Thoughts on biking and Czech life through the Eyes of an American

Friday, September 19, 2008

Again to Austria

One of my favorite paintings that I had on the walls from my apartment in Bangor (constructed in 1836 by one of the richest men in the lucrative lumber industry (the McCrillis-Dwinell house build by Brown if I remember correctly...)
was a painting called "Again To Austria" (the provided photo does not do it justice... when seen in person, framed, I smile every time I see it). I would provide a nifty link with more info about the apartment but either I forgot the URL or the historical society has removed the link. If you like the painting you can get more info here: shown in 24x32 but also available in 32x44" or even (my recommendation 44x60". I used to enjoy lighting up the track lights, illuminating the archways and beautiful curved walls of the historic building with various large plants and tropical trees that I decorated the flat with. It was on a busy street and many people drove/walked by so since it was a historical building, I felt like it was my duty to showcase the place since Bangor (in the time the building was constructed - around the 1830's) was thought to be the most lucrative and busiest port on the east coast. A fire a few years later changed all that and the focus turned south to Portland.... which also suffered a major fire a few years later... turning the focus to Boston... and the rest is history. Perhaps people reading this know Boston but Bangor is either completely unknown or only known because of Stephen King (who also lives on Broadway, West Broadway actually, a few miles away).

Anyway, I had fun transforming a old house of the rich and famous to a modern day tech-saavy flat. I swapped all the light switches and sockets to new dimmable switches with little LED indicators... and every piece of electronics in the house was remotely controlled either via remote in the flat, voice control in the flat (ala... saying "turn on the TV" anywhere in the flat made the TV turn on - or saying "Dim bedroom lights to 50%" gave a nice sleepy atmosphere while reading just before bedtime). Or you could control everything from the internet... at the office, a friends house... or in a different country. Simply go to the apartment's web page and turn on the heat... or turn on the blender... maybe flash the patio lights for no good reason... or turn on every light in the apartment with a single click to make it look like someone was home... or blast your favorite techno song at 1am... you wouldn't be able to hear it but your neighbors would :) I could even drop down the movie screen in front of the triple doorway stained glass doors and play a movie from anywhere in the world...

For an apartment with a "Register of Historic Places" plaque in the spiral staircase foyer, it was pretty darn high-tech. Eventually 2 gay guys bought the building just before I left... I gave them a quick tour and I could see that they thought they just made a great investment by the way they looked at each other (or maybe they .... err, nevermind).... little did they know that when I moved out everything came with me... computer, light switches, outlets, tropical plants, voice recognition control, movie theater... it was still a pretty nice place though even bare. I think when I design my on home I will have at least one room that represents the architecture of the main living room (approximately 50ft [16m] x 12ft [4m] with curved walls and 14 foot (4.3m) ceilings with a lovely archway bisecting the area in two as well as a white marble fire place, 10 foot (3+ meter) high mirror with gold frame and my own personal decorations... typically cycling art or travel art. The centerpiece was a 4 foot (1.3m) long artwork of a nude female cyclist "flying" through the night on a french labeled bike (circa 1890's). Another was a painting of the marina in Saint Tropez... honestly I don't like buying artwork with places that I have never been.. but when I saw it, the colors and lights just jumped out at me... I hung it above the fireplace but was a bit ashamed when people asked if I had ever been there...

A few years later.... and yes, I have actually stood in the same place that the painter stood while painting the marina at Saint Tropez that I loved even without knowing the spot. My second (or third, or somedays absolute..) favorite piece of artwork at the Bangor apartment was a painting of a young woman with skis slung over her shoulder and a young boy in the same pose following right behind. With a mountainous background, the title stated, "Again to... " and then "Austria" on the bottom. I loved viewing that painting (#2 print of all produced) every time I walked in the door. I actually flanked the painting with my Rossignol B2 skis for the full effect especially as I waited the ski season in October and November.

And now, like Saint Tropez, I can wake up and wonder about the day and think, "perhaps I should ride my bike to Austria, again..." and I smile at the simplicity and coincidence of it all. Living just 40 miles from the border, I can easily ride my bike through the southern Czech vineyards, ride through the Austrian country side for a while and turn back home for a solid 100 mile ride.

Last week, I decided to contact an old friend who I apparently "lost" his email from memory... we actually go way back to racing in small races (meaning, 1st place gets you a water bottle and a sticker) but it was so coveted that we would sit for hours in the grass after the race joking around as the coordinators tried to tabulate the results. Years later, we both found ourselves racing for different schools in the Collegiate Eastern Mountain Bike Championships... We both raced and we were #1 (him) and #2 (me) with just a lap to go. I began to think how great it would be to have 2 Mainers (not exactly a cycling 'hot bed') finish #1 and #2... he was already multiple time national champion so I was in good company either way.... just then I hit a huge rock while navigating the tough leaf-infected trail that made it impossible to see the deadly rock traps that lie underneath the leaves. I think I fixed the flat and came in 4th or so... but still...

Living abroad is tough to keep in touch with old friends... So I contacted his mom, my former art teacher in high school... turns out I swapped the 2 words that comprised his email address but she said Adam had a mountain bike race in Austria in 3 days and would LOVE it if I came. I also discovered that an old college teammate was still racing Downhill and was going to race the World Cup Downhill race! I emailed Adam and Dave and called my girlfriend Linda, engrossed in an intense CELTA course in Prague to see if she was up for a weekend get-a-way to the Austrian alps to see some of my friends from home. She was all for it so I reserved a rental car. I decided to get some exercise on Friday since I had a long week of desk work and rode my bike to Austria and back (about 100 miles) then stopped at the rental car place outside our city to get the car. I imagined telling the guy that I had rode my bike from Austria and I saw a hill in the distance and was so tired of pedaling that I decided to rent a car...

Eventually, I rented a hot looking Skoda Fabia II and flew up to Prague to pick up Linda... then.... it was "Again to Austria"... only much further to the east this time and while I usually bike in the Austrian country side, we were headed straight into the heart of the Alps, just south of Salzburg, for you "Sound of Music" fans.

We drove through the night so we didn't see much but when we awoke, it was fantastic... we were nestled in a small alpine village called Schladming with jagged Alp mountains on either side and quaint church steeples that chimed every hour with Austrian charm. We checked out the World Cup Downhill Finals on Saturday... waiting to see my old college teammate from Vermont.. but apparently some racer got out of control on the course and hit a photographer... seriously injuring the latter. A helicopter had to fly in to rescue the photographer and (for good measure) the racer as well. The ordeal set back the schedule 90 minutes so we didn't see as much racing as we wanted to.

We headed back to the hotel so we could do some sport for ourselves... with Linda heading to the hotel's complementary fitness center / spa / sauna / indoor pool / water slides... and I geared up my bike for a ride up the alpine country roads in the area.... a route that surprisingly ended at the starting gate of the downhill race... the only road biker at the start of the World Cup Downhill Finals race for sure! I actually hadn't planned on bringing my road bike but if you've been reading closely, I didn't have much time between my ride to Austria on Friday, getting the car, getting back to the apartment, and getting to Prague, then driving to the Austrian Alps... so yes... the bike was conveniently in the back seat of the Skoda... some say I planned that... but honestly it wasn't the case.

Needless to say, the ride up from 700m altitude in Schladming to 1800m was beautiful even though it was completely cloudy and rainy... I found a nice Austrian country road that passed by several small farms and family owned B&Bs. The scenery primarily cut through the woods with hard intense climbing that eventually opened up with fabulous vistas of green grass and mountain peaks in the distance. Although, you had to keep alert because the roads were filled with loose sand and stones from previous 'flash floods' and the roads dropped off very steeply at the sides. In the steepest sections, it was common to spot several horn endowed goats on the side of the road... not more than a few arms length away... calmly munching on the green slope-side grass. Eventually, I intersected the starting gate of the World Cup Finals Downhill... I was easily the ONLY road biker there... but since it was raining, cold, and at high altitude.. most people gave me a little nod as if to say "yeah, that's hardcore, just like us about to head down".

I waited at the top for a while hoping to see my friend Dave... I saw on the results sheet that he was in 122nd out of 250 riders... so I didn't think he made it to the final round. I decided to head down the hill... and if you had seen the dirt, rocks, steeps, switchbacks, and rain, you would have known that this was much crazier that riding up the mountain at 170bpm for 60 minutes.

Luckily, I had outfitted my Scott with new brakes... KCNC CB1 brakeset... a (gulp) lightweight brakeset (just 167 grams for the PAIR with PADS!) but like all things super-light... you typically don't talk about performance. My first ride with the KCNC's was fine until 30 seconds in when I first entered a busy city intersection... "oh boy, these things are called brakes?" Luckily, I discovered that the stock brake
pads on the KCNC's are terrible so I swapped them with Dura-Ace pads in late August (I had also purchased KCNC brakes with Dura-Ace pads for my Scott Addict back in the US, so I knew the pads made a big difference). With the Dura-Ace pads, the KCNC's were perfect... I was extra careful (huge alpine decent, loose rocks, pouring rain, wet leaves... yeah... totally the stuff that normally precedes horror stories... but I made it down and really enjoyed it. After the ride the front brake, even with all the dirt, water, and mud, was covered in ultra-fine metal shards/dust apparently from all the braking power I had to use on the way down. Even a few rides later, nothing seems out the ordinary, ie, still aligned with brake surface, still fresh pads, no rubbing, etc. I'm sure the Ultegra SL brakes I replaced would have done well, but for 167 grams the KCNC's were pretty darn impressive. Not quite as impressive as the vistas or the horned goats on the side of the road... but impressive none-the-less.

We got back and headed into town hoping to catch up with either of my old friends. We found the apartment my friend from college was at and we had a nice chat with him and his mom... bringing back old memories when myself and 35 other bike racers arrived at her house at 2am looking for floorspace... they had just suffered severe water damage to their entire house after returning from a trip (ahh... spring in Connecticut with massive amounts of snow on the roof) but still welcomed us with open arms.

Time began to get away from us and Linda and I had to practically run back to our hotel for dinner. We were at a very nice 4-star establishment that offered everything from an indoor riffle-shooting range to a golf driving range, to bowling, to swimming, to cosmetics, to hair cuts, to saunas, to ... ok you get the picture.

We had the "menu"... a fabulous 5 course dinner with a few customary Austrian dishes mixed in. We were just finishing our main course when suddenly 2 people approached our table... I glanced up to see Adam Craig, numerous US national champion and US Olympian in Beijing with his girlfriend, "Hey John, what's up?" he says...

Being away for so long, my ears perk up even when I hear simple english... let alone someone calling my name! Turns out that Adam's Giant Team was a bit "lax" in the preparation for the final race of the season and somehow locked Adam out of the hotel/B&B where they had promised to provide dinner. On hearing this, Linda and I scootched over and we got our starving friends some menus. We had a great time taking about everything from travel, to languages, to Beijing, to Czech Republic, to Seattle, to Bend, to good ol' Maine.

Adam's girlfriend ordered tomato soup and our (non-english speaking) waiter said, "tomato.. in bowl... ok". Sure enough, he arrived with a tomato in a cup and quickly left before anyone could notice what was going on...
at first I thought perhaps there was some soup on the bottom but no... it was just a large tomato in a small cup. Trying to play along, I thought Dee should try her best to eat it... or perhaps ask for some freshly ground black pepper... but upon closer inspection... we discovered that the tomato was actually PLASTIC!

We got a good laugh out of that and in the end everyone got some real food, including the member of our party who was going to be racing against the best mountain bikers in the world in a few hours.

The next morning proved to be more of the same, but with less rain. As a "former" mountain bike racer, I would almost call it ideal... a perfect blend for breathing without the risk of overheating. The rain even held off all day. Linda used some A.M. downtime to catch up on a few assignments on her new snazzy Dell "chill pattern" 1525 laptop in a cafe just a few meters from the course... I poked around the start area and found Adam riding around town with a flat tire. I gave a strange look like "what the heck..." as he rode by... he then revealed in his right hand a 2.5" nail that had caused the puncture. Pretty rare that a nail causes a flat on a tubeless mountain bike system... even more rare that the nail gets lodged enough such that you can pull it out and hold it in your hand!

Adam beat me back to the Giant tent where by the time I arrived the mechanic was already filling another tire with the magic blend of Stan's tubeless formula and a fresh tire. It wasn't too muddy so Adam wasn't braking out the Super-Secret Michelin Muddin' tires for this one...

Being the #1 person in the US for anything has its perks... on this Sunday in Austria, it meant that Adam got called to the start line so he could have a front spot in the race (ahead of the 150 other racers from a plethora of different countries). The gun went off and, unlike Beijing, Adam knew exactly how to enter and clip in to his pedals. He had a great start an found himself in good company... surrounded by only 3 others... most of whom were world champions. Sounds like my normal every-day rides actually. Minus the world champions... but I usually do clip into my pedals..

Adam kept with the lead group of 4 for a few laps and realized that if he wanted to be on the podium for the World Cup Overall, he needed to drop one of the guys, Burry Stander (which the start list showed as being from RSA... but after the ink had smeared from the rain, I thought it said RUS... meaning Russia, instead of South Africa) maybe I was getting his name wrong too... Colonial Sanders, or Extra Krispy Tasty Kentucky Roast Sanders... or something very Russian like that were also possibilities).

So, although most Americans consider it a miracle just to finish a World Cup in the top 50, Adam was at the front... not just hanging on, but assuming the lead position, attacking the rainbow jersey. In Maine, we call that, "puttin' the boots to her".

The plan eventually backfired to a small degree and Adam had to pull back... Geoff Kabush, the Canadian champion, was leading the chase group and Adam spent a few laps either trying to catch back on, or trying to wait for additional troops (err... mounties) to formulate a new attack perhaps. But, knowing the effort it probably took to push the pace at the front, and the fact that the course was not 'made' for Adam's strengths, and the fact that it was the final race of the (long, Olympic) season, I pretty much knew that it would be a tough if not impossible task to regain contact with the leaders.

However, on the last lap, Adam made up a few places to finish a highly respectable 8th place. Still, none of us can help but wonder if the course was more technically difficult or if he could have hung on to the lead group.

My grandfather, a father who put 7 children through college and who lived through the depression, once told me after I finished my very first round of golf:

"The thing about golf is that you can make a mistake on almost every shot the entire day.., in the trees, in the water, the mud, the sand, the divots... but almost every round you manage just one beautiful shot that is so perfect that it keeps you coming back, hoping to catch a brief taste of that perfect moment.
That one shot is what keeps me coming back."

Congrats Adam on many beautiful shots in 2008! I think we'll see even more in 2009.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Congrats Adam, You Make Me (and the US) Proud!

After recently returing from the US, I took advantage of the local Olympic coverage to make a note of when the Mountain Biking Race would be held.... "August 24th, 2008, NBC"

"Sweet, I'll just watch it live online while it unfolds!" (now that I'm in CZ, we are only 6 hours difference from Beijing versus 12 hours for Americans to watch it live. Suddenly I see on Yahoo that states,

Absalon defends his gold in men's mountain biking

I clicked on the link only to discover that the race was TODAY (or while I was is Management Informations Systems class). Errrrrrrrrrrrrr hhhhhherrrrrrhhheerhhr!

To describe WHY I placed sooo many "r's" and "errr's" in the last phrase, I will give you a bit of history.

Back in 1994, I was returning from a hockey game (I was a hockey player for 14-or-so years) and we stopped at McDonald's for a post-game feast. The line was long so I picked up the newspaper:

It read, "Sunday River [local ski resort] to offer lift-service mountain biking"

I have been downhill skiing since I was 3 and I had a friend who was crazy-into biking and just bought a mountain bike for $1500 ($1400 more than my max price). Seeing the "rentals available" in the ad, I ripped it out, threw down a few Chicked Nuggets and called him the next day.

Heading down a ski mountain on expert singletrack is not recommended for your first mountain bike ride from what I've heard... but after crashing 8 times in the first 200 yards, I LOVED IT! I legitimately sucked at something but still had fun... sign me up!

I cut some trails behind the house, got a bike, entered a few races, and the rest was history.

On the way, during a mundane high-school Art class, I was discussing my new sport with one of my hockey buddies describing how I had just done my first "major" race and entered into the 'Sport' category which was a level higher than the Beginners. Just then my art teacher said, "you know, my son is getting into mountain biking. He's just a beginner but he won a race last weekend. He'll be going to race 'XYZ' this weekend." I went to the race. We met and although he was a few years younger, we got to be good friends, meeting each week at some random rustic location in Maine for a race where if we won, we could bring home luxurious treasures such as a waterbottle or t-shirt... but if the race was 'big time' we could win a tire or something cool like that.

I raced on a 1995 GT Pentara while my new friend Adam had just gotten a new chrome Giant. We were pretty cool.

Both of us won, Adam moving up more quickly than I, although most of the time we were in differnt age classes, but we still hung out before and after the races.

Eventually, Adam had some VERY good finishes and got attention from the US Olympic Committee when he won a US Junior championship while he was in high school and I was in college (no longer a junior, but at this time, he was faster than me).

Adam joined the US Olympic Development Team, "DEVO" which was very high-profile at the time since it allowed young kids to go head-to-head against the likes of Travis Brown and Ned Overend. We still met at big races as I began to work my way up the mountain biking hierarchy (although much more slowly) and enjoyed spending time together making numerous Maine jokes while we waited for results amidst a national crowd of elite mountain bikers.

By the time I had gotten to the Expert and Semi-Pro level of Mountain Bike Racing, Adam had already won a National Championship or two... or three in the Junior and Espoir (under 24 or so, I forget now).

I joined up on the best collegiate mountain bike team on the East Coast and we won an East Coast Championship in my first year. We continued to win and eventually Adam joined that ackward age group known as 'college students'. Debating whether to pursue a career in mountain biking or try his hand at college life, Adam, to his credit, gave it the 'ol college try. That year, we got in touch and met during Thanksgiving Break at my house for some riding. There is a large slick-granite mountain near my house accessible by singletrack and fireroads. We decided to do that plus the 2+ miles of singletrack that I had built behind my house.

I distinctly remember climbing the face of the mountain (24-27% grade) [that means 'wicked steep' to you non-cyclin' types] and he slowly started pulling away from me... I was so frustrated when he got to the top (it's a 4 or 5 minute climb), 15 or so seconds before me. We had a good time though. He is a super guy, very easy-going and not "full of himself" like some cyclists or athletes are with half his talent.

We met again later in a race with a long uphill section and sketchy descents. Adam was in the Pro category but I was still in the Semi-Pro/Expert category so we didn't depart at the same time. I hammered up the hill as hard as I could go each lap and at one point I saw a fan with a stopwatch who was timing people...

"That's one of the fastest times up this section!" he said. Knowing Adam was in the race, that meant something. I began my to tackle my weakness... sketchy New England singletrack descents. After 10 minutes or so I heard someone behind me. Knowing the people in the race (maybe a few hundred) and the start times of the Pro's, I knew it was Adam.

We exchanged "Hey man"'s and I let him by since I knew I could benefit from his direction during the upcoming singletrack downhill. I did my best to say with him but it almost seemed like he was gone in an instant!

"Was I that bad?"
"How come I can't ride faster down that? I know I tried"
"Damn it!"

Adam won the Pro race and I won the Semi-Pro/Expert race by 11 minutes. (I didn't know I was so far ahead... otherwise I would have... I don't know... picked up chicks along the way to victory... errr... chicks think cyclists are dorks, and they are right. Well, I could have at least gotten a nice water or something.

Fast forward several years later and I'm reading a synopsis of Adam's chances in Beijing for 2008. His coach, a former pro, was interviewed on the front of the biggest state-wide newspaper and the quote that stood out in my mind was:
"When Adam goes downhill, no one in the world can keep up with him."

By 2008, I had been disillusioned enough by both mountain and later road biking that I sought out a [gasp], "real job". I no longer race or officially train but I have started to ride more [in somepart, thanks to my efforts to keeping up with the crazy mileage guzzlers on!]. But this statement that confirmed that no one in the world could hold his wheel on a downhill descent, including me!, put me at ease and let me enjoy the true talent that Adam has developed and strengthened over the years.

You may be thinking, "Cross-Country MTB'ers are lame, DH guys have way more skill". Well acutally, I remember once when we had a big XC race on Sunday morning at a remote location in the mountains so we all arrived on Saturday. Adam just decided he would enter the Downhill race, just for fun you know. Somehow, his points in XC, or some other loophole, allowed him to race in the professional downhill category. He went head-to-head against some of New England's to professional downhillers who had crazy downhill specific bikes that sucked up rocks and bumps like a tour bus. Adam just rode a plain old bike (or maybe someone felt sorry for him and lent him a dual-suspension bike for a run down the mountain).

Adam ended up beating every downhill cyclist in all of New England and New York just because he thought he would "try it". Never did he brag about it or say how awesome he is to win National Championships or downhill races simply by shear skill... he just talks to you with amazement as if you had won the race as well.

Never in all my years of sports have I ever met such a well-rounded athlete who keeps things in perspective, doesn't overinflate his accomplishments, and is well spoken about his future and in front of the media.

If there is a true, clean, good-hearted athlete that you want to route for but can't seem to find in ... emmm, say the last 8 Olympics, I don't think you'd be disappointed in routing for Adam. Based on his performance on the bike and his handling with life and media, I know he will excel in life... as an MBA student, he'd be one of my first choices when going into a corporate venture... you just can't teach that kind of work ethic and poise.

Congrats on a great ride Adam, lets hook up back at SkiRack, Waldo, or geez, even Eaton some day.

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Lesser-Known Olympians
[.. at least I didn't know HE was an Olympian] ... plus a tale yet to be told.

So I was perusing the Yahoo Olympic website yesterday (during Management Information Systems class... errr.. I mean, my "free time") and I saw an article entitled "American Cyclists Arrive in Face Masks" quickly followed by "American cyclists apologize for wearing masks".

Not too big of a deal, cyclists aren't known for their style... any motorist can tell you that. But suddenly, something caught my eye in the article:

BEIJING (AP) -- Four American Olympic cyclists are apologizing to Beijing's Olympic organizers for arriving in China's capital wearing face masks.

Michael Friedman, Sarah Hammer, Bobby Lea and Jennie Reed released a statement, saying the masks were only a precaution, and not an attempt to make a political or environmental statement.

The name Bobby Lea stood out like a saddle soar after 150k.

I don't know Bobby. I know other Olympians in Beijing [see next post] but I'd be lying if I said Bobby and I were friends. No, I remember Bobby from several races where we faced off head to head while I was racing for Vermont and he was racing for our heated rival Penn State University. He was a crit and TT specialist, I was the exact opposite, a mountain and 'tough guy' endurance race specialist. I first remember Bobby from a race back in 2001 (I think at West Point, but I might be wrong)... My teammates were cycling dorks... followed every pro race... knew how to pronounce even the most obscure Dutch cycling names with near fluency despite their anglophone-centric education. I, on the other hand, did my training (short in length, hard in effort), wolfed down a dinner that always included some sort of canned food and a salad, and spent the rest of my time studying Computer Science and Accounting [not recommended if you list 'Partying', 'Personal Exploration and Discovery', or even more directly, 'Chicks' as you collegiate goals]. Not a lot of time for watching Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwin on VHS, perfecting the pronunciations down to the lowest domestique, or going on long, drawn-out road rides while discussing the latest L'Equipe editorial with your buddies (although I wish I could have).

Before one race, they spoke of one name with a slight hint of apprehension (as in... "omg, this guy is going to kill us all.. he's legendary!"). I really don't pay attention to that kind of thing because I always thought that if a person is THAT good, I'll see it first hand during the race. I remember hearing mutterings about some sort of National Championship or Junior National Championship or Track Championship and I even think I heard a few foreign countries mixed in while I took off my warm-up gear.

The race started and we wound our way around the forested hills of West Point. Since it was only April and most of the teams were from the East Coast, we all had pasty-white legs due to the fact that most of us only begun riding outside within the last month (at that time, I would usually ride about 200 hours INSIDE before riding outside ... good thing I'm a lazy ass now :)

Anyway, the race started and we were riding along in the peloton when suddenly I smelled something strange in the air... I looked at the leafless trees... pollen?... I looked at the lack of grass... "hay fever? ... in New England? ... in April? There is still a few pockets of snow in the woods for goodness sake!" Suddenly I realized it was the poser in front of me with the gleaming bronze legs that shined so much that you got a headache if you looked at his calves too long. I vaguely remember my teammates saying something about this "Lea" guy going to Panama, or Columbia, or was it Belize... for the Pan-Am games just a week before the race... must have picked up a tan and some sort of local embrocation cream to "show off" to the New England locals.

"Ha ha, I'm an international cycling superstar... just smell me dude!"
... if his legs could talk.

I drafted in a coconut-oil stupor for 10 or 20 minutes before rightly seeking a new position in the peloton ... maybe tucking in behind someone named Biff or Jake with a Britney Spears sticker on his stem who hailed from the north-country (hey, it was 2001 after all). Ahh, much better, more normal from what I'm used to.

Being cooped up inside a computer lab for 4 years has its cycling advantages... you really don't care who is in the break or what is going on in a bike race, you are just psyched that it's a weekend and for the next 3 hours, none of the people around you would rather be debugging a memory allocation error triggered by a dynamic C++ multi-dimensional array application.

Ignorance was bliss.

The only thing I did was give 100% when someone jumped, or I got bored... whichever came first.

Racing in West Point is always fun. The year before was my first year road racing (after 8 years of mountain bike racing). I was in near the front when I noticed it was getting really hard [insert idiot look here]. Guys kept hammering up the damp windy roads surrounding West Point, flanked with commanding trees on either side just starting to reveal their leaf bud weapondry for the summer. Coming from a mountain biking "every man for himself" mentality, I was like, "jeez-um, you guys 'r really putin' the boots to'her!" (old Maine/New England saying... proper definition not suitable for children under 28). That year, before I knew it, I did a rotation at the front of our break group and after I did my 120% pull (or effort) at the front, looked for support (the next guy who is suppose to take over in order to keep the pace high) and found no-one. "Geez, they are going to make me look like an idiot," I thought since I had been watching breakaways get caught in the last kilometer in the Tour de France recently, only to see the guy end up in 117th place (2 seconds behind first place). "Geeez, I'm an idiot!" I continued on anyway.

In that race, I still thought I was an idiot until the lead car zoomed in front of me (a classic indication that you alone are the leader of the entire race) to provide a lead-out and clear the road to signal that the lead rider of the race was approaching. The car zoomed in front and I got in the drops and continued to push hard as we passed fans and course marshalls [marshalls are people or policeman who stop traffic at intersections to make sure the riders go the correct way and cars do not interfere with the race].

The difference between a 'normal race' or even the Tour de France and this race was that the lead car, escorting me with flashing lights driving down the center of the road, and the course marshalls who control traffic, was that the course marshalls had semiautomatic rifles. They dressed in full battle camouflage and knew how to kill someone just by using their thumb and index finger. The 'lead car' was not a fancy "business man's" car like the Tour de France, but rather a Hummer H1, a vehicle only available to authorized military personnel, fully outfitted in camouflage and military satellite radio with a guy on the other end of the radio with his finger on a big red button (if you know what I mean). This was before the idiotic consumer-driven marketing campaign that you see today where Hummer H2 or H3 are driven by civilians outfitted with fabric seats, music radios, and air-conditioning. No, the vehicle I was behind spewed out even more exhaust, had bigger tires, a MPG efficiency that basically meant that I felt like I was drinking the gasoline straight out of the tailpipe. Instead of comfy seats and an FM radio, this thing had military-only radio contact and an interior specially designed so that if the previous driver was shot down in combat, it could be cleaned by a fire-hose and promptly replaced by a new driver.

Accordingly, even the lowly course marshalls who signal traffic to stop and point me in the direction to go were different from most bike race course marshalls. It was a subtle difference but the camoflague outfits provided a hint as they pointed the direction I should go with one hand while nonchalantly holding a semi-automatic weapon that was probably longer than my bike in the other hand.

No second guessing here. I'll go "that way".

Needless to say, despite my lead position in the race, I took all corners such as this with trepidation.

In that year, another rider finally caught up with me and beat me in the final 3 miles. We worked together until the sprint... (I think even Joe Schmoe on a mountain bike can beat me in a sprint) but it was one of my first road bike races and one that I will never forget. I finished with a huge second place victory for our team, ahead of any and all Penn State rivals... including one named Lea.

Back to the current-year story... I was so use to reading outlandish syllibi from professors and projects assigned to be due in 3 days that would take 2 months to complete that I was idiotic enough to say... "err, ahhh.. alright, still 2 hours left to go... 120% of my maximum heart rate seems like a reasonable and maintainable effort to me!" So I jumped on a wheel. If that wheel failed, I jumped on another.

Eventually, it was just 5 of us. Most of the riders in that pack are still professional cyclists even to this day (7 years later). We rotated through to hold off the main peloton or what was left of it but I noticed that some were holding out for the flat finish.... (did I mention that Pee-Wee Herman could beat me in a sprint?).

I think I got 4th in the race but I do remember that the (in)famous Lea was nowhere close. "Pffft... " I thought. So much for racing in the Pan-Am games... spring in New England is a killer... (or maybe our pasty white legs simply distracted him).

Many years later I discover Lea on the cover of "Bicycling Magazine", one of the biggest cycling magazines in the world. He was always a pretty boy in my mind (see 'leg oil treatment' above), so the cyclist-turned-model seemed to fit.

However, in reading the latest Yahoo! Sports article about the masked cyclists, my eyes quickly focus on a single name.... and suddenly my olfactory glands filled with essence of coconut and rubbing alcohol. Sure enough, he is representing the United States in Track Cycling in 2008.

Curious (aka 'class is getting boring'), I investigate my former enemy further to find an article entitled:

Geez, after reading this article I'm thinking that My dad was an accountant and CFO... his was an Olympian... pffffft, as a kid, I remember having the following argument with my dad, ... I'm sure Bobby had the same argument with his Olympian dad:

"Which is better, Burger King with the Whopper and Strawberry Shakes, or McDonald's with the Big Mac and crispy Apple Pies?"

This discussion could go on and on as we traveled back from the hockey arena or bike race to home.

Bobby did not receive a medal, but the press coverage for wearing anti-pollution, anti-Chinese, anti-cultural, xenophobic masks was well covered.

Neither my Dad or I like McDonald's or Burger King anymore... not sure why though.

Bobby is still a great cyclist. I look like one of those guys with the expensive bike who looks like he just started riding last week. But I still enjoy it.

Perhaps Bobby would have been better off with some military vehicles and M16 bearing soldiers to lead him into China... yeah, that would have gone over smoothly :)

... but you have to catch that break Bobby.


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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hey, remember that time....

The 2008 Tour de France is underway and after just 6 stages there have already been some significant surprises. Today was a mountain top finish (Super-besse) that you normally don't see this early in the race. One of the biggest surprises of the day was a certain American who amazingly placed 4th on the stage and now is 4th overall in the Tour de France! His name may escape most people's list of famous American cyclists as he is usually remembered for his unfortunate withdrawal from the Tour a few years ago because of a bee sting (ouch, vdv) and his unfortunate wipe-out in the rain during the team time trial on Lance Armstrong's Postal Service Team, taking out half the team with him (luckily Lance corralled his young horseman and they ended up with the team victory anyway).

I don't remember him most for either of these dubious moments. No, I would have to say that my most fond memory of him was when we were sitting on the concrete steps of some guys garage during a housewarming party. Someone dared him to eat potato chips since Lance probably wouldn't let him. To his credit, he grabbed a handful and munched loudly. I thought he should do a keg stand. He thought I should. I said no way. He said I was a pussy. I said I had the National Championships in 5 days but I would hold his legs up if he did it. Again, he wouldn't. Again, I wouldn't. Then finally... he did. There I was, holding one of Lance's cadets up by the legs, downing cheap beer in a keg in "some-guy's" garage just 6 weeks before the tour. He lasted a disappointing 8 seconds. 6 weeks later, Lance almost lost the Tour title when the team time trial turned upside down.

Fast forward to 2008 and suddenly he's in the headlines again, thankfully on good terms this time. Check it out:

Click above to watch the video.

Nice "stand" on Super-basse today vdv.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I'm Not a Racer I just show up at the startline.

Ride Stats

  • Dist:84.1

  • Time:4:08:58

  • Avg. Speed20.27 mph

  • Max. Speed44.6 mph

  • Climbing:6161 ft

  • Avg. HR:161 bpm

  • Energy:4438 cal

  • Dist 2008:3861 mi

Biking Shot of the Day

Sun & Clouds


High: 67° Low: 61°


High: 67° Low: 61°

race graph
Graph of Heart Rate (red), Speed (blue), and Altitude (gray) for the race
For those not familiar with heart rates, 110-120 beats per minute and you know you exercising, 130-140 and you are really starting to work, 150-160 and you are putting out serious effort. At about 165-170 a little voice in your head says, "ok, you can maintain this for about 30 seconds, then I'm giving up". At 170-180 your body says, "ok. Nice suicide attempt. Stop. Now!". At 180+ you are venturing into the maximum your heart can possibly beat (aside from all psychological "omg, this is too hard" thoughts). The general calculation is 220bmp - (Your Age). For me, I guess that's around 191. So when I see that I was over 180 for 11 continuous minutes... you can imagine the agony...

Last weekend I met up with the local cycling club for there Sunday ride. After a sedentary Friday and Saturday of sitting on a bus for 5 hours and sitting through Human Resource Management class for 12 hours, I was ready to do some riding. As folks started to roll towards the habitual meeting spot, I began to notice 2 distinct cliques forming. I sat on the top tube quietly as some were chatting about bike parts, races, or other things (in Czech obviously). Then one guy turned to me and said in english, "how far would you like to ride?" - guess my incognito style wasn't as covert as I thought. They were thinking of going for about 5 hours so I joined them. The other group had some riders that didn't look as fit and they headed in a different direction. We had a good ride with a small group of 4, riding by some impressive looking nuclear power plant towers and rolling countryside. I chatted with a guy named Pavol who was really nice and had great english skills. One or two guys headed home early so we were down to 3 - Pavol, Michal, and me. We hit some big hills near Mikulov with dramatic limestone(?) cliffs framed with rolling vineyards and small villages.

We finished the ride after 117 miles averaging 20.1mph... pretty fast (for me anyway). Noticing that I had a weekend hiatus from my MBA classes, I emailed Pavol on Friday wondering if there were any rides scheduled for Saturday & Sunday. He said that 2 races were going on... one near Prague, another in the Southeastern corner of the country. He found a ride for me to get to the race and suddenly I found myself hours away from my first race in 6 or 7 years. Yikes!

My goal for the race was... well... to just show up and hope to finish. Obviously if you don't train for 6 years, you can't really expect much more. During most of my rides, I average 130bpm (that's heart beats per minute for the non-bikers out there). That qualifies as exercise but certainly isn't high-octane racing pace. Plus, I had already done 2 long rides over 100 miles each during the week so I probably wasn't super-fresh.

The Race
I met up with Petr, Libor, and Jura with 4 bikes mounted on the roof. I filled out the registration form and immediately one of ladies at registration noticed that my name wasn't Czech... she said something and Petr said I spoke english. The race organizer perked up and said in perfect english, "oh if you need anything, just let me know." I found out later why they were making such a big deal... apparently my entry into the race marked the first year that the annual event "was international". I even had my picture taken by the organizer before the start... sort of embarrassing for someone trying to "lie low" on the race radar since I was hopelessly out of race shape and just trying to do one race to get motivation and aspiration to train and meet some of the local bike crowd. I certainly wasn't going to tell anyone that I used to be a Cat 1 racer because I don't feel I even deserve to be considered a Cat 5 now.

The Gun Goes Off
Yes, they had a gun. Despite the common perception that 50% of American's walk around town with a gun tucked in their pants, I never see too many... but apparently here it's pretty rare to have a gun. It was probably just a cap-gun but it reminded me of the American stereotype obviously generated from Hollywood shoot-em-up flicks.
Anyway, I was a bit nervous until we actually started riding. Riding in the peloton was soooo much better than riding in a peloton in the US... US pelotons are kind of crazy... lots of yelling, numerous attacks... followed by yelling about who was going to chase it down... yelling at riders who don't hold a perfect line...etc etc. In contrast, the Czech peloton was very quite... hand signals were mostly used to point out potholes, chicanes, roundabouts, etc and there wasn't a single idiotic attack.

Into the Hills
We hit the first hill and all I knew was that it was sort of long. The pace was pretty fast and a lot of riders got dropped fast. I managed to stay in contact with the main group but I had to bridge a 300 meter gap on the downhill so I didn't get much rest. The next hill came soon after... another long one. I found myself again dangling on the back with 6 or 7 others. My heart rate was easily in the 170s and even 180s at times but the main issue was that I had no solid rest since the last hill. My legs felt agonizingly weak up the 6km climb but I crested the top and myself and another guy again had to bridge a tiny gap to get back in the lead group. The roads were through a some sort of park (think: state park) and were about as wide as a single SUV (more like a path than a road). With steep drop offs on one side and trees precariously close to the road, we hammered down the sun dappled tarmac navigating the tight 100° turns and switchbacks. We caught up with the lead group... again without sufficient rest on the descent.

The Suffering
The third climb began and I was hurting. Another 4-6km climb with several steep sections... I couldn't maintain the pace. I formed up with a small group of 3 or 4 riders and we pushed hard to catch the lead group with our speed at 27mph as we rotated pulls at the front. We caught another small group that had also been dropped and we all pulled together. My pulls and a guy on a Trek we probably the strongest but I realized I needed to rest more because I didn't have much juice left. On the next climb I fell off the back. For three hours+ I had been virtually max'ed out and my legs needed to back off just a fraction of a percent... but that meant losing contact with the small chase group. For the next 1.5 hours I was basically riding alone which makes it hard to stay motivated and to keep pushing, especially when your legs want to stage a mutiny and jump ship.

The Finish
I sort of dogged it up the last climb and the final flat stretch into town I did at a moderate pace, about 23-25mph. I finally finished and was pleased just to cross the line. The lead group had winnowed down to just 14 riders or so (all categories included) and I finished only about 16 minutes behind... probably not too bad since I'm sure during the final 90 minutes when I was riding solo, exposed to the wind, and mostly just checking out the scenery, the lead group was probably hammering in nice efficient paceline. I ended up 27th overall and 13th for my category (Men 20-29) out of 70 racers. One more year and I can be in the slightly less competitive 30-39 category :)

The Aftermath
After the race, we had complementary tickets for lunch and drinks. I got in line and was promptly handed a full roasted chicken with a slice of bread and a pickle. As soon as I reached for my plate, I began to search for some plastic utensils... I got distracted and found our crew at one of the outdoor tables. After sitting down I thought, "ahhh, I forgot to get some silverware" but then I looked around the table to notice everyone eating their respective chicken with their hands. I don't think I would ever eat a chicken with my hands, not because I think it's unsanitary, I just prefer not to have greasy fingers... but I had no problem temporarily adapting to the custom. Even though eating with hands is (possibly) more common in CZ, they are more strict in other ways... foot coverage, for example, is vehemently enforced. Walking in bare feet around the house is guaranteed to conjure up a cold - and wearing only socks is just half the battle... to fully ward off colds you should wear sandals especially designed for home-use. I'm not choosing sides here, just pointing out some cultural differences. The beverage coupon entitled the holder to a cold beer (didn't catch the brand, probably Pilsner Urquell or Starobrno) but I stuck to water as I'm not a big beer drinker.

All in all, I guess I didn't do too bad for someone who hasn't done a single interval in 6 years! But of course now I have to wonder how I might do with some regular training.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

New Year, New Bike, Same Old Day-To-Day Thing... but Closer to the Downhill Thrills

2008 found me enjoying a nice peaceful seafood dinner in Maine. A few years ago, if I could read this sentence which revealed my New Years for 2008, I would have said, "geez, do something different! Mix it up! Go skydiving at night when the clock strikes 12... or some crazy ski adventure... SOMETHING different!" (Note: I have learned in the past 2 or 3 years that the previous sentiment might be do to my astrological sign.... hmmm... who taught me that?)

Probably the sentence describing my 2008 New Years would not mean much to me a few years ago... but one must not forget the context and circumstances that lead themselves to all of us sitting at that table, white cloth or not. For the first time in two and a half years I enjoyed the privilege of going home to relax with family. Being away for so long makes you realize how relaxing it is! Knowing everyone, the place, the language, the situation, what will come next, where to go, what to do.... all advantages that you can use to maximize your experience. However, always knowing "what comes next" is not entirely bliss. For some, experiences outside of their own national domain will never be known. Even fewer will experience the feeling of being outside their national "comfort zone" where they feel in command and enter into a different culture. The latter has been my life for the past 2.5 years. It is not "better" or "worse" but entirely different that what many are use to.

In a tone that was somewhat confident, happy, sad, free, and humble, a beautiful young woman once told me, "live in a different culture for a while and it will change you." The words are scribed into my mind like an Etch-a-Sketch that has lost it's magic sand. I remember the conversation, riding in the car, and the ackward 2 seconds of time where I digested the statement before I could reply. For a young American, I was pretty well traveled with parents who valued world geography, different cultures, new experiences, and... vacations! Seemed great to me! She almost sounded like she had lost something in her travels which made me feel a bit sad. Almost 3 years later, after experiencing it for myself, I realize that you gain so much that you realize how sheltered and naive you were before. The effect can be quite humbling. However, in the broad sense, the experience is invaluably positive; making you stronger, more confident, and more knowledgeable person. This effect is sometimes not perceived until you venture back to your homeland.

We returned to CZ and I continued my MBA studies in Prague that I had started in October. The program is through DePaul University and is setup as a weekend program so I do not have to quit my job to obtain an MBA. Weekend or night MBA programs are very popular since most students are already successful upper or mid-level managers. These "Part-Time" MBA programs are actually outnumbering fulltime (unemployed student) programs in recent years. DePaul's part-time program actually ranked #9 in the US this year so when I saw that they offered a satellite campus in Prague I knew it was great program and an even better opportunity.

Enough boredom, this basically means that my Fridays and Saturdays include zero biking miles for the next 18 months. But 18 months is definitely finite with a sizable reward of an MBA degree waiting at graduation.

Since my time on the bike will be limited, I decided that it should be as fun and comfortable as possible! So I purchased a new Scott CR1 Pro carbon fiber road bike, by far the most amazing bike I have ever ridden. If you own a steel, titanium, or even lightweight aluminum bike, throw it out and buy a carbon frame. You will never regret it!

Just 15 months to go now... the finish line is getting closer. Better stretch those legs for the sprint.
That is all for now.. more later

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Tour de France in Photos... plus, Living in France for 2 Months

I'm actually cheating on this post, writing it several months after the tour... but I thought some people might enjoy the pictures I was able to take during my 2 months in France. Stationed near the Mediterranean in Montpellier, I was apprehensive about the hot weather, especially during July and August. Although I noticed that your mouth gets dry in about 0.04 seconds, it wasn't too bad.

First we'll cut to the Tour photos.
July 18, 2007 - Stage 11
It was actually pretty tough to photograph as the finish into Montpellier was flat and the road was extremely wide. I came away with a handful of blurry shots and photos of the back of people's heads etc. But after the main group passed, there were a few riders off the back. Since I wasn't watching the tv coverage, I wasn't sure what happened. If you remember, there was the infamous crash with Christophe Moreau and the Astana attack. I was crossing the road when I rider approached so I was able to get a decent shot... Here is Simon Gerrans of Ag2r who has some visible wounds.

July 19, 2007 - Stage 12
Marcel Sieberg, Caffinated.

I think something got lost in translation in this one:

"Yeah, I'm telling you, the course goes straight but there's a killer shortcut if you take a hard right. Goes right around the Pyrenees and straight to Paris."

Stéphane Goubert - the local favorite

Nuclear Green

Philippe Gilbert rolls out from the stage sign in
Philippe Gilbert

Erik Zabel on his way to finishing 2nd:
Erik Zabel

In Montpellier, news was leaked that the Danish Cycling Federation lost track of Rasmussen earlier in the year. Perhaps the Federation needs to hire babysitters.
Tour de France Tragedy

Biking around Montpellier:

solar tailwind
Solar Tailwind.

Une Route Etroite
Une Route Etroite.

Le Sommet Evasif
J'ai monte la montagne a gauche mais c'est tres lointain au grand sommet parce que vous devez le monter par derrière. Un jour....

Pic St. Loup
Pic Saint Loup

Eglise St. Jean Cuculles

Not much of a view today.

Climbing Col du Vent
Climbing Col du Vent
Tricky camera shot... it was a solo ride so I propped the camera up on a ledge about 20 feet up, and set the timer. My camera's timer is only 12 seconds so I had to descend the cliff run to my bike and ride the switchback... all with carbon fiber shoes with speedplay cleats... thank god no one was watching.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Hay Fever

Ride Stats

  • Distance:56.64

  • Time:3:14:10

  • Avg. Speed17.45 mph

  • Max. Speed48.9 mph

  • Climbing:4910 ft

  • Avg. HR:129 bpm

  • Energy:2010 cal

  • Dist 2007:3564.46

Biking Shot of the Day

Sun & Clouds


High: 75° Low: 71°


High: 75° Low: 71°


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Soft Air

Ride Stats

  • Distance:56.42

  • Time:3:06:40

  • Avg. Speed18.14 mph

  • Max. Speed46.9 mph

  • Climbing:4590 ft

  • Avg. HR:139 bpm

  • Energy:2212 cal

  • Dist 2007:2162.25

Biking Shot of the Day

Sun & Clouds


High: 63° Low: 57°


High: 63° Low: 57°

Flickr has graciously deleted my account without notification. Very strange. Working to get it resolved.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bipolar Group Rides

Ride Stats

  • Distance:55.71

  • Time:3:07:35

  • Avg. Speed17.9 mph

  • Max. Speed46.7 mph

  • Climbing:4590 ft

  • Avg. HR:144 bpm

  • Energy:2272 cal

  • Dist 2007:868.7

Biking Shot of the Day

Sun & Clouds


High: 67° Low: 57°


High: 67° Low: 57°

Had an interesting group ride this past Sunday with what seems to be the group ride to join in the area. I had attempted to catch the ride a few weeks ago but had difficulty locating the meeting point. For some strange reason, the organizers decided the best spot to converge was at a local mall well outside of town flanked by only highways and dead end roads. Not to be doomed by the same portentous fate of weeks gone by I absolutely hammered the entire way to the commercial cornucopia. For the first time this year, my "medium-rare" pace was placed directly on the fire with my speed averaging around 26. After about 25 minutes I arrived at the mall and with several minutes to spare. One by one riders coasted up to the meeting spot and each new rider added diversity to the assemblage. A few older guys. A few young guys. A few hardcore racers. A few guys still riding their "winter" bikes. A few guys riding 100% carbon fiber "my bike costs more than your house" rigs. Some dressed like it was 35°F, a few dressed like it was 60°F. The only commonality was that we were all there for the ride and we all spoke Czech. Oh wait, maybe not all.

It was really slow at first and a drastic contrast to my effort to get to the mall. I had no idea where we were going but tried to do my part by taking turns in the rotation at the front. Previously on this ride I talked to 3 or 4 guys and had some great conversations (in English of course) :) This ride seemed to be less fluent but I don't like to talk too much while riding anyway. After an hour or so I realized that I really needed to relieve myself from the morning's coffee. I waited for several miles to find an inconspicuous spot where I would be sure not to loose site of the group (important since I didn't know where we were going and really didn't know where we were). My stop, however, coincided with an increase in the group's speed as I had to chase hard to regain contact.

The increase in pace also included an increase in hills which is much more enjoyable than flat roads in my opinion. A few rides peeled off for home as the group forged ahead. Suddenly I realized where we were! The only problem was that we had been riding for 2.5 hours and we were going AWAY from the city. Riding along my normal route was a nice change since I knew what to expect in terms of approaching hills. I was riding 3rd in line when we approached a fork in the road. The first two guys headed left saying something like "Na horu" (which I think means 'to the hills' or something), the 3 behind be headed right. I went with the first 2 guys since they were staying on my route and they seemed to be the best riders out of the group.

At this point my legs were feeling more like 2x4's with each pedal stroke and I still didn't know if they were going to do "the big hill" that I do on my regular route. It ascends about 900 feet with a 18% grade at one point. Luckily we turned away and headed back home. Since I didn't know the way home and my legs seemed to weigh as much as a Skoda (each) I didn't take any pulls at the front. I hope they didn't take offense but these were all new roads for me. We rolled into the city after a solid 70 miles. Thinking back on it, I think pushing my heart rate above 180 early in the ride filled my muscles with lactic acid that they are not used to dealing with. Par for the course when riding in the early season I suppose.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Hot Hot Heat, for March anyway.

Ride Stats

  • Distance:53.54

  • Time:3:02:12

  • Avg. Speed17.7 mph

  • Max. Speed43.4 mph

  • Climbing:4580 ft

  • Avg. HR:139 bpm

  • Energy:2106 cal

  • Dist 2007:595.5

Biking Shot of the Day



High: 60° Low: 55°


High: 60° Low: 55°


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Spring.. Back Again, Maybe

Ride Stats

  • Distance:53.51

  • Time:3:07:02

  • Avg. Speed17.2 mph

  • Max. Speed45.4 mph

  • Climbing:4580 feet

  • Avg. HR:139 bpm

  • Energy:2182 cal

  • Distance 2007:542.0

Biking Shot of the Day

Sun and Clouds


High: 46° Low: 39°


High: 46° Low: 39°

Considering all the crazy weather we've had this week I think completing 3 outdoor rides was an accomplishment. Today was probably the nicest day as I didn't encounter any monsoons like on Wednesday and I didn't have to battle a 30mph headwind like on Friday.

I've been using to log my rides for the past 2 weeks. Their website is pretty weak functionally and artistically but it does have a great feature where it ranks riders on distance, time, speed, etc. The site has thousands of users from all over the world and it's really a shock to see how much distance some riders are logging. Strangely it isn't the racer crowd logging all the miles, it's actually the slightly out of shape 40/50-somethings who astound me with huge daily rides. Possibly even more impressive is that their average speeds are typically very low meaning that they spend 5,6,7 hours per day in the saddle. To me, riding for any length of time over 3 hours is just plain boring. After 180 minutes, I'm ready for a shower, fuel, and R&R.

I'm also intrigued to know the personal lives of these guys. I can't imagine what type of job caters to 40 hours of riding per week and I certainly can't fathom a wife or girlfriend (umm.. ok, I'll add in "partner" to be politically correct... not that there is anything wrong with that) who puts up with these epic rides.

It is also interesting to note that a high percentage of these riders are riding recumbent bikes. These contraptions look like bikes augmented for the Special Olympics to me. (Note: I fully support the Special Olympics and have volunteered at one. I simply don't like the recumbent "style" of riding) Is it easier to ride recumbents for long distances?

In the rankings, I find myself surrounded by Kiwis, Australians, Floridians, Texans, and Californians with very few representatives from the colder regions of the world. It just doesn't seem fair to be wearing booties, Pearl Izumi AmFib shorts, and lobster claw gloves when Crocodile Dundee is cruising along the Bass Strait in 80 degree weather. Oh well... summer is coming mate!

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Hang on Tight, She's Packin' Wind

Ride Stats

  • Distance:53.56

  • Time:3:05:45

  • Avg. Speed17.3 mph

  • Max. Speed47.1 mph

  • Climbing:4580 feet

  • Avg. HR:144 bpm

  • Energy:2224 cal

  • Distance 2007:488.4

Biking Shot of the Day



High: 49° Low: 45°


High: 49° Low: 45°

Bright and sunny all day so I took my time getting ready catching up on some things at work and around the house. Within 10 minutes of leaving the apartment I was confronted by some of the ugliest clouds this side of Kansas. Luckily a twister didn’t suck me up but the wind was brutal. I took this photo on the sun/storm cusp just to prove my rotten luck and to remind myself that procrastination leaves you vulnerable to Mother Nature's fury. 26 continuous miles directly into a sustained 30mph headwind makes for a tough ride across very hilly terrain.

I finally reached the half way point and started to return home. With the wind at my back I was able to hit 47.1 mph down a very gentle roller (I wouldn't even consider it a hill). I was lamenting the entire way home because of my 12-25 gearing. I recently "upgraded"(?) to 10 speed and I forgot to ask the shop to order me an 11 tooth gear. A 12 tooth is extremely boring for downhills and even an 11 gets maxed out often on my route.

I was shrouded in dark clouds and tossed around by blustery winds the entire 3 hours. Ironically, the sun reappeared as soon as I made my final turn.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Un-Welcomed Surprise

Ride Stats

  • Distance:0.0

  • Time:2:01:12

  • Avg. Speed0mph

  • Max. Speed0mph

  • Climbing:0feet

  • Avg. HR:141 bpm

  • Energy:1455 cal

Biking Shot of the Day



High: 36° Low: 30°


High: 36° Low: 30°

I could not believe when I woke up this morning to this sight. After several weeks of mild temperatures we all thought mother nature had upgraded the Czech Republic to "Early Spring" status. The sad result is 2 hours of boring trainer riding... at least the view was nice.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Walkin' on Broken Glass

Ride Stats

  • Distance:53.5 mi

  • Time:3:04:26

  • Avg. Speed17.5 mph

  • Max. Speed40.8 mph

  • Climbing:4580 feet

  • Avg. HR:145 bpm

  • Energy:2286 cal

  • Miles in '07:219.96

Bike Ride Shot of the Day

Sun with Clouds


High: 45° Low: 32°

High: 6° Low: -3°

Good ride today, weather and smells remind me of riding in mid-March around Ithaca or Vermont. This invigorates pleasent associations like the smell of impending spring as well as not-so-pleasent sensations like the abhorrent smell of fresh manure. Riding through the city was rather temerarious with shards of glass that seemed to litter every intersection or driveway entrance. Was yesterday "National Brake-Free Day"? Perhaps a glass factory offloading a botched run of Czech crystal wares?

Also interesting to note was a peculiar police method to pull motorists over. I was heading back home on a busy 2 (or 3) lane road going about 30mph when I noticed a police vehicle parked on the side of the road ahead. The policeman held out a lollipop looking stick towards my direction. The car just a few feet ahead of me immediately pulled over. Passing by I tried to determine the nature of the infraction but the little old man in the red matchbox-size car looked pretty innocent to me. Is this some form of random police inspection? Certainly the guy on the Honda race bike fresh off the Brno Grand Prix track looked more culpable than little ole Gramps. Either way, I was glad that they didn't pull me over for some strange bike law ordinance.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Being out of shape & Wheel Sucking Posers

Ride Stats

  • Distance:53.6

  • Time:3:11:07

  • Avg. Speed17.1 mph

  • Max. Speed41.6 mph

  • Climbing:4980 feet

  • Avg. HR:139 bpm

  • Energy:2420 cal

todays bike ride



High: 43° Low: 30°

Considering yesterday's ride and a poor night sleep, I decided to take it slow today. After all, doing the miles and the time is what early season rides are all about. We had a great day here weather-wise, still cold and the wind required serious layers but the sun was a welcomed sight after several days of rain.

After riding for about 40 minutes I came to an intersection and noticed a rider climbing the hill towards me. I crossed the road but wasn't sure if he was also heading in my direction. About 1 mile later I was having some shifter issues at the base of a 2.3km (about 1.6 mile) long climb. I wrestled with the shifter as the shim seemed to be stuck then proceeded to slowly climb the hill since my rhythm was wrecked. Then, in the corner of my eye I caught a glimps of a shadow that wasn't mine. Initially I thought it was some mountain biker that was trying to tag along but I didn't want to turn around to look. (Note: I think there is an unwritten rule that if you turn to look then it immediately turns into a race). I pressed on, not too hard but just enough to see if he/she would drop away.

A half mile passed and I could still see the shadow glued to my rear wheel. At this point I was a little pissed. I've never liked people who suck on my wheel especially if I don't know them. This never was really an issue back when I was fast because not many people would do training rides at my speeds (usually solo at 22mph with 3300 feet of climbing on the windy coast). Now that I'm out of shape I guess I have to get used to the fact that I might get someone on my wheel from time to time. It only happened once last year on a long climb and I got schooled!

At this point I was getting angry. Everyone knows that sitting on someone's wheel makes it easier and I was getting a little pissed that he wasn't doing any of the pacemaking ... AT LEAST ride up beside me and say "Hi" or "Dobre Den"... I mean, if you are so great, you ride up front! We rounded a 90 degree switchback, zig-zagging along the forested road as my heart rate continued to climb. Getting impatient, I thought "I am just going to turn around and say..'enjoying the ride back there?'" I decided against it since I don't think it would be very friendly and who knows if this guy speaks English anyway.

Finally with only 500 feet to the top he came around me and I got my first glimpse of the leech who had been sucking my wheel for the past mile of climbing... Sure enough, he was a poser of the worst kind... decked out head-to-toe in full "Team Discovery Channel" garb. I've never been a fan of wearing pro-team jerseys because it just looks like you are trying hard to be someone you're not. If you really want to be good, wear your own stuff or support you local bike shop with their jersey. "Alright Lance, go for it," I thought as he attacked out of the saddle. I didn't make any effort since I'm never one for "drag race" sprints on training rides (especially when I still had 43 miles to go and this is only my second ride of the season).

Watching for behind I did notice that he was pretty good though. I'm positive I would have been able to keep up or even drop him back when I was a Cat 1 climber... not the Cat 5 wash-up I am now.

Then I started thinking... "what a loser, he even had the Trek Madone carbon bike.. the shoes... the booties... the sunglasses. Why Discovery anyway? I would think people here in Europe might support a more local team, T-Mobile isn't far away, Italy isn't too far... what's the infatuation with Discovery or Lance Armstrong? I thought I expect it in the US but not here. "Geez, he is even wearing one of the team knit hats they were when training in the spring... this guy went all out. But can you even buy those hats? And isn't that the new 2007 jersey?"

"That isn't a poser WEARING Discovery Channel stuff... that's Pavel Padrnos, A DISCOVERY TEAM RIDER!!!"
Pavel Padrnos at the front... for once
I completely forgot that Pavel Padrnos lives in Czech Republic.. I originally thought he lived nowhere near me but I discovered that he lives in Ostopovice which I go by nearly every ride. Its a very small village (pop 1,400) that you certainly wouldn't expect to produce a rider who's been in the Tour de France 5 or 6 times and is a 2-time Olympian! He was on Armstrong's team to help him win 5 of his Tour de France titles.

Was it really him... hmmm, we may never know.

He took the a different road as I was headed to the big hills to do more climbing. Check out what you missed Pavel!
Pozor! Fun ahead!
So I guess you never know what you might see on your next "boring ride". But honestly, Pav, next time do some work on the front. Dik. :)

Further Reading:
ThePaceline: Pavel Padrnos - The Czech Republic's Pavel Padrnos is truly a giant among men in the sport of cycling. Standing 1.89m (6'3") and weighing 82kg (180 lbs) he towers above most of the other riders in the pro peloton... [more]

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