Tuesday, July 26, 2011

They're in the Landscaping Program

While I am no sport scientist, I do have an appreciation and understanding of the greatest bike race on earth, and as it dominated the discussion on our Monday night run, I am going to share a few more thoughts from the 2011 edition of the race.  If you are one of the 6 people that reads this daily (average), feel free to share any thoughts you have in the comments!

1) How did Thor Hushovd do that (win Stage 13 in the mountains) without drugs?

Thanks Ben, for that great question.  Sprinters attacking in the mountains is not entirely uncommon, although it is not often very successful.  Sometimes they'll do it just to have a little head start on the climbs, so they can make it inside of the hors delai, or time cut, of the day's stage.  In the twilight of Erik Zabel's career, he knew his chances for winning straight-up sprints were diminished (particularly without PEDs), so he had to climb better than the other sprinters in hopes of winning some of the intermediate sprints, and possibly get over the easier mountains with the GC guys and only have to outsprint them to the line.  Back then there were usually 2 to 3 intermediate sprint points, with 6, 4 and 2 points on the line.  Zabel also had an appreciation and respect for the Tour, and the Maillot Vert, so he always enjoyed showing that he was worthy of the honor by getting through the mountains better than the other sprinters.  As we know, the Tour is mostly a race of attrition, and he knew if he established a lead early, some of the other sprinters would call it quits in the mountains.

As for Thor, we are looking at the reigning World Champion, and a strongman of the Spring Classics races.  These are grueling, one day, 250km+ sufferfests that only the best of the best can win.  Much like Zabel did, Thor has realized that he no longer packs the punch to compete with a Mark Cavendish type sprinter, so his only chance for stage wins, or the Green Jersey, is to outfox everyone, as we saw in both Stage 13, and later in Stage 16.  Since those stages were hard, but not Stage 18 or 19 hard, he knew he could suffer just enough to win the stage, and also that nobody would bother him as he was not a GC threat. 

Keep in mind, too, that the riders in those breakaways were not necessarily "climbers" - but rather guys who were instructed by their Directeur Sportif to get in the day's breakaway.  Each day teams try to fulfill different objectives, and sometimes it's just about being in the break for some TV time.  Certainly, none of them was a World Champ like Thor, so it wasn't like he was attacking Cadel Evans or Andy Schleck.  In Stage 13, he outlasted FdJ's Jeremy Roy, who had been in almost every breakaway since the Tour began.  The guy's legs must have been stripped.  In Stage 16, he was able to bridge to his own teammate, Ryder Hesjedal, as the two sandwiched Sky's Edvald Boassen Hagen in the last kilometer.  Hesjedal, playing the role of teammate and leadout rider, realized he could not outsprint either of the two, so sacrificed his own chance for the win to enable Thor to win for the second time.  A win for Thor is a win for the team, and that's why Garmin-Cervelo had such a successful Tour.

2) Contador looked untouchable in the Giro, and Andy Schleck looked terrible in the Tour de Suisse.  What happened?

The Giro is almost always a harder race than the Tour, at least on paper.  The race takes place in May, a time of year when the weather is still pretty fickle throughout most of Europe.  This year's Giro was exceptionally difficult, perhaps the hardest Grand Tour of all time, and Alberto Contador owned everyone and made it look real easy.  His form looked so incredible that he was the odds-on favorite to win the Tour, pending his trial (today, another delay was approved, so who knows when this thing will ever happen).  Meanwhile, just a few weeks out from the Tour, Andy Schleck rode the Tour de Suisse.  He looked lackluster, to say the least, be it climbing or in the time trial.  We all know the brothers Schleck do not like the discipline against the clock, and it appeared as if neither had made any improvements in the months since last year's Tour. 

But another thing we know is what every Tour hopeful knows, and that is you do not want to come to the Tour on 100% of your form.  The Tour is three weeks long, and it gets progressively more difficult all the way to Paris.  Ideally one will race themself into shape by the time the stages get harder, and you saw that with most of this year's real contenders.  Andy Schleck was clearly using the TdS to prepare for the Tour, while Contador had chosen the much harder Grand Tour to prepare.  Schleck's legs were building into form while Contador was already pretty tired. 

Contador, meanwhile, suffered from a severe lack of paying attention in the first week of the Tour.  He was involved in a number of crashes, and he and the team manager, former Tour winner/admitted PED user Bjarne Riis, kept the actual impact of his injured knee close to their chest.  Contador seemed to be riding in the middle to the back of the peloton on most days, and it never looked like he had any teammates near him.  He seemed to be out of it from the start, and lost some time - almost insurmountable time - on stage 1, and again in the 2nd week. 

I will say this: I've never liked Contador.  I didn't like him in 2007 when he won his first Tour.  Because of the problems with his team, he was not allowed to defend his title in 2008, but came back and won in 2009 and again in 2010.  The infighting on Team Astana in 2009 as Lance tried to ride for the win again was petty, and the creation of RadioShack split the team for the 2010 Tour.  Each year he's ridden the Tour, I feel like he's looked worse.  He was vulnerable last year and perhaps had it not been for Andy Schleck's chain slipping at a critical moment in the race, maybe he wouldn't have won.  When he popped positive for clenbuterol, a banned substance, following last year's Tour, it cast a shadow of doubt on his entire career.  For a guy who so easily won the Tour, the Giro and the Vuelta in succession, this stained his reputation and possibly his legacy as one of the greatest stage racers of all time.  But, he handled adversity this year like a champion.  He could have dropped out after losing time, and blamed it on his knee.  He could have said my knee hurt and that's why I couldn't keep up.  Instead, he just said he didn't have the legs, he didn't know what happened.  Having been there (a lot) I know what he's talking about, and it's refreshing to know that even someone like Contador has bad days.  And even when the chips were really down, he still went on the attack just 10km into Friday's super hard Stage 19.  He didn't even win the stage, and you could tell he was hurting.  He then rode Saturday's time trial as if he were going for the win.  I respect that, and seeing as I feel like he was clean this year, I will now give him a little more respect.

3) How did Thomas Voeckler keep yellow for so long, isn't he not very good?

In 2004, a 25 year old Thomas Voeckler earned the yellow jersey by getting into a good break.  Those were in the days of long breakaways that Lance and his Postal squad would allow (like Stuart O'Grady gaining a 35 minute advantage in 2001).  Wearing the yellow jersey means pressure; pressure for the rider, pressure for the team to defend, especially when the rider, and the team, are French.  Back then, nobody expected Voeckler to hold onto the jersey very long, so when he did, for 10 days, it was a coup.  When Lance finally took it back, he took it hard.  Voeckler cracked, finally ceding that he couldn't climb well enough to entertain thoughts of winning. 

Over the years he has been one of the most animated riders in the peloton, and is always a threat for a good breakaway stage win, and the possibility of wearing yellow.  Compared to some of his French generational compatriots, such as Sandy Casar, and Sylvain Chavanel, Voeckler has always been the runt of the litter, carrying less pedigree, but riding with much more heart, than almost anyone.  He's been having a great 2011, and it was no surprise to anyone that in the first week of riding he was itching for opportunities for either a stage win, the yellow jersey, or both.  He finally got that opportunity, and mixed with a little bit of good fortune (avoiding getting hit by a car in the break combined with a cautious peloton) he was able to snag the yellow jersey.  He knew it would be short-lived, honestly believing he couldn't carry it beyond a day or two, but he steadfastly vowed to defend it.

What happened next flumoxed most people involved in the Tour - media, riders, viewers alike.  Thomas Voeckler somehow found the legs to match pace with the best in the mountains.  And it wasn't like they were riding easy enough for everyone to be there, toward the end of each stage it was a very select group, usually just the top 7-10 guys on GC.  One would attack, and Voeckler would aggressively move to cover it.  He appeared to be climbing better than Schleck or Contador on some occasions.  Always near was his faithful domestique, the best young rider Pierre Rolland, who I did actually say would win a stage by the end of the Tour when the race first hit the mountains.  He looked extremely comfortable in the high mountains and Stage 19 atop Alpe d'Huez he earned a great win.  But back to Voeckler, when he was asked by the media whether he felt the fact he was able to defend his jersey was a sign of a cleaner Tour, he said absolutely. 

Now, whether that's the case or not, I think he benefitted from historical precedence.  Thomas Voeckler has never been a climber, and I suspect that, after this year, probably won't be again.  The real contenders never seemed to care if he did anything, they were too busy marking each other.  Until, with 3 stages to go, he still had a lead.  Even then, it seemed impossible that this guy, from Team Europcar, was still clinging to the lead over the best in the world.  This will go down as one of the most remarkable stories in Tour history, and if he wasn't already, Voeckler will be a folk hero in French cycling lore. 

But, he will never be allowed in a breakaway again, so I hope he enjoyed it.

4) Was this Tour cleaner?

I think it was.  First, you saw a tremendous level of parity when it came to the final climbs.  If Tom Danielson, at age 33 and in his first Tour ever, is able to keep up with the likes of the Schlecks, Evans and Contador, you know something's up.  Second, you really could see the fatigue on the riders, moreso than in the past.  People have been quick to point out that they climbed slower than the last decade or so, and that could be something, or it could be nothing.  To me, it looked like the climbs were slower, because the pace TO the climbs had been so rapid, that the teammates of the GC guys were dropped earlier than in the past.  When Lance had the full force of Postal behind him, they ran it more efficiently than the real Postal Service.  Lance was a real boss, a patron of the peloton.  He was feared, and respected.  Every day his team was on the front, and they would set the tempo up the climbs, peeling off one by one until it was Lance, maybe one or two rivals, and a teammate of Lance's.  There was nothing like that this year.  LeoPard Trek was riding so hard in between climbs that they were all gone by the time the climbs started.  BMC didn't have the firepower, neither did SaxoBank.  Maybe that is the sign of cleaner riding, that the domestiques lost their climbing legs.  But to say it was cleaner solely because the climbs were slower, well I don't think that means much, at least not yet.

What changed from Tours of the past to this one?  Last year Mark Cavendish won a bunch of stages.  This year, he won a bunch of stages.  He was untouchable in most sprints.  So, let's assume last year they were all doping, and this year they weren't.  He's still better.  Almost everyone finished where they were supposed to finish.  The green jersey went to the best sprinter.  The polka dot jersey went to a climber (maybe not THE best, but it hardly ever does).  The yellow jersey went to the best rider in the race.  The race was exciting from start to finish. 

5) Was Cadel really the best? And will Andy Schleck ever win a Tour?

First answer - yes.  Second - I don't think so.  Cadel is a World Champion, and has proven his worth as a cyclist time and time again.  He came from a champion mountain bike background, like many others, but has catapulted himself to the top of the road cycling ranks, which is not something that the others can say.  He has poured his heart into winning this race, and this year he looked sharp from the beginning.  Crashes and bad luck are part of the sport.  You can't control what happens around you, unfortunately, and in some of his other attempts, he really just has suffered bad luck.  You can feel bad for that.  Bad form, you can't. 

I've always pointed out that Lance Armstrong didn't win 7 Tours in a row (SEVEN) because he was the best.  I honestly don't think he was.  And, speculations of PEDs aside, Lance won for a few simple reasons: he prepared the best, he wanted to win more than the others, he had the best/most prepared team around him, and he rarely suffered from bad luck.  Lance was only ever focused on the Tour, and was fortunate to have a team (and, importantly, sponsors) who backed that pursuit.  They were allowed to focus on that.  They were not required to win stages, put guys in the break, win other jerseys.  It was all about yellow.  Other contemporary teams, including Jan Ullrich's Deutsche Telekom team, still had to satisfy sponsors with dual objectives: win stages.  That meant at the end of each stage, some of the team's 9 riders were told to work hard to get Erik Zabel in position to win the stage. 

In this day, I think it is almost impossible for a team to satisfy both objectives.  You can either go for stage wins, or you can win the Tour.  Of the top 10, only three won stages during the Tour (Cadel, Andy, Sanchez), and just two of the others (Voeckler, Danielson, we'll discount Frank Schleck) even had stage winners come from their team.  Not one of those teams had a sprinter they worked for. 

For Cadel, BMC was fully committed to the cause.  I actually believe it helps being an American team with American sponsors, because here in America, we only know about yellow.  We don't care about the other classifications, or TV time for sponsors, or stage wins, like the European-based teams might.  LeoPard Trek was the same way.  SaxoBank, same.  Cadel benefitted from his great skill in the time trial, so he really never had to attack.  I was personally disappointed to see him not light it up in the mountains, but even if he had been able to, I don't know that it would have been beneficial in his attempt to win yellow.  Instead, he did what he had to do to win.  I can get behind that.  He rode sensibly, near the front at all times, he did dig it out for that sprint to win that early stage, stayed out of trouble with the crashes, mechanicals, had teammates around.  He just rode smart.  And then he knew even if the TT was only 42km that he could take out probably 2 minutes on Anyone But Contador so he didn't have to do anything other than work to bridge some time on Stages 18 and 19. 

As far as Andy Schleck, I think last year was his shot.  Yeah, I know he's young, but Contador has already stated emphatically that he will "never ride the Giro again" and will focus solely on winning more Tours.  This may not work out if his court case turns out unfavorably, but he seems adamant that he will be back and in the hunt next year.  Cadel I'm sure will come back to defend.  Who knows who else could be in the mix.  Andy Schleck has proven that he can climb, nobody doubts that, but until he works on his time trial, he cannot be a champion.  His team needs a better strategy, and Frank needs to be used better.  The one thing Schleck has going for him, as Arjun and I discussed last night, is that he seems to get the idea that you build your season around just racing the Tour, and build the team that can support that plan.  If he doesn't win next year, or the year after, will he still be hungry enough to win the Tour?  One can only get second so many times, just ask Raymond Poulidor.

Monday, July 25, 2011

But I Finished? I Don't Understand

Chris Horner mumbled those words following his crash early in the Tour.  Somehow he had managed to get back on his bike and pedal 25km to the finish, before being taken away in an ambulance.  The broken bones were the least of his concerns, his coherence was non-existent.  He had no recollection of the crash, of finishing, of anything, really.  All he was concerned about was that he finished.

That's kind of how I felt about, well, anything I did this past week.  The conditions were brutal, even by Summer standards.  I feel that my unathletic DNA is the cause of my struggles with heat and humidity.  I can't imagine there was much of that in Ireland, Scotland, Germany or Sweden when the people who helped create my family tree got together.  The only thing I know is that, due to the Irish part of me comprising at least 50% of my genetic makeup, I am able to suffer better than most. 

I went to the Wednesday Night Ride last week.  There were a meager 12 people, and the temperature was still in the mid 90s.  I rode there from Falls Road, which added at least 8 miles in each direction to my trip, so the ride was going to be in the realm of 2h30m.  Because one of my water bottle cages broke (a while ago) I have been riding mostly with one bottle.  I will occasionally, on really hot days, carry a smaller one in my jersey pocket.  I did that for this ride, and was already through the small bottle by the time I got to Oregon Ridge.  My HR was through the roof, it was disconcerting.  Normally the ride starts AT 6pm, sometimes earlier.  On this day, nobody seemed keen on pedaling, so it was at least 6:08 by the time we rolled out.  I figured it may, on account of the conditions, be chill.  Nope.  Someone went off the front from the start, and while it was kept in check, another attack on Stringtown blew up the ride.  In reality, without knowing the speed, it could have been not that hard.  I'll concede that I felt terrible and it could have just been me.  But, with only 12 people, if I got dropped, it was going to be a long, boring ride.  I was able to put in one effort to bridge the gap, but then resumed sitting on the back of the line.  I made it to Glencoe Rd with the group, before getting dropped after another attack just prior to York Rd.  I'd guess this is 7 or 8 miles from the finish, so probably 22-23 miles into the ride.  I sat up and soft pedaled home.  I still had to go up Jerome Jay to get back to Falls Road.  And I had approximately two swigs of water left.  I was going to save them for the right time, so I waited until I had crested JJ and drank the remainder of the water, and then just freewheeled downhill until I had to pedal again. 

Thursday was potentially a worse day.  It was hard to tell.  At some point, hot is just hot.  Alyssa, Pat and I rolled out from Snake Hill around 6:30pm to do our 2hr Gunpowder Loop.  I felt much better than I had on Wednesday, which was somewhat consoling. 

Friday morning the decision was made to run early.  I felt that if I swam early, and had to wait until later in the day to run, that the run would be bad, or I wouldn't do it.  5:45am and Pat was at our door, and he/Ed/myself rolled out for basically WNR loop.  It was already 87 degrees.  I didn't feel too bad, whatever pace we were running was actually okay (it was not fast, I know that) and I didn't feel like I absolutely needed water.  We made it around the Harbor to the Rusty Scupper, and began our way back the way we had come.  We took a detour up to Patterson Park, and I ran a few more minutes to call it 11 on the day.  It was just after 7am, 91 degrees with a heat index of 100.  I swam later in the day, and the pool was seriously on fire.  I thought I was in Cleveland for a second.  I tried on my new speedsuit, the Tyr Torque, and I felt the difference.  I was excited to swim in it on Sunday.

In order to get the workout out of the way, and to be able to watch the TT/get on the road to NJ earlier, Zero and I rode at 6:30am on Saturday.  The temp was not bad, but not much different than it had been at the same time on Friday morning.  We did a shortened version of our normal Loch Raven loop, and while my legs didn't feel good, they warmed up by the end.  I watched the Tour, impressed by Cadel Evans' ride, and Alyssa/Z/myself headed out around 2 to get to NJ.  It was 4:30 when we got to the race site, and the field it's in felt like the surface of Mercury.  I had planned on running a few miles, but that idea evaporated as quickly as my water. 

Saturday night we were staying at a hotel on Route 1 near Princeton, so we took the opportunity to visit one of my favorite places: Princeton University.  I've been going there since I was in high school for races, running camps, etc, but haven't been there in a few years.  Also I was too dumb to get in.  But we had a great meal at Triumph Brewery, while we quasi-eavesdropped on a date between two older people.  The guy was digging his own grave; we heard him explaining the Tour/cycling to her for a long time, and at one point he took off his Road I.D. to show her.  I was like yo, if she goes home with you tonight, mad respect.

Sunday morning we awoke to temperatures already near 90.  I did the inaugural New Jersey State Triathlon in 2006, and was able to race again in 2007 and 2008.  In each of those three years, I had terrible swims, decent bikes and reasonable runs.  They changed the bike course by a little bit every year.  It was only 23.5 miles for a while but apparently last year they figured out a way to make it 25.5.  Always rather it be a little over than a little under.  I've never swam well there, and the only thing I can reason is that the water is just too warm.  I prefer cold water swimming (who doesn't) and the 88 degrees it was on Sunday was just too much for me.  In the other years, it was maybe 82, 80, something reasonable.  But this was just too hot.  And the course goes out with the sun at your back before turning directly into it on the way in.  I struggled with sighting, and as a result I probably would not be a good spokesperson for speedsuits because I swam abysmally slow.

I came out of the water and looked to my left and saw Alyssa.  In normal cases, I would expect to be 60-90 seconds up on Alyssa, and 2.5-3min down on Tommy, and fairly close to Mike but over that distance probably still a minute back.  I had swam 26:29 (probably 10-15sec to run out of the water to the mat).  That was 5 minutes back to Tommy, 3:15 back to Z and Alyssa outsplit me to the mat by 4 seconds.  And there went my day.

Overheated and disappointed, the wind had been taken from my sails.  My foot hurt really bad running on the jagged asphalt of the transition area, and I got to my bike and had no motivation to ride.  I passed one dude early, in the first half mile, and then didn't see anyone for a while, before I got passed.  This is the first time I've been passed this year!  I looked at the guy's cadence and thought man, I should have no problem riding that.  I just...didn't want to.  I could see really far up the road and just didn't see anyone.  Normally I would expect to pull Tommy back in, but I didn't see him.  Oh well.  I rode as easy as I felt I could get away with, it actually felt much easier than even Thursday's ride.  At this point, I just wanted to see how I felt getting off the bike, because with only one water bottle on the bike, and no salt, I was sure I'd cramp up and be walking.

As a heads up, I will include a picture below, but I wore my neon green Speedo.  This is still the best thing I've ever raced in.  I wore it in the first ever tri I did, and for that whole season.  I thought that's just how triathlon was supposed to be.  In the years to come, now it seems like everyone is on a team and has some kind of kit.  I am proud to be unsponsored for 10 years now, and I know I warm everyone's heart when I wear this green bikini bottom. 

So I come in off the bike, and I calmly go onto the run.  My goal was now to run pretty easy, make sure my HR doesn't spike, and then that way I'll still have legs at the finish.  With as much as I anticipated getting wet on this run, I wasn't sure if the no-socks plan was a good one, but I didn't want to have really wet socks, either.  I made my way onto the terrible run course, and it was a just a few minutes before I saw Mike on his way back from the first turnaround.  He was having a phenomenal race and looked really strong running.  He led a big group of people, including Tommy, and then I saw the first placed girl.  I felt like I was pretty far back and it may not be possible to catch her.  At the first turnaround, well beyond the 1 mile mark, was our first opportunity to get a water stop.  They really needed one as you left transition or something.  I took an ice cold towel (that was clutch) and tried to keep myself as cool as possible.  There weren't a ton of people ahead, but I went by a few very comfortably. 

I lost my watch two weeks ago when I was in NJ, so I was racing without a watch.  I felt like that was beneficial on this day as inevitably my splits would have been annoying.  Around mile 2 1/4, the fire department had opened a hydrant and water was blasting out of it.  It was actually kind of annoying to run through, as it just soaked you.  I now had real sloshy feet.  There's another turnaround, and I could tell I was making up ground on some, but not others.  As we came by transition at 5k, I got a shoutout from the announcer, for my cool outfit.  My parents were also there cheering, and if you know my dad, you know he is probably the best cheerer in the world.  You can literally hear him from outer space.

I felt pretty good at this point, and while I know I wasn't running fast, I was running comfortably.  Hit mile 4, where the animated gentleman at the water stop said something that really hit home: "if you can see them, you can catch them."  Of course, that goes for those behind you, but I realized that anybody I still had in sight, I could reasonably catch.  So, much like the driving peloton figures out how to dose their effort out to catch the day's breakaway, I measured my effort to catch those that I could who were ahead of me.  This really meant the girl and the dude wearing the Duke kit.  There was another turnaround at mile 4 3/4, and another hydrant blasting you in the face.  The water was real deep, too, flooding the road.  It was just around mile 5/the same mile 4 water stop that I passed the girl and the guy, and still had two people I believed I could catch.  They were pretty far up, but you could tell by their form they were hurting. 

With a half mile to go, I upped the tempo enough so that I wouldn't redline, but that I could make the catch inside of the last 0.2, that way I would limit their ability to try and kick.  I moved by the one guy (45 y/o, some accomplishment there RM) and had another younger guy just ahead now.  He had begun to kick a little early and looked like he was coming back, but we were less than 150 from the finish.  My dad started cheering for me, the kid looked behind, and took off.  I took off after him, but realized I was not catching him.  I shuffled in over the line at 2:13:58, a truly weak time to match a feeble effort. 

The bike course was 2 miles longer than in 2008, so I'll consider that about 5.5 minutes at the speed I was going, so even then it is still off my time of 2:05:10.  I felt like I was in shape to go 2:03 on the old course, so maybe 2:08 something this year.  With a bike course of 25.5 miles, I should have been able to ride that in 60-61 minutes, based even just on my EM effort.  Instead, I rode 1:04:50.  I've ridden a faster average there on my road bike.  They didn't have my run split (or Zero's, interestingly) but my T2 + run was 41:16.  Assuming a minute for transition, maybe just over, that would be a run of 40:15.  Normally that's pretty discouraging, but considering the winner (who blazed in 2:00:xx) only ran a 38:35 for fastest run of the day (and I know he's normally a mid 34 guy) I wasn't displeased with that.  Overall I finished 9th, but the kid that had just narrowly held me off got a drafting penalty and so I finished 8th. 

The only takeaway I have from the day is that I managed 2.5 mile w/u, and then ran 5 miles after the race, and felt really comfortable doing that (13.5ish on the day).  When we got back to Baltimore, Alyssa had an additional 2 hour ride on tap, so we went out just after 6pm for a Gunpowder Loop.  I felt pretty good riding and would have been fine riding 2 hours, but Alyssa jinxed the ride by saying she didn't have stuff to fix a flat.  So, ten miles out, she got a flat.  And while I had a spare tube and CO2, I didn't have the stupid thing through which CO2 is conducted.  I then had to ride back to the house, get a car and get Alyssa, who sat on the side of Route 40 in Skankville MD, where only one car stopped to see if she was alright.

So for the week, I managed 14km in the pool, 165 miles on the bike and 40 miles of running.  I was, at 19 hours, somewhat expectedly tired going into the race, and that's okay.  The 40 miles of running is the most I've done since the last week of April.  I don't know what was going on, but I had a lot of weeks in the 29-32 range, with one week even coming in at 21.  Then I was at 35 for the last four weeks.  40 is by no means a lot, but on just 4 runs, and one of those being a small 1.5 mile run off the bike one day, I'll take it. 

In spite of the conditions, that's a good week.  The lowlight of it was really just the race.  Originally, Alyssa, Z and I were going to go up to NY to do this other race, the American Zofingen Triathlon, which was to be 1.5mi/69mi/15mi and would have been a lot more useful en route to next month's IM, but it was canceled due to lack of interest.  I was content with not racing this weekend, as at this point, a weekend of longer training efforts is more productive for me, but we decided to do this race.  In the end, it was whatever.  I was okay with racing, but I would have also been okay with not racing.  I certainly didn't need another race, particularly an Olympic distance one, but it's still more opportunity to spend (in theory) riding hard on my TT bike and running off the bike, and for this one, a chance to try out the speedsuit. 

Mostly I think I need to start going to these races that everyone else seems to be able to find with downhill swims and friendly courses.  How I magically come across races that have unnecessarily hot swims in non-current bodies of water (or, the Choptank), and stupid run courses is beyond me. 

Today I feel okay, but my knee is really stiff.  It's hard to explain unless you have the same problem, but it's not sore like "man you just did a hard effort," it's not able to bend or straighten without searing pain.  This has been a constant source of frustration, as everyone knows, because I just never feel good, and don't think I ever will.  I certainly don't wish it on anyone but it would be nice if someone else I knew had a similar problem so I could discuss it!  I think it comes from the position on the TT bike, because I don't have the same level of stiffness after equally hard efforts on the road bike.  Might just have to race a road bike down the road.  Considering this past weekend, might not really make a difference!

My Team CYB teammates all had good days though yesterday, with Mike having his best race ever, finishing 2nd overall and having a great bike split.  Tommy had a good swim and decent bike before a tough run, and technically finished 5th but got hit with another drafting penalty and finished 7th instead.  Alyssa was just shy of her OD PR and was 8th overall.  Considering the week of training she put in, that was pretty awesome.  After the race we went to Varsity Pizza in Lawrenceville, which was delicious as usual and a great tradition I've kept.

For this week I think I'll be taking it easy today and tomorrow, and possibly Wednesday, before picking it back up for the weekend.  I think I need to start bringing down the efforts like Weds Night Ride.  One thing I've done in the last two weeks is recovery rides in the small chain ring.  I really feel like it's been helping flush my legs and keeping the effort really chill when I need it to be.  A few weeks until Luray, so these next two weekends are critical for longer efforts, and then I'll try and rest up for Luray so as not to get embarrassed there. 

As a corollary to my LOTR/TdF post from last week, I realized that the Nasgul, the Ring Wraiths, were also 9 in number, as if they are a team of their own and represent the evil that tries to take away the yellow jersey from the Fellowship.  Of course, Andy Schleck had virtually no shot at the win, and with the lightest amount of TT miles possible, that does not bode well for his future of winning the Tour.  Just 42km of individual time trialing, normally the last one is at least 50-55km and there is generally another one (and a prologue!) so I don't see him winning anytime soon.  Contador has already stated he will never ride the Giro again and is solely focused on winning more Tours (that is, if he gets cleared over the Clenbuterol) and I'm sure Cadel will be back in full effect to win again next year.  In any event, it was a great Tour to watch, particularly the last couple of days.

Friday, July 22, 2011


J.R.R. Tolkien was a fan of the Tour de France.  How do I know?  The parallels between the epic saga of cycling's biggest race and that of Frodo Baggins and his journey to Mordor are uncanny.  In particular, the team of LeoPard Trek is pretty much based on the Fellowship of the Ring. 

Think about it, there were 9 members of the Fellowship.  There are 9 members of a TdF cycling squad.  Both have embarked on a terrifying journey through beautiful landscapes, treacherous mountains and uncharted territories, toward one goal.  In the Lord of the Rings, the adventurers are trying to destroy the one thing that all others covet, to the point that almost destroys them.  The one ring causes a weight so heavy they almost buckle under the pressure.  It's a similar ideal in the Tour, only the riders seek a maillot jaune as their goal, and use their Fellowship to help them get it.  Along the way they encounter obstacles that may set them back, and, omnipresent evil in the form of rivals who will do anything in their power to prevent them from achieving their goal.

But if that's not enough proof for you, let's take a deeper look into the cast of characters:

Andy Schleck as Frodo Baggins.  Frodo was the main dude, the get shit done guy.  He says this is my burden to bear, don't worry boys, I'll take it to the end.  There are times that he looks vulnerable and falters a bit, but always has his posse to look out for him and fill in the gaps.  That's Andy in a nutshell.  He wants the jersey, he craves it.  Sometimes, like on descents, he looks vulnerable, but then he's got his boys to help bridge the gap and take him to the top.

Frank Schleck as Sam Gamgee.  Sam was Frodo's right hand man, #2, the faithful lieutenant.  So devoted to Frodo was Sam that he never left his side.  In fact, it's Sam at the end who really helps get the job done.  Sam could have done it himself but realized that it was Frodo's mission.  Frank could win the Tour himself, but is devoted to seeing his brother do it, and would sacrifice his own chance in order to make it happen.

Jens Voigt as Gandalf.  Sure, Gandalf was old as shit, much like Jens Voigt, but that didn't stop him from being a BAMF.  Like the magical wizard, Jens Voigt always had a trick up his sleeve, and, also like Gandalf, who disappears in Fellowship, presumed to be dead, Jens will be off the back and presumed dead and then POOF magically resurfaces again, at the front, to set some inhumane tempo.  He is also always good for a sound byte, just like Gandalf.  "Fly, you fools."

Stuart O'Grady as Aragorn.  Aragorn was the captain, much like Stuey.  He leads the group in a quiet but boss-like way, which is what Stuart has always tried to do.  Stuey's been a pro for a long time, and has even led the TdF himself back in the day (a long breakaway with a 35 minute gap allowed by Lance in 2001).  It's as if he's gotten better with age, as he leads the pack into the mountains now (when he was formerly a scratch sprinter, in it for stage wins and the green jersey).  And, just like Aragorn told Frodo "I would have gone with you to the end," you get the feeling that, if he could, he would have gone with Andy to the end.

Fabian Cancellara as Legolas.  Legolas had crazy skills, one of which was the ability to cover great distances at breakneck speeds, much like Monsieur Cancellara.  Renowned as a great man against the clock, he is the reigning World Champion at the Individual Time Trial discipline, and is always a threat to win any TT he's in.  He's won prologues of the Tour and worn yellow.  He can attack a rushing peloton from over a kilometer out and hold them off.  He is one of the best spring Classics riders in the world and doesn't seem to have many flaws.  Legolas would have been a great time trial rider and just seemed to enjoy the endless pursuit.

Joost Posthuma as Gimli.  True, Gimli may have been a short, stout dwarf, but you can't let that cloud your judgment.  What Gimli lacked in physical stature he more than made up for with grit, and was quite well-rounded.  Gimli claimed to be a sprinter, was strong and able to do a multitude of functions to serve his team.  Joost is considered a rouleur, or a super domestique.  They do what it takes for their leader to win, and are considered fair all-rounders. 

Jakob Fuglsang as Boromir.  Boromir was human, and was somewhat of a dissenter amongst the Fellowship.  He felt that the Ring could be used for their purposes, to rule - but that idea was shot down, mostly by Aragorn, citing they needed to rid the world of the Ring for good by destroying it.  Boromir didn't really like that idea, and on a few occasions tried to take it himself.  But, he realized the error of his ways, and at the end of Fellowship he came up big, ultimately giving his life to take on a legion of evil to try and help protect the Hobbits and the Ring.  Alright, so, this one was a bit of a stretch.  I wouldn't exactly call Jakob Fuglsang "Boromir", but he is a very good rider, having finished in the top 10 of last year's Tour.  No doubt that he is a rider for the future, but, for now, at least, he seems content with just sacrificing his own chances to help Andy.

Maxime Monfort as Pippin.  The Hobbit support system is set up so that they always have each other's backs, even if they aren't with each other.  As we watched Stage 18 of this year, we saw Maxime in the day's early break, just waiting for Andy to bridge up to him, you realized he had done his job separately but it was ultimately going to help the cause.  Hobbits were really proficient at a couple of things: jumping and throwing rocks.  They also loved to drink, smoke weed and, appropriately eat.  I can't comment on Monfort's propensity for any of these things, but I'm sure he at least eats a lot. 

Linus Gerdemann as Merry.  Linus Gerdemann is another long term prospect, having won a stage of the Tour before and coming from a Milram team where he was clearly headed for its leadership role.  Coming across to LeoPard Trek, his opportunity for being a Tour leader decreased, but he hasn't seemed to mind, as he again plays faithful Hobbit friend to Andy.  His contribution will seem small in the end, but when you look deeper, you'll see just how much of a role he played, fetching water bottles, sharing food, blocking wind.  All for the greater good.

I would go even further and make comparisons between the team director and Elron, who put the Fellowship together, and had gotten down and dirty himself back in the day, and some of the evil forces as they relate to some of the competitors.  But that might be overkill.

So yeah, I'm a dork for taking the time to make this connection, but whatever.  I love LOTR and the Tour.  And, because I don't know how to read, I have never actually read the books.

Stage 18 to the Galibier was a great example of a champion going for the win.  I felt that the only play for Schleck was to have a guy or two in the break, so that if he were able to launch an attack and bridge up to them, they could do some work before letting him fly.  I can't recall if I've ever seen it so far out, from a potential Tour winner, but it was amazing and perfectly executed.  The only other time in the TdF I've seen someone do anything like that was in 2006 when eventually-declared-cheater Floyd Landis had lost 17 minutes on one really bad day, and went on a solo attack from the gun, picking up something like 15 minutes at the end.  And then he won the Tour.  And then it was taken from him.  I also seem to recall in the Vuelta one year Floyd being in the break and waiting for Roberto Heras (another cheater) to bridge the gap on a climb, and then Floyd did a 40km TT with Heras in tow as it catapulted Heras closer to the lead.  Then they had an individual TT on some absurd climb, possibly the Angliru, where Heras took insane time out of the leader and went on to win.  And then get banned from the sport.

But to see Schleck go out, 60km from the finish, by himself, then bridge to Monfort, who then did a Herculean effort as he pulled a small group along the valley leading up to the Galibier, it was awesome.  In the end he gained just 2 minutes, and for that much work it left many wondering if it was worth it.  Whether it was worth it or not, that will be determined this weekend, but it was the ride of a champion. 

Stage 19 to my favorite place to sleep, Alpe d'Huez, is underway and it's already gotten hot, but I'll leave my remarks until after the stage so I don't blow up anybody's spot!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

There's Always Someone Faster

Following the race-heavy week, I was keen to press on last week.  Realizing that time is rapidly vanishing until Louisville, and that I still have two race weekends in between, I had to finally get out on the bike this past weekend.  Following Monday's tough evening run, I went to the track Tuesday with my sights set on doing my first workout in what felt like months.  The temp was around 95 again, and the workout was 5x2000m @ tempo pace with just 1:30 in between efforts.  I figured if the conditions had been reasonable, my anticipated 1600m split would have been in the 5:50 realm, but given the heat, I thought the better of it and decided I'd like to get through 10k and still be alive, so I went out real slow.  When we (my little group) came through at 92 for the first 400m, I was pretty surprised, but rather than freak out and speed up, we gradually picked up the pace so that we came through in 3:03, 4:03, 6:02 and finished at 7:32.  Still able to talk throughout this effort, I was fine with keeping it right around 6 minute pace. 

We would yo-yo between 88 and 89 seconds for our first lap from there, and then settle into a pace usually around 89-90, for the first three intervals (7:29, 7:28), and then on the 4th we started off the same but by 1200m had come through a little quicker, and split 5:53 for the 1600m.  At this point, mudbutt was rearing its ugly head, and I peeled off the track to head toward the bathroom, only to be DENIED.  The building was locked, and so too would have to stay my cheeks.  I got back on for the 5th and final interval, and now it was just myself and Seth.  Excited, we hit 85 on the first lap, before bringing it back to 89, and then checking off 87, 86 (5:47), 85 to finish at 4:12.  I was pleased with the day, as it's not often that I'll do 10k worth of intervals at TNT.  In fact, over the 6 years of our little Tuesday group, I can say there's only been a handful of times we've run that much.  One of those workouts is our annual 10x1000m w/:60 rest, a favorite of mine that I'm not sure if I'll be able to do this year.

On Wednesday I felt the effort, and took the opportunity to get out for a small chain ring ride with Pat.  If you've ridden with OJ, you know that the mantra is "big ring all the time" - which is all good for certain rides, but there is a time and a place for it, and Wednesday was not one of them.  Pat and I waited out a brief storm before rolling out, and due to the late start we were going to cut short the normally 2 hour ride to a 75 minute one (although our speed was slow, so it took longer).  I had gotten a flat on our Rocks ride a few weeks ago - the first I'd gotten in a few years - and it must have had a slow leak because I would fill it up, and overnight it would be flat.  On this day, the tube had had enough, and it went.  I look at the tire, which was only a few months old, and looks like there was a pretty severe cut in it, so I had to get a new one on Thursday.

Thursday's ride was up in Owings Mills, and it was the return of Il Principe, Marc.  Peter was there, Clark was there, Howard was there - it was like a little reunion.  I did not feel great, but put in a few good sections and as usual, was climbing pretty well.  But man, something is up with me because I just seem so tired all the time.  And when I thought about it, I realized my volume is actually lower than this time last year.  So what gives? 

Saturday had been on tap for a while as the Lineboro ride.  Everyone knows this ride, it's the first big one I did with OJ and Benda some 5 years ago, and when we used to leave from old TriSpeed, it was 78 miles.  Then we pushed it back to Meadowbrook, making it like 96 or 97.  Then I had the great idea once to ride from the city, clocking it around 115-116 miles.  Following Wednesday's storm, the weather had actually cooled off considerably, and Saturday was going to be a pretty nice day.  The crew for the ride was going to be myself, Z and Alyssa, with OJ joining for a little while.  I left Alyssa's to ride home in the morning, changed and got on the road to meet Z.  On our way up, we saw this little gem.  Met the gang and started slow, headed up, up and up toward Hampstead.  Our speed was by no means high, and the wind seemed to be steadily gaining strength, making it a tough ride.  We made it to our favorite stop, Leone Spring, around 3 hours, and at this point knew we'd be picking up a nice tailwind as we crossed east through Pennsylvania, to Glen Rock.  At GR, we stopped at the gas station for our afternoon refueling, before continuing up to York Rd.

It was here that we were given confirmation that the wind would be directly in our face as we headed back to Baltimore - some 40 miles or so.  The sun was strong, and the temp was rising.  As we hit the hills of York Rd, the day grew long.  I hadn't felt great from the start, and I really had hoped to get better as the day went on.  I wasn't suffering like I did on that cold, rainy day back in March, but I was not enjoying the trip late in the day.  At mile 104 we still had to climb up Bellemore, which was no fun, and then the day was basically done.  If I added the ride over to my house this morning, I would have been just under 120 for the day.  Somehow this is only the 4th ride over 60 for me this year I think.  All notions of a post-ride run went out the window, and I pulled myself together to get ready to spectate Rockville Twilight.

Rockville is a great summer race, an 8k held at 8:45pm on a Saturday in July, and everyone comes out ready to race this one.  Usually it's pretty uncomfortable, but this year runners were treated to great weather, which resulted in some pretty good times.  Unfortunately, by the time you leave the race area, and then get dinner (Silver Diner on Rockville Pike), and drive the hour home, it's 2am.  Needless to say, I needed a little bit of sleep on Sunday.

Pat and I rolled out around 10am on Sunday for a 3 hour ride, and once again it featured me, in the small chain ring, the entire time.  I just tried to flush out the gunk from yesterday.  It was much warmer today, and following the ride I still had to do a swim (pathetic) and run.  I was in definite caloric debt from yesterday, and nothing I did today felt good.

Onto Monday, and again it was time for the Monday Night Long Run.  This week it was warm, but maybe a little less so than last Monday, and I felt considerably better.  The run was probably a little slower, but I didn't mind, I just needed to get through it.  I was seriously tired as shit after this one, and yesterday evening's swim with today's early morning swim were not pretty. 

And then I realized why I'm more tired than I was last year: while my overall volume was greater, my effort was less.  Sure, I was swimming a lot (101km in the pool in July) but I had also been swimming consistently for a while, and without running or riding for a year, my legs had the ability to get through workouts.  My average run week was about 10 miles less per week, and I wasn't doing 14 mile runs.  I was going to TNT, but I wasn't doing the whole workouts, and while 6min pace was hard for my body, it wasn't that hard aerobically, so I was able to recover quick.  I also wasn't racing.  At this point last year, I had not raced for 13 months.  Now I've raced 14 times this year.  My Wednesday rides were with Alyssa from Oregon Ridge, which was challenging for me but I'm riding nearly 20 minutes faster for the same 30 mile loop with the WNR.  I wasn't going to Thursday Night Ride as much, and when I did, I wasn't adding 14 miles by riding there from Falls Road.  I was getting in long rides, but the effort wasn't as big.  So no wonder I'm tired.  I certainly need to pay attention to some better recovery as I lead up to IM because if it were tomorrow, I don't think I'd make it through!

As I lead up to the New Jersey State Triathlon on Sunday, I am not going to amend the rest of the week's workouts to rest up for it.  I realize that's in direct contradiction with what I just said about resting, but obviously there are races we focus on and take serious, and some that are for training.  This one is for training.  I did this race the first three years of its existence, before being hurt in 2009 and not able to race.  I'm excited to go back, although there really isn't anything spectacular about this race.  Warm water = no wetsuit; flat, two-loop bike course; flat, hot run.  At least the bike is 25.5 miles now as opposed to 23.5, so another 5 minutes on the bike.  I'll be racing with Team CYB teammates Alyssa, Tommy and Zero. 

If you've been following the Tour, it's been totally crazy.  Tomorrow and Friday are going to be two incredibly hard stages and I'm sure we'll see a change in the overall, but through 17 stages, Thomas Voeckler has been indignant in his defense of the yellow jersey, as if he's saying F you to the pre-race favorites.  Never again will he be allowed in a breakaway, that's for sure!  But it also brings up the point of confidence.  While he maintains that he has "0% chance at winning" when the race comes to Paris, I'm sure secretly he believes he can win.  So far, he's marked almost every move and has climbed extraordinarily well.  He is racing confidently, and is having great success.

On the other extreme, there is cockiness, and it's when you hear people saying dick things like "unless you're faster than me, your opinion doesn't count" that you get really annoyed.  I don't claim to be the fastest, I don't even claim to be good.  I have had moderate success in my years in the sport, and enjoy racing, but I realize that a) it represents only a portion of our lives and b) it only matters to us.  Have you ever tried to talk to someone who doesn't do triathlons, about triathlons?  They don't give a shit.  In fact, when most people who do them talk to me about them, I don't give a shit.  It's really not that cool.  I'm just too much of a sucker to quit, and I like competing. 

The most important thing to remember is that there is always someone faster than you.  I don't care who you are, there is always someone faster.  Even Chrissie Wellington will find that out at some point.  Respect your competitors, respect anyone who does the sport.  Because we all have our day, the day where we are being huge pussies and quit a ride, or get out of the pool, or walk home from a run.  Just because you're faster than someone does not mean that you know more than they do, and if you feel the need to point out that because you are faster their opinion doesn't matter, then you are, by definition, a wanksta. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Turn, Turn, Turn

Note: I don't normally post twice in quick succession, but I wanted to get this one up as it was somewhat timely.

On Sunday, I toed the line for my third race of the week, and my 14th of the year.  I had realized it much earlier this year, but the race was taking place on July 10th, two years to the day that Alfred Terry pulled out in front of me.  Most days, I think "man, what a rough two years it's been," but the fact that I'm back out competing - and doing pretty well - keeps me going. 

Following our Peachtree Adventure, I took Tuesday off, and made an attempt to go to Wednesday Night Ride.  I wasn't sure how I'd go, as I was still pretty tired and I hadn't ridden since Friday.  I met OJ at his place and we rode the 5 miles to Oregon Ridge.  There was a sizeable group, which was expected since it was warm and no hint of rain, and we got rolling pretty slow.  I seem to find myself in the front of the group as we go up Cuba, and I hate it.  I don't mind doing work, but I've been quite tired with this group lately.  I know I'm not the strongest rider there, and I make no claims to be, but if you're showing up to a group ride, do some fucking work.  This frustration was only augmented on this day. 

Determined to do as little work as possible in the first 20-25 minutes, I sat towards the end of the long line of riders as we turned onto Stringtown.  The pace was yo-yoing and it was not fun.  At one point I looked up and there were two splits in the group.  OJ was trying to chase down the 2nd group.  Nobody was helping him.  Fortunately we reconnected with the 2nd group by the time we got onto Yeoho, and the front couple of guys weren't too far up.  OJ and I put in some monster efforts and managed to pull it all back together by the time we got to York Rd, or about 35 minutes in.  The pace had slowed, and the group had swollen up a little. 

I no longer wished to do work for these lazy mooks, so I told OJ that I was going to go as the road tilted up a bit.  Fortunately, someone else had a similar idea, and he went.  It was earlier than I wanted, but OJ felt like it would break everyone's legs - and he was right.  It was three of us as we bridged up to a couple of dudes, and we got it going.  A few more had somehow caught back on, but as we went up Glencoe, one of the stronger guys went, and so it was him and two others, and then me, OJ and one other guy.  We all got back together and rode it into the finish.  It was one of the faster WNR for me, and I was pleased with the effort. 

Thursday I got into the pool (finally) after a few days out of it, and then drove up to NJ for the weekend of racing and my little sister's birthday.  New Jersey as of late has been a tough trip.  It seems like everyone's got something to say to you when you're on your bike.  Everyone.  The drivers are never paying attention, driving super aggressively and EVERYONE is on their cell phone, all the time, even though we've had hands free laws in place for a decade.  It is amplified on weekends in the summer when everyone is heading down my way to go to the beach, which really means smelly New Yorkers and all other sorts of Bennys driving around, stinking up the joint. 

Saturday was the Belmar 5, the third race of the summer series.  I had thrown away my own ambitions of racing, realizing I didn't need to with the tri the next day, but also because I wanted to run with my brother.  I figured I'd run 4-5 miles before the race and then jump in with him.  Last year he ran 33:45, so I thought that was pretty reasonable.  It was very humid again at the start, what else is new, and my brother does not handle the heat and humidity well (not like I do, but I do slightly better in it).  We were out in 6:22, which is really quick for him, and then it went downhill from there.  Our pace slowed to a 7:36 mile 4, before picking it back up slightly by the end.  We finished at 35:22, which was a tough run for him.  After the race I was sleepy tired, and chilled out for a bit before getting on my bike.  By a bit, I mean I didn't get out for my ride until 4pm.  I wanted to ride for 3 hours, which would put me at 7pm.  Man, that's a little late with an early race the next day!

It was well in the 90s that late in the day, and I went out to Allaire State Park and rode twice around that and headed back.  Figured it had to be around 50 miles.  Got home, ate a bunch of pizza, and went to bed.  At almost midnight.  With a 4:45 wake up the next morning. 

I met Pat, Tommy, Jackie and Megatron at a rest stop on the Pkwy in the morning and drove up with them.  This race, the Randolph Lake Sprint Tri, is a race that a friend of ours is the RD for.  The competition seemed to be mostly just the three of us, and I thought it could be a fun opportunity to sweep the podium.  These hopes were dashed around 6:45am when we saw the tall, lanky figure of Doug Clark running into transition on a warmup.  Shit.  We would now be racing for 2nd.  Despite being 43 years old, Doug still owns races, and he's a super cool dude.  We just watched him crush it at Philly Tri a few weeks back, and I think he won his AG at Kona last year. 

The water temp was 79 so no wetsuits (glad I bought that really expensive Orca suit earlier this year which I've now worn once and will only get to wear at Arizona), and the water felt pretty good.  I thought I was having a good little swim, but I saw 12:45 on the clock when I got out of the water and thought otherwise.  My goal pre-race was to keep my margin to 1:30 back of Pat/Tommy out of the water, and I thought I might be able to keep it to a minute.  I figured with that deficit, I could turn it around on the bike - a 16.4 mile circumnavigation of this state park - and maybe hold it together on the run for once.

I came out of the water and hurried onto my bike.  The first few miles definitely tested my legs' resilience as I had completed my 3 hour ride just 12 hours earlier, but I made quick work of a few swimmers who did not look like they had much left.  I passed Tommy pretty early, and as I passed the 5 mile mark, I saw the familiar form of Pat hustling up a hill, with a dude in tow.  I then watched as this dick sat on Pat's wheel for a while, before deciding to move up.  When I went by Pat around mile 6 or 7, I asked if it was just the two guys up the road who were ahead.  He said yeah, and I went to work.  I was riding pretty comfortably, except I really did not expect the course to be as tough as it was.  It's not often I have to pop into the small chain ring, but I had to do it a couple of times in just a 42 minute ride.  I came up on the pair, the same wheel sucking ****-sucker was now sitting on the leader, and I went by them.  Hard.  I was now in first on the road, and just kept going.  The road surface was pretty shitty at points, with a lot of potholes, and there were a few sharp turns on descents with these holes that made for a tough ride. 

I came into T2 in the lead, but knew that Doug, and potentially some other 40 year olds, not to mention my compatriot Pat, would be hot on my heels.  My bike split ultimately wound up being 41:59, 3rd on the day, an avg speed of 23.4mph.  Meh.

Onto the run, and being a sprint I wasn't as concerned with getting socks on.  I still had a slow T2 as I fumbled to get my right shoe on, but once I was good, I ran through the woods onto this course.  The first half mile was single track trail, bad footing, and then you popped out onto the road in some neighborhood.  No watch, so no idea what I was running, but it felt like I was moving.  As I hit the turnaround, I saw Doug Clark.  Shit.  I thought we started 2 or 3 minutes ahead of them, which meant the race was his.  It was too late to do anything, but I still thought it would be cool to cross the line first.  We ran back into the woods, now on single track trails AGAINST runners on their way out, before veering off into straight sand.  This area, nicknamed "the minefields", featured small, sandy moguls, and was really annoying.  I came into the finishing straight, crossing the line first in 1:15:23, but shortly behind was Doug, hauling in. 

Then I found he started...4 minutes back.  Ouch.  He went 1:11:48, clawing back almost all over my head start.  Pat came through in 3rd, after passing another guy late in the run, but was then sent to 4th as another 40 year old went faster.  Crazy.  Last year's winning time was high 1:17 or 1:18, this year that would have only been 7th place.  I overheard someone remark that this year's race was "stacked" and wondered who "all these random people" were that came up for the race.

For me, I was very pleased with the effort.  My swim time (13:02 after I crossed the mat) was 1:40 behind Pat, a little more to Tommy and about 90 seconds behind Doug.  Doug then put 1:10 into me on the bike, and another :40 on the run.  Yikes.  Knowing the bike course now would inevitably help if I were to do this race again, and as this was the best relative run for me in any of my tri's this year, I was happy.  Pat and I both ran 18:20, with Tommy running an incredible 18:00.  While they thought it may have been a bit long, I think it was just the slow nature of the course - but, Doug went 17:48 or something and he did run 34 and change at Philly (10k) two weeks ago.  I was 2nd place overall, equaling my best finish in a triathlon (interestingly I finished 2nd at last fall's Hunterdon Half, another race my friend is RD for, I will probably never finish better than that at his races).

And then I thought about it a bit more, and what a fitting way to ring in the two year mark of my injury.  It was just this time last year that I was even beginning to train again, and even if it was a 75 minute race, I'm just happy I have the legs to be able to be in the mix. 

Later in the day, my brother was going for a ride so I figured I'd get in some more miles.  Out of the gate he was lighting me up.  I don't know if he was doing it on purpose because he knew I was tired, or whatever, but I was getting dropped big time.  After a few miles I warmed up and we shared some of the work, and then later in the ride he was falling off so I sat up for him.  Got in another 33 miles, so close to 50 for the day, which made a weekly total of about 140 on 3 rides.  I wanted to run a little more after the race, but didn't, so for the week I was 35 (for the third straight week, too) and my swim volume was very, very low. 

The tense part of the ride was when I didn't realize which way my brother wanted to go to get somewhere, and we had to ride past the scene of the accident.  I don't know if Alfred Terry is alive, or if he still lives there, but the point is there are a million Alfred Terrys.  I slowed down and made sure I was near my brakes, and got through it without incident. 

I got back to Baltimore and yesterday was a scorcher.  But, as I had been planning on running to and from FHR, I figured I may as well just suck it up because it's going to be hot and humid at Louisville.  Running down wasn't bad.  I took an S! Cap after 25 minutes, and another after 75 minutes.  We ran fairly quick on the way down and then slowed with the group, but we were still running in the 7:20 range.  Given that yesterday was definitely a 6% day, that effort was akin to what we would normally put out for a 7:00 pace run.  I could tell I was moving towards the shadow realm, as my body was not producing as much sweat, and I was getting cold.  We got back to FHF, and once we stopped, I did not feel good.  Snake Hill Gang rolled home and I felt better once we were running, but my legs felt heavy and just stunned, my socks and shoes were soaking wet.  Made it back to Pat's and then I walked it in, probably only 13.5 for the night, but whatever, I got in over 90 minutes so that was cool. 

For this week, I am actually going to attempt our track workout tonight, the first for me in quite some time, and then I'll see how I feel before I go up to Weds Night Ride.  This weekend is going to be the first I've been home and can get in some longer efforts in a while so I'll take advantage of that. 

And now, a couple of remarks regarding this year's Tour de France:

The people I've been most impressed with in the first half have been Philippe Gilbert, Thor Hushovd and, I can't believe it myself, Cadel Evans.  Hushovd defended the yellow jersey like a true champion, keeping it by a mere one second for days and days.  He finished high up in every stage, keeping himself at least, for the time, a threat for the green jersey, and doing the Rainbow jersey justice.  Gilbert has been amazing, scooping up green jersey points wherever he can, and never really looking like he's in trouble.  And normally at this point, Cadel is out of it, as much physically as mentally.  But every stage he's up there in the front over the last few k's, covering moves, staying out of trouble and even attacking. 

Lance Armstrong didn't win 7 Tours in a row because he was the best, he won them because he prepared the best.  There are three things that you have to have to be successful (in addition to superior fitness): 1. stay in the front, 2. always pay attention and 3. have teammates near you at all times.  The only time I ever saw Lance truly vulnerable was in 2003 when his team had gotten shed and he was isolated; fortunately his rivals did not take advantage of it.  BMC has been there for Cadel in a serious way, each and every day.

There is no longer a Patron of the Tour.  If anybody liked Contador, or if he was a champion, maybe it would be him.  But he is never paying attention, getting involved in stupid crashes, and never has his team around him.  I think that perhaps Saxo Bank is hedging their bets that starting Thursday the Tour starts to get real, and that they weren't strong enough to control the race early.  That's not a terrible tactic, but leaving your leader alone is incorrigible.  So far, it looks like Cadel has both the fitness and the acuity to be a great leader of the Tour.  He has a little bit of time in hand over Schleck, and more to Contador, and can out TT both.  The question remains, though, will he be able to ride the mountains this year?

One of my favorite riders in the past decade has been Thomas Voeckler, he is an opportunist and is always thinking of how he can win a stage.  The other day it culminated not with a stage win, but he now sits in yellow, and I wouldn't be surprised if later in the Tour he gets a win.

Quietly sitting there for now is Damiano Cunego, who once was the prince of Italy and their next big hope for Tour domination.  A weird case of Epstein Barr knocked him down a peg, but he seems to be on good form right now and I see him at the front of the race every day.  He got smoked in the final TT of the Tour de Suisse, but I think he'll place okay this year. 

Some of the riders who have lost big time shouldn't necessarily count themselves out just yet.  Leipheimer is like 7 minutes back, but in this year's Tour, that doesn't mean he can't do something.  He won't be given a long leash, but if he can ride the mountains well and the one TT strong, he'll be alright.  As long as he's not a pussy.  Remember, as Arjun says "when in doubt, pussy out."

My final thought has been on all the crashes.  There have certainly been more than in years past, but as the commentators are also quick to point out, it's because everyone is fighting to stay at the front, and the roads are too narrow to accommodate 198 riders.  Add in some serious wind up in northern France and wet roads and you have a recipe for disaster.  I've never seen this many contenders hit the deck every day, and a bunch have been knocked out.  But the most deplorable thing I've ever seen was on Sunday, when a French TV car tried to pass the breakaway group of 5, and swerved to avoid a tree.  They crashed into Juan Antonio Flecha, who hit the ground hard, and knocked Johnny Hoogerland off of his bike.  He was sent somersaulting through the air, landing in a barbed wire fence.  It was terrible and sickening and of course it was on Sunday - my own special day of terrible car accidents.  I watched in horror as it happened.  The two men courageously got bike on their bikes and finished the day, with Hoogerland getting to wear the polka dot jersey.  I hope both make it to the end.  I've never seen anything like that, it was terrible, and they need to ensure that it never happens again.

Ties Are For No One

I'm pretty behind right now, I guess that's how it goes in the summer.  One minute you're not doing anything, the next, you've raced three times in one week!

I ended June on a pretty positive upswing.  In years past, I've done very little in the weeks following Eagleman.  Often, I would stay out of the pool and stay off the bike for the better part of two weeks, although for whatever reason my run mileage would be pretty high.  This time last year, of course, I was just beginning to contemplate starting to run and ride again after a few months off. 

Swimming - A.  I finally feel good about the work I've done in the pool.  Following Eagleman I decided to return to the style of swimming that brought me (moderate and relative) success last year, which is, to say, more volume.  I had a few good workouts, and a couple really great ones.  I still struggled a bit with consistency, for instance, when I go away for the weekend I will typically be out of the pool Saturday/Sunday, which is normal, but when I come back I'm often too tired to get in on Monday, and then 3 or 4 days has gone by out of the pool.  However, for the month I got in 58000m, which is 19k more than I've done any other month of this calendar year. 

Cycling - B+.  I rode more than I typically have in June, at 543 miles, but it was 75 miles fewer than I rode in May.  I was pleased with my split at Eagleman (2:16:44 - 32nd best of the day) but I wasn't that pleased.  I did get in one longer ride of about 4.5 hours, and made it to Weds Night Ride once after Eagleman and twice I made it to Thurs Night Ride.  Those were good efforts. 

Running - B+.  My foot is still giving me trouble, but I'm able to run.  I don't think I did a single track workout this month, although I do remember doing a little something the week of Eagleman.  I haven't done many harder runs, but I did re-introduce longer runs.  It's tough to do the long run on a Monday night, especially after what can be longer weekends, but bodies don't care what day of the week it is.  Mostly it's out of laziness, because I don't want to drive 3 and change miles to Fed Hill to run 7 miles.  So for the last couple of weeks, the Snake Hill Gang has run down and back to FHR (in the realm of 14 miles).  While not a true long run, it's long enough for now, and it's been quite hot in that part of the day.  145 miles for the month of June, more than May, less than most other months. 

It was in June that I also took my first day off in 143 days.  Weds, June 29, my body finally gave up.  I put in a good effort on the 30th, and then on Friday, July 1, a group of 6 of us departed Baltimore, destination: Atlanta.  The Peachtree 10k is the largest 10k in the US, at 60,000 entrants, and one of (if not) the largest road races in the world.  It's been on my mind for years to do this race, and this year, a perfect storm of awesomeness illuminated itself.  The Baltimore Orioles would be playing the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field the first weekend of July, and the race, always held on the 4th, was on Monday.  It was ideal.  Friends + road trip + Independence + running = classic weekend. 

After picking up the Smurf Mobile (actually it was a much darker blue) - a Dodge Minivan - we packed it up and rolled out.  Friday.  Of July 4th weekend.  At 3:45pm.  It was doomed from the start, but after a slow first few hours we were able to move a little better.  Unfortunately, we only made it to Blacksburg VA, home of Virginia Tech, by about 11:30.  We got a hotel and crashed, with 5 of us waking up for a 7am run the next morning.  We explored the campus, which was quiet and scenic, and very undulating.  We got back and hit the road, stopping at Panera for breakfast and meeting an Orioles fan originally from Baltimore.  This helped both Arjun and myself in our game of Road Trip Bingo, which was cleverly crafted by Alyssa and Brennan, and kept us more than entertained the entire weekend.

Stopped in NC for a great bbq lunch, and rolled into a very hot Atlanta around 4:30pm.  We took the MARTA to the Braves stadium, where Brennan had gotten us hooked up with great seats, and watched as our Orioles lost another game.  But, we did get to see some Home Runs, a grand slam (albeit by a Brave) and eat some good stadium food.  Following the game we made our way out in Buckhead (where we were also staying).  A lot of dive-ish bars.  I was confused, because all I wanted to do was what Luda and JD would have done, which would have been "Saturday, it's off the heezy fo sheezy, you can find me up in one-tweezy".  Of course, the club to which they're referring is Club 112.  I thought it was in Buckhead.  We just...couldn't...find it.

I was pretty tired from the long two days of driving and the heat, so I had no shot of making it out very late.  Plus, Alyssa needed to swim on Sunday and I said I would join.  So Sunday morning we get up and make our way into the presumably 20yd pool.  Pretty short, but nothing like what my friend Chicken Tender had to put up with in Prague.  The pool was hot, but the inside air was hotter.  They had two lane lines, indicating that this was in fact a pool to "swim" in, so we hopped in and got going.  I was gassed after 4 minutes.  It was so uncomfortable, I thought I was going to die.  The few people in the pool had to endure tsunami-like conditions as we swam and flipped every couple of strokes.  Alyssa's workout was 3x1000, so I guessed it was probably about 30 laps.  I lost count on the first one and just swam for time.  I was becoming more and more lightheaded, so much that by the end I thought I was going to pass out.  No cooldown for me.  Just sat there in the hot water.

By now it was 10:45, the workout taking a little longer than anticipated, so I had to run by myself.  I went down and back on Peachtree Rd, following the course.  It was already really hot.  Then it was time for breakfast/lunch, and Brennan/Ed/Alyssa/myself found this place that was definitely not ready for us.  I haven't uploaded my pictures yet so I'll do that soon and show the picture of the french toast we ate.  The waitress could not believe we were able to finish the food, so we had to inform her who we were.  From there we headed to the expo, picked up our stuff, and then made it to the weekend's main attraction: the Coca-Cola Museum!  I'd been looking forward to this for months.  By the time we left there it was time to get back, eat dinner and head to bed.

Monday morning we awoke to what seemed like reasonably cool temps, but the humidity was through the roof.  We did a little group warmup down Peachtree, before we go stuck on the wrong side of the road.  We had to sweet talk our way back to the hotel (I think they thought we were elites) and we got to the start line with some time to spare.  One of our Road Trip Bingo boxes was "talk to Ryan Hall about God or the Bible" so we all looked at each other when Hall went by us doing a stride, but we opted to let him do his thing. 

55,090 lined up and following the National Anthem and a FLYOVER, the race started.  I've never been in a race that had a flyover and it was pretty much the coolest thing ever.  I don't know what it is about really loud jets flying over that is so much cooler than seeing commercial airliners, but it is awesome.  The top three corrals (top seed, sub seed, A) all started at 7:30am, with the other corrals starting at a few minute increments all the way back to 9am.  I don't know how those people did it, starting at 9am to run 2 hours for 10k.  There was no gun, just a dude telling us to go, and away we went.  It took just 7 seconds to cross the start line, and my plan was to go out relaxed.  I was apparently so relaxed, and time went by so quickly, that I missed the 1 mile mark.  I was expecting a big sign and a clock, but when we got to 2, it was pretty small signs on the side of the road, no clocks.  I think I came through in 5:50-5:45 though, as I could see Brennan ahead and Jeff Rumbaugh was in between us.  It was just before mile 2 that Arjun came zooming by, he had gone out in 6:10!  I clicked 2 at 11:32. 

Unfortunately I already realized that this was not going to be my day.  This was the easy part of the course, and thanks to some heads up from my Atlantan/Terp friend, Patrick Reaves, I knew not to go out too hard.  But hard would have been more like 5:20, not 5:45 pace through 2.  There was a sharper downhill just before 3, and then the road tilted up - for basically the next mile.  I hit 3 in 5:55 and then 4 in 6:15.  I was actually surprised 4 wasn't slower.  I seriously have never seen as cruel of a mile thrown into the middle of a race.  I almost bridged back up to Arjun by the top of the climb, but as soon as it leveled out, he was gone again.  And apparently so was I, except off the back, as I hit mile 5 in 6:29.  Oooof.  I clipped 5 miles in 30:11, a scant 7 seconds faster than I ran the Sheehan 5 miler just a few weeks ago.  Well over a minute slower than where I thought I would be.

The humidity was brutalizing.  My singlet was sticking to my chest and breathing was tough.  The water stops were really just tables of water with nobody handing them out, we reckoned that they figure rather not put any additional people on road.  Peachtree is a wide, wide road, but 55,000 people spread across just 6 point-to-point miles takes up most of that.  One thing we found interesting was the lack of smart running by just about everyone.  If you've ever watched Brennan and Arjun run, they are ALWAYS looking for the shortest line.  Here is a nickel's worth of free advice: you are running longer than the race distance if you are not running the tangents.  That's how the course is measured, and that's how you should be running it.  The three of us took very good lines (since I could see them for at least a little while) and saved ourselves a little bit of extra energy. 

I was taking water but mostly throwing it on my head and drinking the remnants, which were mixed with salty sweat.  The water was never refreshing.  At mile 5, I found some legs again.  And by that, I mean I was able to pick it back up to the pace I was running towards the beginning - 5:56 for the last mile.  I was pleased with that, but also realized I was not going to be under 37, so I did not have the impetus to run faster than that pace for the last 2/10th of a mile.  I finished up at 37:27 (6:03/mi, same pace as at Sheehan).  Not my fastest 10k, by far, but also not my slowest.  Amazingly, despite there being 55,000 people, this was good enough for 235th place overall. 

Following the race, I needed sustenance fast.  You finish in Piedmont Park, which is enormous, and everything was really spread out.  I picked up a peach.  Then a popsicle.  Then I found the motherload - ice cold Coke and some Powerade.  Walked back to meet everyone, and Brennan and I took the opportunity to pose for some amazing photos (to come).  You see, for most, their day was done.  They would hop on the MARTA and go home.  For us, our day was really just starting.  We had to make the long trek back to the hotel, which, of course, was right at the start line.  Not knowing the area, other than the road we had just run down, we asked what route we should take.  Piedmont Avenue was the resounding answer, and we made our way up the rolling hills of this road, that looked for a while like it was taking us the wrong way. 

The 6 of us obviously all run different paces, so it was tough keeping the group together, but we did a solid job.  After a few miles we saw Paces Ferry Rd.  From my smarts, I remembered this road should allegedly bring us to the Lenox Mall (where our hotel was).  We turned down it and boom - there we were.  The way home was definitely less than 5 miles, so cut off a little bit.  It was still a tough run.  Very hot, very exposed.  We got back, cleaned up and made our way to THE Atlanta insitution - The Varsity.  I think we can all agree this food was pretty gross, and not really worth ever going back.  But we did it.  And at noon thirty, we got on the road north, destination now unknown.

Since we had stopped at VTech, and seen Georgia Tech, when we got to South Carolina I really wanted to check out Clemson.  I had never been there, and despite it being a little out of the way I made them all do it, and we stopped at their beautiful track to run a lap.  It was...the hottest track I've ever been on.  The heat emanating off of this thing had to have been close to that of the sun.  We got back into the car, sweating, and hit up Chick Fil A before making our way back to the highway.  Later in the day we drove through some really bad storms, and as it was nearing 7pm, we decided somewhere in the Triangle would be our stop for the night.  Raleigh seemed like the best choice, as we figured, being a capital city, would have something going on.  We could not have been more wrong.

Our trip had been highlighted by some really funny things, but one of the funniest happened at dinner at The Big Easy, in Raleigh, a cajun-themed bar/restaurant downtown.  The place was empty, as was the entire city (seriously, it was a ghost town, like when it would get dark in Castlevania: Simon's Quest), and our waitress was a low talker.  Without breaking stride, Ed orders his food and then goes "also, I don't know if you heard, but we got 'em."  This has been a source of humor since May 1st, as we like to remind ourselves and others that we got OBL.  The waitress was more than puzzled.  "Excuse me, I'm sorry - what?"  Ed then goes: "we...got...him."  I was dying.  And we don't know if they even happened because of the weather, but we missed the fireworks.  I've never seen a place more dead, except in zombie movies or tv shows.

After a night's rest, we made our way north for our final leg of the trip.  In order to save the best for last, we went to the Waffle House for breakfast.  We consumed quite a lot and the bill was...$34.  For all 6 of us.  Gotta love it.  With about 5.5 hours of driving, it was a pretty mundane day, and I didn't get tired until Richmond.  From Richmond home it was a lot tougher.  We got back around 2, and I dropped off the minivan.  We had told them we weren't driving out of state, thank goodness they didn't question why there were 1500 new miles on this whip!  Being now seriously tired, and because my knee could barely move after the long days of driving, I took Tuesday off.  I felt bad for a second, but then stopped feeling bad.

It was a really cool experience, but not one that I necessarily feel I need to do again soon.  The race is a big deal for Atlantans/Georgians, but other than being a big race, doesn't hold much significance to us.  People couldn't believe we came all the way down for it, nor could they believe we drove.  The first question you're asked is "what number Peachtree is this for you?" to which we all responded "our first."  Most people were telling us it was their 14th, 24th, whatever.  It's similar to the Broad Street 10 Miler in Philly - big deal for Philadelphians to come out and DO the race (to the tune of 30,000 people now on a point-to-point 10 miler).  The other weird thing was people were congratulating us on our finish, like it was some real achievement.  We accepted their congratulations graciously, but it was still odd to us. 

There are a few other big races I'd like to do, and maybe each summer I will make that my goal.  Some include the Utica Boilermaker 15k (this past weekend in NY), Falmouth (August, MA), Bolder Boulder 10k, Carlsbad 5000m (Cali, April though and a really short race), Bay to Breakers, Bix 7 (Iowa) - so I need to start making some plans.  Hopefully the Orioles can find games in those places on those dates to make more of a reason to go!

Next post up will come pretty quick as I need to recap this past weekend before I forget!