Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Riding in Amsterdam

I've ridden bicycles for most of my life since I was a kid. On four different continents and through all kinds of terrain, weather, etc. But last month, visiting Netherlands for two days I found the most bicycle-friendly city I've seen: Amsterdam!

The infrastructure of most of the city is laid out for #1) bicyclists #2) trams #3) buses #4) pedestrians and well, #5) cars, too. You have from right to left: sidewalk, bike path, car park lane, car/bus lane, tram rails. Traffic lights are often available/in place for cyclists, too. So, since the Dutch have that infrastructure in place it makes it really convenient/easy to use the bicycle as a from of transportation, for commute etc. It also helps that there's close to zero elevation changes throughout the City of Amsterdam.

Here are a few impressions from riding around on town bikes while visiting Amsterdam:

first time I've sat in a bicycle traffic jam!
riding through Vondelpark

one way street with bike path!
You need some heavy locks for your bike in Amsterdam. There are a good amount of bike thieves here.

just another stop light

the morning after: next to Oude Kerk - bikes, beer, party

commuting along (one of the many) canals
restaurant, shopping, & bar? you do it by bicycle in AMS
bike lane in front of the always popular Van Gogh Museum
more riding on the trail South of "Boosban" (a rowing "race" canal)
 good video showing the development of bike paths in The Netherlands:

As they say in The Netherlands: "You call it exercise, we call it a way of life."

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Back to California! Elite Track Nationals, Carson, CA

After my first ever Omnium Track Nationals at Rock Hill, SC and later on the Elite Track Nats at the Velo Sports Center last year I was looking forward to compete again this year on the boards of the only indoor velodrome in the US - the 250m track in Carson, CA just a few miles South of Los Angeles.*

Leading up to Track Nationals I had about 4 weeks of solid training time. Not a whole lot but plenty enough to get yourself into shape and work on "track legs". Things are a bit more tricky when you live in a town without a track but you have to improvise, and just make the best out of it. That means: 1) specific rides/training on the road bike with power meter 2) travel to Superdrome in Frisco for some moto-pacing on the track and specific workouts 3) off-the-bike workouts to work on overall strength, agility, speed, flexibility etc. 3) and of course competing in some crits like the Driveway here in Austin. And finally, ride my Cervelo T3 track bike on South Mopac and "simulate" a pursuit in almost same gearing as I would race on the track a few weeks later. All that went into the built-up for Track Nationals. And I can say I was prepared as best as I could have been.

Day 1: Pursuit Quali, Omnium (Flying Lap, Points, Elimination)

The goal was clear: be on the podium again. After last year's 3rd behind Bobby Lea and Liam Donoghue I knew I wanted to be at least in the same spot if not a tad better. Bobby is riding in another league so I knew Silver is the only realistic chance. But Liam has been racing the track quite a bit and he's usually a few seconds faster. And he brought a front disc, too! I was joking with him he would need to be a lot faster now with no spokes! In qualification, I was seeded in last heat vs. Bobby and - realistically - my goal was to not get caught. Almost made it until the last 250meters. Ended up with 4:41 and Bobby rode a 4:34 or something. I was 3rd in qualification as Liam rode a 3:39 (?) to make the final vs. Bobby. I had to ride the next  morning vs. a guy from Arizona I have not raced against on the track .

Before racing, I had my bike (with drop bars) checked and sure enough the Cervelo T3 came out 250grams too light (6.55kg, needed 6.8kg). Shoot. What to do? a) Swapped front wheel for the more sturdy ROL 80C. Still not enough! b) Took extra chain link and stuffed it into my stem. c) Borrowed some (heavy) washers from neutral mechanic and put underneath bar tape. d) Took chainring bolts and put them into the bar end plugs. e) Taped one flat wrench under saddle. Okay, 6.81kg. Bingo! I was sweating more from "making weight" rather than exercising I thought!

The evening Session consisted of 3 of the 6 Omnium events we were going to do over two days. 
My Flying lap is my weak spot but I was still hoping I can get a decent run. But it wasn't meant to be and I ended up coming in only 13th and 1/10th of a second slower than last year at Omnium Track Nats in Rock Hill. Bummer. Next up was the Points Race and usually something I can do well in. With Bobby L., Jacob Duehring, we had a bit stiffer competition this year vs. last year's Omnium but I knew anything can happened in a 120lap race. I got a few points early but was only sitting 5 or 6th halfway through. At one point, I joined a two man move (Hillier/Jacks) off the front nobody really paid attention to and about 20laps later the three of us had lapped the field. I took some points on the way and ended up winning the points race ahead of Patrick Jacks and Bobby Lea. My Omnium felt like a roller coaster from here on ;-) I guess I was a bit exhausted from the Points race because the Elimination race didn't go so well and I only came in 8th. A few mistakes mid-way through and there I went whereas last year I scored 3rd in same event. Oh well.

Day 2: IP Final, more Omnium (Scratch, Kilo)

Since there were three of us (Bobby, Liam, and me) who rode the IP Finals AND the Omnium USA Cycling gave us a break and were going to count our IP final time as our IP Final time for Omnium IP event #4 time. Otherwise, we theoretically would have done another Pursuit just for the Omnium! Anyhow, like last year, I had to ride the "little" final against another ride to get my Bronze medal. Opponent was David Swanson from Arizona which I had not raced before. Everything went well: Warm-up, bike-check, all good and I was chilling on deck with Mike Baranoski (Matt B.'s dad) who volunteered to time me for the pursuit events. 3min to go. USAC official comes running towards me and tells us I can't have bar tape on my aerobars for my race. I'm like "What"? My bike went through bike-check probably 3 times already and it's being hanging on the rack there for anyone to see and NOW you come and ask me to modify stuff? He hands us a knife and Mike and I scramble to remove some bar tape I had wrapped around my aero base bar for comfort. It actually made my aerobars less aero...and now USAC wanted me to remove it. Sure enough I cut my finger w/ the officials sharp knife. I'm bleeding pretty good. We found some duck tape and I tape my fingers. I have my bronze-medal ride in 1minute and this sh%$t goes on. Oh well, I still brought it home... barely, though but I won my ride by 2 seconds thanks to some 17'ish splits and Mike's great pacing/split calling. Whew. That wasn't easy but happy with third. That meant 3rd in the Omnium event # 4, too. The little bar tape thing didn't effect my ride luckily or otherwise I'd been "a bit upset".

In the evening session I was hoping to make up a bit for my not so pretty Omnium position (7th or 8th?) but was realistic enough to know it's going to be hard, especially with a -anything-can-happen Scratch race and a the Kilo, an event I don't really focus on. I ended up 7th in the Scratch race and came in 10th in the Kilo. That meant 6th Overall. Nothing to write home about but I was happy I could win that Points race at least and my roller-coaster Omnium was officially over ;-) Podiums are now 3-deep only at all Nationals (since no other country besides US did a 5-man podium and apparently some other Nations kind of joked about it) so I wasn't too upset to finish just one point down on Liam who got 5th.

IP Quali

my T3 and T4 (Bobby Lea) just hanging out
Individual Pursuit Podium with Bobby & Liam (photo: Brian Hodes)
Day 3: Team Pursuit

With Liam Donoghue (2nd IP), Jacob Duehring (5th IP & 4th in Kilo in the Omnium), Mike Zagorski from Boulder, CO and myself we had a solid team for my first ever Team Pursuit Nationals. I've done team pursuits back in Junior Days in Germany on the tracks of Cottbus and Augsburg (200m, wooden indoor track) and some small stuff here in Texas but this track was fast, we had a great team, and just needed to finish it off. Our quali went good, we executed our "Australian" plan and had Mike ride lap 2, 3, 4 (?) all-out before we took over and rode mid 16's to finish in 4:30. Thanks again to Mike Baranoski again for calling our splits.
The final ride vs. the Oregon/WA team needed to be faster in order to finish ahead. We knew that and so we went with the same plan as in qualification...Jacob and then Mike got us off to a good start. After that, it was a real race and I could tell we were pretty damn close. None of the two teams seemed to get tired/slowed down and there was maybe a second between us two teams. I knew Liam, Jake, and I could go a bit faster and so we went up a notch in the last 1000m and by the time the clock stopped we rode a 4:27 and almost 3sec faster than Team #2. Whew! Winning as a team makes it even more special and I was happy to get that over with and be done!

The next few hours were a bit of a rush. Liam actually had a flight to catch in 2hrs and rode straight back to the booth (no cool-down) and started taking his bike apart and pack his stuff. My flight left 5pm so I had a bit more buffer but not too much. USADA must have not known about our time crunch and picked me & Mike for testing. The sweet USADA lady stood by my side the whole time and she even took pictures of the podium with my phone for me. Nice staff all around! Luckily the podium ceremony was ready & done pretty quickly and I was done at anti-doping in 10-15minutes thanks to "very proper hydration" ( I think I drank like 1.5gal water throughout the 3hrs hanging out at the track). Then it was time to pack my bike in parking lot, take all the stuff to FedEx, ship bike, wheels, rollers back to Austin, return the rental car, take shuttle to airport and catch my flight to DFW. Finally made it back to my aunt & uncle's place in Southlake around 11pm and got some good sleep before heading to Germany the next day for some vacation with the wife.

Big thanks to the following sponsors/friends/people for their generous help & support: my wife for here moto-pacing skills, Joe Morgan for driving his scooter for uncountable laps in front of me at the Frisco Superdrome, Austin Tri-Cyclist, Team Tulsa Tough, ROL Wheels, MAX Training,, Sommerville Sports, and Acu-Tissue.

On the way to winning the TP Final (photo: FELT)

Team Pursuit podium with Mike, Jacob, and Liam (l to r)
photo: Brian Hodes
Team Three plus One
Only had 5minutes to soak in the beach & sunshine of Redondo Beach

FedEx is your friend when it comes to getting bikes & gear home
for 1/4 of the cost what an airline would charge you!

*Note: USA Cycling changed the format of Track Nationals this year (again) and the timed races (pursuit, team sprints) and Omnium were held in L.A. whereas the mass start races (points, madison, sprints, keirin etc.) were raced in Rock Hill, SC two weeks later at the Giordana Velodrome. For an athlete (no matter if you're a sprinter or endurance rider) that means two big trips to two different locations within 2 weeks. Very cost-intensive, and logistically a bit of a challenge. Everyone I talked to (riders, and even some track racing promoters) thinks the decision to split Nationals like that is total nonsense and not athlete-friendly at all. There was even a (online) petition floating around the www when they first announced it but obviously nothing changed. Will see what happens next year but I heard the "rotating" schedule of giving the mass-start Nationals to a different venue every year will continue.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Road Nationals Course preview, Blue Mound State Park, WI

After a very early Saturday morning in San Antonio for the Texas State TT Championships (another "Elbowz sandwich" with Logan Hutchings first by 10seconds, me 2nd, and Heath Blackgrove 3rd) I headed straight North on I-35 on what would be a long but fun road trip! Quick stop in OKC at Waddell's house for some much needed rest and sleep. Then onto to Lawrence, KS to catch the final race (Crit) of the Tour of Lawrence and get in a last hard effort into the legs before Road Nationals this week here in Madison, WI.

We (teammate Jacob White and I) made it to Blue Mound State Park yesterday mid-afternoon after driving through Iowa most of the day. It's a big change from Texas scenery and I was reminded how nice it is up here in Wisconsin during the summer. 79 degrees, blue skies, and just a little breeze in your face.

Quick facts of the lap: 14.1 mile loop, 1280ft climbing/lap, 2 smaller but shorter pitches/climbs w/ up to 15% grade, a "Loose Gravel" section of 1/2 mile length, some more climbing in last mile of the lap with about 450ft of climbing and ~7-8% average grade. The start/finish is inside the park and you go out and do your 6 laps (U23 and Elite Cat 1) and then come back into the park. There's a nice, 300ft climb of .8miles w/ 8% grade in the run-in (or better: run-UP) to the finish and it will hurt after 80+ miles of racing.

The roads are mostly in good condition, starting out small and shaded with all the trees around the State Park. There's a lot of descending early on and it will be interesting in a 200 man field come Friday. We were going 40-44mph without much pedaling just cruising down the hill. After a few little turns and a quick run on a bigger County Road it's back onto smaller farm roads and the first two little "bumps" with 15% grade. This takes less than a minute, though and shouldn't make a big difference (for the top guys at least). After a few turns and winding road you suddenly turn left and I thought they're kidding when I saw the "Loose Gravel" sign but no, there's 1/2mile of loose gravel coming of a fast section. This will be interesting. Not sure how they found one of the few gravel roads out here and decided to use it in the US National Championships???

Shortly after comes another, longer and more gradual, 200ft climbing, over .7miles. This should make a little selection for some. And back onto County Road K before heading back on the Blue Mound Rd back to the State Park. That's where the final fun and fireworks will happen. 8% average grade over approx. 1.2miles and 460ft of climbing to the end of the lap and the feed zone. The road is wide-open at least and this should separate the contenders from the rest. Especially doing this 6 times (U23/Cat 1's). Once you're done doing your laps there's that nice surprise waiting for you with the run-in to the State Park and the final kicker to the finish with up to 10% grade, and another 280-300ft of climbing to the finish line.

A very similar course (22mile lap, using most of the same roads) to this has been used in the Tour of America's Dairyland a few years back. I remember Steve Tilford writing a blog post about it. No other than then-amateur, Matthew Busche, won that race solo back then. The field shattered completely back then.

A few pictures below and you can see the ride w/ course profile, elevation, etc. here on Strava.

Jacob can ride w/ "No handlebars, no handlebars"

"Loose Gravel"

false flat

look forward on final climb

look "back" on the final climb to end of lap

entrance to State Park, run-in to the finish
Strava profile

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mathematics in Corsicana

Back in Corsicana! After a not so stellar Joe Martin (crash & DNF) it took a little while to rebound but nonetheless I knew Corsicana Stage Race was going to be fun and a good event. Zac Lytle puts on good races and finds us great courses to race on.

Having won the TT there last year I definitely wanted to repeat that this time around. We had a better field than last year, too. Almost twice as many with 40 or so P12's. Nothing stellar, but not bad for May in Texas. The morning TT was a nice treat to the usual RR in the morning, TT in the late evening. You could actually focus on it, warm-up and don't feel overly tired from the RR earlier in the day.

The TT went well. While racing, I didn't feel super awesome and nobody had results until 4hours or so later but I ended up having the fastest time of the day, if also only by a second ahead of DaveW and two seconds away from Colin. It was fast with a cross/tail-wind all the way and I was glad to have chosen the 1080/Super9 - combo. After a 3rd (Fayetteville), a 2nd (Tyler Stage Race) it was good to finally win a race this year.

The "Beatdown on Beaton" Crit in Downtown Corsicana later that evening was definietly the most exciting Crit this year so far in terms of course. Actualy bricks and I forgot how many turns on the 0.8 mile loop through downtown made for some good racing. The Overall was based on points so I needed to make sure to a) not let any of the "heavy hitters" go up the road and b) gain/score as much points as possible in a potential field sprint. Halfway through the race Mat Stephens and Tristan Uhl got off the front and had a good 20seconds and I had to make an effort to chase that down. Since I didn't want to let it come down to a sprint and risk loosing the lead, I was hoping to stick with a break myself. Somehow, I forget how, I ended up off the front with Stephens again with 6 to go. We had a few bike lengths after I closes some gaps and we instantly put our heads down and gave it 100%. The gap opened up, more and more, and it was clear we're staying away. Me being 1st Overall, and him wanting to win the race and being 8th or so on GC was a good combination. I was content and didn't care about the first or second in the Crit. So I kept driving it and came around the final turn first but I knew there's not much to do against a sprinting Mat. We did the last 6 laps at a NP of 375W - pretty alright after a long day.

Racing in the evening always kind of messes with your body since you're still all wiry from racing or some pre-race coffee. So getting some rest ASAP before the next day's 7:30 90mile road race was crucial.

After a 5:45am wake-up call I quickly added the GC standings to my math/clue-sheet. Stage racing based on time is somewhat straight forward, based on points gives it a bit different approach as you need to know who's where in the standing and how many points they have....or have not. I've lost a few places in this road race last year being 2nd Overall (?) so I surely didn't want to do that today. I had a decent 7 point lead over Mat Stephens but there were a few other guys in contention. The early break went and that was fine with me: Break's gone, points are gone. But these guys obviously know how to race and want to win, too. So after Crozzy attacked a couple times (and me and occasionally a few other GC guys chasing it down) he finally got away at the end of the first of 4 laps with a group of 5 or so 6 to make a front split of 10 or so guys. That was bad for me and my GC but I kept cool. I figured this is a LONG race and guys are going to get tired. There was some crosswind, it was getting hot and we still had 66miles of racing left. With ~10 guys up the road our field was down to just 30 guys and it got smaller and smaller as time went on. On the 2nd lap I literally hit "a little bump in the road" when I broke a spoke and my rear wheel was dragging on the frame. Luckily the wheel truck was right there, I got my ROL spare wheel and joined the field just 3-4minutes later. We were riding tempo in a pace-line at that point at that time but the guys quickly slowed down, too to let me catch back one. Pure class!

The race got a bit harder thanks to Super Squadra who had a guy (Wheeler) in the break but still wanted to race their bikes so they rode a nice rotation in the crosswinds. This helped to make the race hard and whittle out some guys who just sat on. There were a few attacks going off from our group but nothing got away really. Mat threw down some serious punches in that last lap to get away but I was able to respond to all of them....barely! It was "mano-a-mano" at it's best. So finally, the last time into the cross/headwind Mat threw down another 1100Watt surge and I was barely able to respond. Wenger and Arteaga joined us. Somehow everyone was wanting to gain time/points on the guys behind us. The break was still way up the road but we were putting time into 4th and 5th GC. I was thinking that I needed to make sure to finish just with Mat and still get 2nd Overall since I kind of thought Crozzy won the Overall by now. But by that time, a few guys had either dropped, quit or flatted out of the break and we were actually racing for 6th place (which I didn't know until after we crossed the line). I was able to get away from our little group of 4 just a mile from the finish but Mat caught me right on the line for 6th, with me getting 7th. With the way the points work I didn't know until 20minutes after the finish that I was able to hold on to the GC lead by a mere of two points ahead of Crozzy (who won the stage) and Mat.

So happy all the addition of points in my head during the plus 3 1/2hrs, 3000KJ's, and NP of 285W of racing was over!

too tired to hold my head up in the TT (photo: Lee McDaniel)

Yep, digging deep doesn't always look pretty. (Thanks Jim Hicks for capturing the moment)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Austin Rattler 100

I don't own a MTB but if there's a endurance MTB race around the area I definitely wanted to be part of it. First and foremost the idea of 60miles at Rocky Hill Ranch looked like to be tons of fun and second, it's great training for the road.

Last year the Austin Rattler 100 (Leadville Qualifier) conflicted with some Crits but this year that weekend was "free" so I asked Robby Ketterhagen to let me borrow his slick Flash 29'er Hardtail. Perfect rig for that course in my opinion. The original Rocky Hill loop consists out of lots of fast singletrack and only a handful of very tricky sections. For this race, they modified the loop a bit to simulate Leadville a bit more and added bunch of jeep road and more open/riding through the field stuff. Still, we did about 2-3miles of pure singletrack on the new, modified 15mile loop put together by no other than Paul Uhl - the man in charge at Rocky Hill and father of local MTB badass Tristan Uhl.

Together with the 787 teammates Robert & Shiva I showed up EARLY (it was still dark) at the Ranch only to discover that a) my race number blew off my bike while driving out there and b) that I forgotten my wallet. Duh. I remember they were pretty picky about having ID for number pick-up but all was cool and I actually got a even nicer start # at registration.

It was good to see some fellow "roadies" come out for this, as I ran into Brian Jensen from Kansas who was coming down to train (and aiming at Leadville this year) and wanting to escape the chilly Midwest weather.

After staging and a rather "interesting" (electrical) national anthem 500-600 guys and girls set off all at once for 4 laps totaling 60miles on the "new"  course. It was a rather mellow roll-out and I was riding in the Top 15 staying out of trouble. First time up FatChuck's Revenge there was a slight separation and we suddenly had a front group of ~15guys riding solid Tempo. The same guy (Orbea) from Colorado was setting a solid pace, I was wondering how long he can ride like that. Through the first single track the Best separated from the rest...Tristan Uhl, JT Cody, Brian Jensen and the Orbea rider got a gap and I was for 10minutes or so in "nomansland"....Until a strong group including Robert (787), Robbie R. (BicycleSportShop), Chris P. (RBM), Dave Wiens (who was down in TX to promote the Series) etc. caught up to me. We rode a steady pace and swapped pulls but the 4 guys in front were getting out of sight and we were racing for 4th place with 2 laps to go.

The group whittled down more and more until it was just Robbie, Dave, Chris and I. I think Mr. Wiens flatted once and also hasn't been able to ride/train as much as we are here in spoiled, Texas weather so with a lap or so to go it was just me & Robbie racing for 4th now (the Orbea guy had and untimely flat and ran a spoke through his rim/tube). Obviously, Robbie can kick my a$$ on the single track and so he did on the 2nd to last section just before "The Wall" and I lost him through the woods. It was fun, though and I was happy to roll in 5th place...10 or so minutes behind 2012 and 2013 champ Tristan.

 2 laps to go: me, Dave & Robbie R.

 Top 25 Overall, Austin Rattler 100

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

in Louisville for Master 30+ Cyclocross Worlds

After s short break of Cyclocross in Texas I flew to Louisville, KY yesterday for the UCI Master Worlds which are held a few days before Elite Worlds this weekend here in the town of Bourbon, Kentucky Derby, Muhammad Ali, and Cardinals Basketball (well, not sure about the last one...).

Seems like the last week of January is always a bad weather deal in that part of the country! Last year we first had mud and then on race day 18F and frozen ground/ruts for my 30-34 race. Looks like it will be VERY similar this year. I got in and went for a ride over to the course and checked it out. Pretty flat and lots of grass (which is turning to slushy, mud stuff as I type) so less of a "true" CX course like the USGP Bandman Park Course which is used for Elite Worlds. There are some nice bike trails here in Louisville and traffic ain't to bad riding to/from the venue.

I got up at 7:30 today to check out the course for our race at 11:30. Well, actually the tornado sirens woke us up at 4am but even though there was a tornado warning most people slept through it/didn't care. I remember hearing the sirens a few times when I lived in Wichita Falls aka "Tornado Alley" so I wasn't too surprised. The rain did some damage to the course, though and it's getting heavier/slower as the day goes on. Start times have been pushed 2hrs up and our "Seeding Heat" to determine start/staging order for Friday's Final is at 2pm. It's more or less a "warm-up" and just 3 laps (18-20min) long.

Forecast for Thursday is pretty cold right now. Freezing tonight and 30's tomorrow with chance of snow. An Teens on Thursday night. If this holds up Friday's race course will be a similar ice-rink like last year.

Either way, this next few days will be interesting. Will update more tomorrow.

Cheers from Louisville,

Note: Course pictures are courtesy of fellow Texan & teammate Paul Gerhardt, who was lucky to race in dry 68F yesterday afternoon.

only a few airports do that

bike trail close to I-64 in Louisville

"Good morning. Yes, we got a system moving in."