him the stage win - to which Pantani basically decried the display and set forth a tumultuous relationship between the two riders. Then the last time it was used in the Tour I believe Iban Mayo won (although that may have been in the Dauphine Libere). Either way, Lance has never won on Ventoux and he obviously wants to. I thought it could be a day for Lance and Contador to say "cheers mate, each man for himself" but now it looks like that won't be the case - but it'll still be a great stage. And as Lance said this morning:

Anything can happen.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Rockville Twilight

Pity, party of one, your table is ready.

The pity party is over. It's been a week and while I know I have a long (loooonnnnggg) road ahead of me to recovery, I'm ready for the challenge. Down, but most certainly not out.

A big help was getting back from NJ on Saturday to spectate the Rockville Twilight 8k, a race I've done the past three years in conditions that would rival Papua New Guinea weather. This is the area's premier summertime event and a veritable who's who of local beasts. I was really excited to get to see my friends for the first time in 10 days and I love running into our competitive neighbors to the south - all of whom had words of encouragement for me as I crutched around the race.

It was such a crazy week, I obviously had not planned on being in NJ for that long so I didn't have many clothes to wear, and because my dad had scooped me up from Baltimore the previous week, I had no means of getting back down here. Melissa was kind enough to pick me up and for that I am quite grateful! I met with a lawyer last week, who is an awesome guy and cyclist to boot. He got me setup the very next day with an awesome ortho surgeon, who confirmed that my shit is most definitely a mess - torn ACL and torn MCL, massive trauma to my hamstring and knee, couple of fractures, other torn ligaments, and now a probable torn rotator cuff. It wasn't among my original complaints, but as the pain lessened in the knee it crept up.

Either way, I have to wait at least a month before I can get surgery. I'll actually have to go to physical therapy for those 4 weeks to rehab my knee to the point where it can withstand surgery. Then I'll have another 4-6 weeks of physical therapy to get it back following the operation. I'll be lucky to be able to run by November.

The good news is that once I can actually bend my knee, and as long as it doesn't kill me, I am allowed to ride my bike. Inside - so on the trainer, definitely not on the road - but it's better than nothing. And if I can get my shoulder healed up I should be good to swim a little. Pretty psyched on that. I'm going to make my new 2009 goal (singular) to run the Celtic Solstice 5M in December as my comeback race.

Back to yesterday. So we get down to the race and it's unbelievably cool out. Light breeze, low humidity. Not July weather. At this point no one has an excuse not to run fast. Prior to the race I spotted Jake "the Red Fox" Klim and Pat "PR" Reaves, and Jason Tripp from HoCo. I also met Dirk from Holland and Sari Stenholm, who runs for HoCo with her husband Pekka. Then I spotted Robert Jarrin, who I've met once or twice and is a real standup guy. We really do have a great running community in this area and more than wanting to get home just to be home, I knew that I needed to be around motivating and positive people.

Kip and I watch the start and see the runners pass at 2 miles. Our friends were doing remarkably well. A newcomer to Baltimore, Jeff Gaudette ran 34:13 at Arbutus 10k a few weeks ago. He's a guy with some serious PRs but was just looking to run around 26 at Rockville. Instead he goes 24:51 for 5th overall. Dirk was 4th and the first white guy across the line and to see his stride - you know the guy can run fast. Klim had another great performance, despite what is probably a nagging ulcer. Then two more of our guys finished, Greg Jubb and Ryan Stasiowski, at 25:41 and 25:55.

Less than a minute later I see the small, tight shape of one Chrissie Ramsey, crossing the line in first for the women. 27:15 was her time, a 2:16 improvement from her PR (Rockville 2007) and probably one of the faster times ever run at this race. Just behind her were Justin and Brennan, who each recorded very fast times (post-collegiate best for J, PR for Bren). Then I got to witness Old Ass Kris Simms finally have a good race at Rockville, clocking 28:23, with Brusewitz and Berardi in quick succession.

Our women's team was as gnarly as it could have been, with Chrissie leading the way and then Denise, Eileen and Melissa finishing 13th, 15th and 17th separated by just 13 seconds, and all under 31 minutes.

Nothing gets me more excited than when my friends all do well. We rolled out after the race and hit the appropriately named Hollywood Diner before making it back to Baltimore at the late hour of 2am. Sleeping is very difficult as I tend to move around a lot when I'm "sleep" and every movement seems to destroy my knee.

I've officially not done shit now for 9 days and it's killing me. I feel pretty gross and I need to start burning some cals. I'm going to post updates on my progress, mostly as a way to document the process and keep myself motivated, but also so I can keep feeling connected to the sport. It's easy enough to fall out of touch with things when you're not hurt and you're just lazy, so to have something like this going on makes it even easier.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

When It's Over

As I was cartwheeling through the air I thought, "well if I don't hit the ground too hard maybe I can still race on Sunday..."

It's truly amazing to me how quickly things change. One minute you are super fit and ready to put together a great effort, excited for the rest of the summer and the season; the next you are in the ER, can't move your leg and writhing in pain.

I headed back to NJ on Wednesday night for a few days at home prior to the Providence half Ironman. I went out for a 3 hour ride on Thursday (really it should have taken only 2 hours but I rode with my friend and we were riding slow). I had run that morning and everything felt great. Friday morning woke up, ran again, and around 4pm went out for a short hour long ride. With about 2 miles back to the house I told my friend I was just going to kick it up for a mile or so and get the legs going, so I took off. Conditions were perfect for going fast - all the roads are very flat around here, I had an ever-so-slight tailwind and I was riding my TT bike. My speed was up at 35mph as I flew up the road.

After a bend, up ahead on my right is a retirement community. Notorious for their dangerous drivers, I'm always very alert as I go past here. I noticed two cars stopped at the exit; one was making a left and one making a right. The guy making the left made eye contact with me so I know he saw me. I'm barreling down the road and then I see it - he's darting out ahead of me. I had maybe 0.5 seconds to brace myself, which was basically me going OH SHIT and holding on and praying.

It was the most terrifying thing I've ever seen, and there's a moment when you realize you have no option but to hit this car, at a car's speed, only without a car protecting you, that you think "man, this could be it." I hit the driver's side of the car (t-boned it) and went flying over the roof with my bike. I remember having my eyes open and seeing everything spin around, until I hit the ground and skidded to a stop.

First order of business is to try and move my toes. My concern was lightened when, although numb, I was able to move them. The guy that was making the right turn jumped out and ran over to help me, and a short while later my friend made his way around and saw me on the ground. I'm glad he was far enough back that he didn't see me actually get hit. The old man that hit me (he was 81) asked the guy first if I was alive, and then said "well you saw it, he hit ME!" The other guy just lost it. Started flipping out on the old dude. What the F were you thinking, what's wrong with you, he kept saying. The old guy replied "I thought I had an opening."

The paramedics come and there is a commotion all around. In a twist of fate I am laying on the ground across from my late grandfather's house, where my mom grew up. I explain to the paramedics that I have no health insurance. They assure me that the old dude is going to be on the hook. At the ER, the people are nice but not very helpful. They take x-rays, tell me nothing's broken and let me go. I go home on crutches, hobbling but I guess it could have been worse.

Of course, it was completely avoidable in the first place, so I don't take much solace in it. And all the people that are like "well at least nothing's broken" - perhaps you don't understand. Unless I had broken my hip or femur, I'd take broken bones any day over ligament and tendon damage. My knee was completely blown out, and how the doctor's couldn't see that was beyond me. Broken bone you cast up, let heal and you're good to go. Ligaments, tendons - that means rehab and surgery.

The next day I went to get an MRI. Unfortunately the results couldn't be read by my doctor to me until Monday, so I got those just yesterday. Torn ACL. That will require surgery. Grade 3 strain of the MCL. Fractured fibula head. Fractured trabecular (ankle) and torn deltoid ligament (ankle). Massive trauma to my hamstrings and other ligaments in the knee.

Obviously not very happy about this, but unfortunately what's done is done. This 81 year old made a very poor decision and will really only have to live with that decision for a couple of years tops. I, on the other hand, have just had the only good thing in my life ripped away from me.

Needless to say I will not be able to race anymore this season. I don't have any races that I'm completely and totally psyched on as far as their results this year. I did a lot of work and now have nothing to show for it, because as each day passes I will continue to lose fitness and then have to make the decision whether I even have the energy to start over. The checklist of shitty things is pretty high right now. I'm not looking for a handout, I'd just like to catch a break for fucking once.

So you've got no job, no insurance, no car, probably soon to be homeless and you're going to have tons of medical bills, plus your bike got destroyed and the one thing that brings you genuine enjoyment is no longer a viable option? It's easier to understand why and how people become homeless or get into drugs.

The big disappointment is not being able to do Arizona. More than any race this year, that was the one I was looking forward to. Each year goes by and I continue to not get an opportunity to do one. And the sign up period for next year is already caput for many of the ones I'd be able to do. I'm not going to have the funds to travel outside of the US next year now and I won't be ready for a spring IM, and don't want to have to wait all the way until next fall again.

For now I'm trying as best I can to be positive, but since nobody else I know is in a similar situation, it's tough to hear encouraging words because you just want to scream WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU KNOW? I can't walk or stand up, I can't bend my knee. I sit on the couch and my entire body is in pain. My arms feel as if I was giving the double dutch rudder for hours and hours.

But I am keeping things in perspective by forcing myself to watch sad stories of people who have/had it worse than me. Like the 2006 Ironman where John Blaze, who had finished the year prior, was basically unable to do anything due to ALS. "Life's not a dress rehearsal," he said. There was a story of a girl who got hit while on a training ride and now can't use her legs. That's how things could have turned out. The speed at which I hit that car and the sound it made, I thought for sure I was going to be eating out of a tube.

So thanks to everyone who has expressed concern and support over the couple days, I do appreciate it. I hope to be back in Baltimore soon but for now I just don't know. I hate being here because I can't even go to the beach right now, which makes being home worthless. And I am going to have to go on a hunger strike so I don't gain too much weight, as that will make any attempt at a comeback that much harder.

The good news is that my friends did kill it in Rhode Island. I saw results for Matias, who went 4:04 which is absurd, and he must have be first amateur because he was 8th overall. Mike Zero killed it in his first half, and Alyssa, just two weeks off of her Western States finish, swam and rode real strong. Amazing since she never does either of those things in training. I wish I could get faster and not have to ride or swim. Ha JKKKKK.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Jesus Juice + Neverland = a good weekend

As Dave Chappelle pointed out in one of his performances, Michael Jackson can only be accused of being a good host. Call him what you will, but I for one, do not blame MJ. I blame the money hungry (blanks) that were all up his ass when the getting was good and didn't care about his well-being. And the parents who put their kids in the way of alleged harm. I love you Michael Jackson, thanks for being a good host.

Enough of that.

Actually, no, wait. I'm also pretty pissed about Donte Stallworth. He killed another human being because of being reckless and was rewarded with 30 days of imprisonment and 2 years of basically probation. But Michael Vick? What did he do, he fought some dogs that were probably going to fight anyway. I'm certainly not a fan of dog fighting, and I love dogs so I don't wish them harm but seriously - Vick spent mad time in jail and his whole life is now fucked up over some dogs, but this other guy gets off with a slap on the wrist for KILLING a person. Bullshit.

Enough of that.

Later today I'm headed up to NJ. This will be nice as I haven't been home since Easter, and that was just for about 24 hours. The goal is to recover for a few days and not be around the distractions that exist around here. And by distractions I mean the endless barrage of texts, phone calls and emails of nonsense. I'll chill out tomorrow and Friday and then head up to Providence on Saturday morning to prepare for the half Ironman up there.

I did this race last year in its inaugural year, mostly to take advantage of my fitness following the bad race at Eagleman. So many things went wrong in the morning of the race though I felt like a total rookie. Fortunately I kept my cool and didn't let it affect my performance, and had a significantly better race than I had at Eagleman.

A year later and I still don't feel like I'm any fitter or faster than I was this time last year, but I feel more confident. Ultimately I think that's what I'm running these races on right now. Confidence. I know how fast I went last year and where I fell apart. Making a few adjustments this year and knowing what my body can put out makes this year's goal more reasonable.

My 2008 stats were:

Swim: 30:45 (190th)
T1: 3:01
Bike: 2:23:03 (31st, 23.5mph)
T2: 1:26
Run: 1:50:56 (270th, 8:29/mi)

Swim was pretty good, it was obviously an improvement over Eagleman and I really enjoyed the bay swim with waves and a tide. I feel like I'm swimming a little quicker this year, but as swims are quite unpredictable it's hard to guess for this year. I'd like to think a time in the mid 29 range is reasonable. T1 was slow last year, and I've been doing better so far in 2009. I could expect to take at least a minute, maybe more, out of that.

Bike was mad easy last year. The first 15 miles were super fast and with the wind, and then we turned inland and hit some rolling hills and a little bit of headwind. At no point was I overdoing it, in fact I felt like I could have ridden about 2-3 minutes faster with ease last year. With 7 miles to go I basically had to sit up because the roads were narrow and sketchy. T2 was alright, but if I could go a little faster than that I'd obviously prefer it.

Run, well, the run was the run. It's always embarrassing, as a runner, to have your run be your worst rank. I'd have to look back at my splits but I remember starting out pretty well and then completely biting the dust. I had to walk, I remember stopping to go to the bathroom. Still kept most of the miles under 10 minutes, so I was moving, but not very fast.

Ahead of the race, here are my goals. We'll see how close I am to these. I was pretty darn close on my Eagleman goals, really the run was the only exception.

Swim: 29:45
T1: 1:50
Bike: 2:19:00 (I think I can ride just as fast on this course as I did at Eagleman)
T2: 1:10
Run: 1:24:30

Total: 4:16:15

It may be a little aggressive, but I believe with that kind of time and depending on the age group competition that a place between 3rd and 5th is possible. The run course is hard and I think a big mistake was trying to get out in 6:00 at Eagleman. I anticipate the temperatures will be in the mid 70s, which will be great, and there may even be rain. I hope for dry roads because I don't trust 99% of the shady triathlete bike riders, but I could be down with some cloud cover.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Hubs of Fury: 4th of Fury

If nothing else in my life is going "right" right now, at least the crazy weekends are keeping my spirits afloat. This particular weekend began on Thursday with our 16 mile trail run at Patapsco. The trails were muddy, and the course was brutal. I made sure to make it the hardest, non-repeat 16 miles we could do. We were also keeping the pace very honest, so it was by no means a light jog. About 90 minutes in, however, I completely ate it. I don't even know what happened, other than I faceplanted into the mud. I think I jumped over a set of logs and there was mud on the other side, and my feet just never got underneath me. It looked like I rolled around in feces.

With a mile and a half to go we ran up Gun Rd, where there was some battling. And then the rain started. We were all pretty worked by the end. This also kicked off Brennan's 24/24/24 Challenge. His goal was, from 6:27pm Thursday to 6:27pm Friday, to run 24 miles and drink 24 beers. If you think this feat is completely easy I encourage you to attempt it. Particularly when it's really just you drinking and for no reason other than just to do it. By 8:30 we had knocked out 16 of the running miles and it was onto the beers.

Meanwhile I had to meet up with a colleague for a moment and didn't finish til 11:30, and had yet to eat dinner. I was dying. I ate 6 slices of pizza and then met up with the gang at Taps around midnight. Brennan was already 10 beers deep. We head to South Side Saloon. 11. Then down to Don't Know. 12. 12.5. Then it's 1:45, bar is closing, Brennan walks outside with half his beer and projectile vomits everywhere. I think it was the pizza. 13. Finished the beer, we walk back to Arjun's.

It's now 2am and Bren cracks another Miller Lite. I am too tired to even ride my bike home, so I crash on the couch. 2:30. Wake up at 5:55. Ride home, stop at DD along the way, change into cycling gear and ride up to Falls Road to meet OJ and Zero. 70 miles later and I'm back home. I was sleepy tired but had to keep Brennan accountable, so he, Arjun, Alex and I went to Red Star for lunch. Now Brennan was at 21 or 22 total beers. And he had run 7 miles in the morning, so he just had a few more of each. We watched Step Brothers while he drank another few beers, knocked out 24. Then at 6:15 he, Arjun and I laced up the shoes and went for a ceremonial mile around our beer mile course, which is the parking lot for Ravens' stadium that is under 95.

There it was - 24/24/24. It was impressive. Then since he was feeling good, we ran another 3 miles, and then I ran home to make it 8 for the day.

NOW I was tired. It was nice out, and I hate not doing things on days that are July 3rd that are also Fridays, but with Hubs of Fury looming on Saturday I knew I had to take it easy.

Woke up on Saturday at 6:30, and felt like death. Like I was getting sick, and also someone had hit me in the triceps repeatedly with a bamboo stick. I think it was the jarring effect from my spill on the trails. I made the (wise) decision to not go up to TriSpeed ride. 20 miles each way + at least 40-50 with them would make a day I wasn't willing to put in on tired legs. It actually worked out, as, being the 4th of July and a Saturday, it is my favorite day of the year - celebrating America and watching the Tour! I flipped between that and Wimbledon for a while, and then finally around 4:30p I made it out of the house to put in a short 6 miles.

The only highlight from the run was the last mile. It is just under a mile and a half from the intersection of Boston and Fleet back up to my house via Fleet St. It is also all uphill. Normally I make it down in 9:30 at a reasonable pace, and going back up I like to be between 9:30 and 10 unless I'm really trying to get after it. In the past few weeks I've had efforts of just under 9 to 8:20, which was the quickest I've run up it. My plan was to take the first half mile to get up to speed and then hit it hard from the Shell station. It's a mile from the corner of the Shell back up, and just under half a mile to the Shell. I came through in 2:41 and thought hmm, sub 8 is possible, but very unlikely. I'd have to run pretty hard to do that.

I was running hard, but making sure I was also staying within myself. I hit Highland Ave and then got to run downhill for a minute home. I didn't think there was much likelihood of running under 8, so I wasn't really looking at my watch until I stopped. 8:00.9. Ha. Should have just gone that little bit harder. I think OJ had done 7:55 the one day, and I feel like the big difference was just the first half mile being a little easier. I can probably pull 10 seconds there. But no need, at least not this week. 5:20 uphill mile isn't bad.

After the run it was time to prepare for Hubs of Fury. For those unaware, it is our super awesome, super dangerous bar "crawl" that takes place on bikes. This enables us to visit many, many bars across many different parts of Baltimore. 20 of us congregated at the gates of Fort McHenry at 8pm, and I kicked things off with a motivational speech. I'll post it one of these days for your enjoyment. Everyone was on their bikes, including Jim Adams and Denise Knickman, which was awesome. Many of us don spandex and other cycling outfits. First stop was J. Patrick's in Locust Point, which was our first stop at last year's first ever Hubs.

From there we headed to Arjun's to watch the fireworks, and then left at 10pm to ride around to Little Italy. This is where things went wrong. The roads were closed to vehicular traffic, but there were thousands of people just walking around, not paying attention, following the fireworks. I made it through without incident, but a few people crashed. Then we got to Mustang Alley and it was CLOSED. Fury!

We headed into Fells over to Bar on Lancaster, which was supposed to be reopening on this day following renovations - but they too were closed. Who closes on the 4th of July?! In order to get settled we just stopped at Oliver the Wharf Rat, which was good, and then walked to the next stop, Bad Decisions. We then had the long transfer/hill stage which was to ride up to Highlandtown and go to Blue Hill. BH had just opened the previous day, and it is this enormous place that's way too nice and expensive for where it's located. It used to be a hardcore lesbian bar and now it's...well, not. There was no one in there, which was cool for us.

Sitting out on their second floor patio, we spotted a guy walking across the street who started yelling up at us. We encouraged him to do a handstand, and even gave him the slow clap. After he pussyfooted around I was about to leave, until he blew our minds by doing a standing backflip. It was crazy. Our last stop was supposed to be in the Square, and we thought we'd stop by Walt's to do some karaoke. Who would thought that Walt's, a disgusting little dive bar, would be so popular. We went to another local spot Pickled Parrot to close out the night with a sick dance party.

And then to the Square for pretzel dogs. Kris ate 5 of them.

The next morning was nice-ish, but I still felt pretty beat up. Watched the Tour, watched the men's Wimbledon and then headed out for a 50 mile ride with Zero. We put in a few decent efforts. The highlight of this ride was climbing out of Loch Raven seated in the big ring, which is usually a good gauge of fitness. I avoided running, as I'd already put in 55 miles for the week and 50 the week before. I was going to do an easy 5 to hit 60 but reminded myself it's just a number and not really important.

So it was tiring, but another pretty awesome weekend. The week ahead is filled with some recovering, no real workouts and a trip back to NJ for some recovery ahead of Sunday's Providence half Ironman. I'm looking forward to racing, and after it's over I've got no racing plans for the rest of the summer.

A quick note on the Tour. It is the most awesome spectacle on the planet. A sporting event on wheels, snaking around France and darting in and out of other countries and principalities. Fans are able to be within inches of the sport's superstars. And the stages are harder than anyone can imagine. Every day poses a different challenge. I just watched Mario Bruseghin crash, and was bleeding everywhere, and he just gets back on his bike, gets attended to the doctor while holding onto a car riding at 30+mph. These guys are absolute studs and while cheating is deplorable, you get an idea of why they almost are forced to do it. I just don't understand how you can race all out for a 200+km mountain stage and get back on your bike and do it again the next day. Unpossible.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Mid Year Report

As the cliche saying goes, where has this year gone?

It seems like just yesterday we were training through the extended winter and preparing for the Boston Marathon, but it was almost 2.5 months ago now. The spring triathlon season has come and gone, and summer appears to finally be here.

I figured I would take the opportunity, now that we're into July, to provide a little mid season report.

The first half of the year has been challenging, and certainly hasn't gone quite as I had expected. Personal life aside, I really didn't feel good about any of the big races I did. The best I had felt was at Club Challenge, where I took :30 out of my 2008 time just on mileage. After CC, I began throwing in a few workouts. I was not swimming or riding that much, instead choosing to focus more on being well prepared for Boston.

And we all know how that went.

I was pleased with my transition into triathlon season, the first of which was Kinetic, where I was marginally faster than 2008 but had the same finish position. I had a slow run, but that could be a result of being less than two weeks off Boston. The thing I was most disappointed with - it was the nicest day I've ever raced on. Wish I had taken advantage!

Columbia followed and was a typical dreary, rainy, windy Columbia day. All in all I was just about 2.5 minutes slower than 2008 but I expected it, and was more concerned with training through to Eagleman.

I went into Eagleman not feeling as fit or as fast as last year, but I felt much better prepared. With a little divine intervention came some cloud cover for at least part of the race, which didn't hurt. The result was the best long distance race I've had (of only a handful).

Came out of Eagleman feeling pretty good. I took a few days off that week, bringing my 2009 days off total to 10 now. Not bad through half a year. It doesn't really matter, in my opinion, because at some point you have to listen to your body and realize that you can't be a hero everyday. I've been trying to train with more purpose lately. If I'm tired, and that extra workout is going to make me more tired - I don't do it. It keeps the workouts you do focused, and decreases the "junk" mileage/yardage, etc.

My plan following EM was to take it easy for a week, then get after it for two, then bring it down the week leading up to Providence. Last week was moderate, but wasn't huge. I've been having some decent runs lately, which is promising, but neglected doing the things on the bike I needed to do. This week started off the same, but I do have a solid 4 day block planned.

The only real problem I've been having is an insane level of tiredness. I can't explain it. Not sleeping well has been a big part, and there are many reasons behind that. I swear I've been eating well; at least better than I normally do. I need to get some additional rest in these next 10 days.

Providence was a race I did on a whim last year after the abortion clinic of Eagleman. I knew I was fit, and needed to show it. Looking back at the training log, it seemed pretty light through June and looks like this year was much stronger. I'd expect, based purely on how I did at EM, to go a little better at Providence. If I can get into the 4:15 range it would be a great success.

I'm also starting to finally consider Ironman training. I plan on taking the two weeks following Providence pretty easy - not worry about intensity or volume for the time but just get out there to get out there. A small mini-brain break before a period of high volume arrives. Ha, period of high volume.

It's summer and there are definitely days you just want to hang out. Go to the beach. Go visit NJ. Just take a day off. And if I feel it will be in my best interest to do that, I will. One day doesn't make or break your season, but you do have to be consistent. Staying uninjured is also a big part of it. I'm extending my season out to November 22 this year, which is 3 weeks longer than I usually would, and more significantly I am usually done riding my bike by early October, same with swimming. I use October and November as easy months. Not this year.

For now the plan is to start IM training on August 1, and that should work well as it's 15 weeks of training. If I were starting from scratch I wouldn't be comfortable with it, but I've got a lot under my belt already. Biggest changes are going to be swimming more per session and long bricks. Saturdays and Sundays are going to be tough days. There will be a move from anaerobic intensity to aerobic endurance. I don't foresee myself touching too many 6:xx miles during the IM.

I'm also big on identifying goals, so for right now I've got my best case/anticipated/worst case goals for Ironman Arizona:

Swim: 1:00/1:02/1:05. An hour swim would be very good. In fact it would be better than I've swam for the half distance, twice. I know I can get there but without diligence, it won't happen. 1:02 is probably a little more realistic, and I don't foresee swimming slower than 1:05.

Bike: 4:50/5:00/5:10. 4:50 equates to something like 23.x miles per hour. Very ambitious, but last year at Providence I rode 2:23 and couldn't have been riding easier. The thing I have to work on is getting used to pedaling for that long, because much like EM, I don't think AZ has a ton of ups and downs to give you a break. 5 hours is more likely, and if I rode any slower than that I'll probably be pretty pissed.

Run: 3:05/3:12/3:20. I'm the first person that will tell you: anything can happen in a marathon. Particularly a marathon following 112 miles on the bike and a 2.4 mile swim. I've seen great runners run over 3:20, and people I felt would have trouble making it through the distance go under 3:20. Oh and let's not forget, as of right now I've still yet to run an OPEN marathon under 3:10. So yeah, I've got a lot of work to do. But it's about pacing, and clearly part of my problem has been improper pacing in the open race.

I'll re-evaluate after Providence. It's a hard run course, and if I could be below 1:25, I'd feel good about being about to double a 1:35. I'm either going to do Augusta 70.3 or a half in Raleigh at the end of September, which will be another good chance to get a good longer race in. I may also look to do a marathon in October.

Interesting to note: I've heard now that IM CDA is still open to general registration, a week after it opened. This never happens. Clearly more people are evaluating their need to sign up for races right away based on economic woes. This has also been reflected in the Hawaii and Clearwater slots - they're rolling down a lot further than normal. Doesn't really help me, my age group seems largely unaffected at the half distance, but at IM it's possible for some additional slots.

Anyway it's all just talk until I actually do it, so with those goals in mind I will build and focus my training.

But first, this weekend is the return of the immensely popular and terribly unsafe HUBS OF FURY, a bike tour of the bars of Baltimore.