While not having been previously mentioned here on this blog, another interest of mine is our pet cats. Halloween has created a unique opportunity for my personal passions to intersect in a strange and interesting way. Bicycle racing being the nexus of things, the last time this alignment happened was when I got to work on the Giro d'Italia at Universal Sports. Job + bike racing = fun job. This time, a last minute costume idea inspired a race mantra that lead me to my third, first place result of the season. The strength of Edward, The Wisdom of Louis, and the agility of Gracie.
As I pulled away from the second place guy and cleared a nice gap off the front of the race, I felt my costume cat ears begin to blow back on my helmet and the costume tiger tail begin to bounce on my back. From a joke costume I began to pull inspiration from thoughts of our pets.
Edward. The Middle Child. A pure bread Main Coon with champion show lineage. He's brutishly large for a house cat by any standard. Zero fat with big bones, he tops the scales at over 20 lbs. Hulking paws and a powerful lope, Edward is STRENGTH,
Louis. The OG. 13 years old and full of love. He's cautious yet brave, graceful in his autumn. He's trustworthy and gentle. Like an old furry Yoda, Louis is WISDOM.
Gracie. The Street Cat. A rescue who filled the gap between the boys. Lightning fast and still very much a kitten, she's demanding and precise. Independent and nurturing there's not a remote height of the house she cannot access. Gracie is pure Agility.
Continuing what has been and amazing once in a life time season on the bike, I win yet again.
Here's a bit of what the weekend looked like in amazing full color video:
Pleased to discover that my hard work on the cross bike has paid off with some very nice state wide results. Even without the last week of wins, I'm currently ranked number 2 in the state of California. After this weekend I'm confident about moving up to number 1. I'm hoping to stay in Cat 4 for the State Championships in November. Having a State Championship Jersey has been a dream of mine since I started racing. Is this the year?
Besides having great riding weather year round, Southern California offers amateur bicycle racers lots of opportunities to compete. The cyclo-cross scene is no exception with two competing race series that allow for racing on Saturday and Sunday’s through out the fall. Saturday’s line-up was the SocalCross Prestige series and Sunday offered the Urban Cyclo-cross series. While I do my best to stay out of the local cycling club and race organizer politics, I have observed that there is a rivalry between the two local race series. Without knowing the details, this animosity was enough to bring Saturday’s race organizer to tears.
For those of you with a proclivity for instant gratification and prefer video over prose, we'll start this race report with a visual account of Sunday's racing action from the Urban Cyclo-cros series.
With two 1st place results in the Urban Cyclo-cross series cat 4, I'm now the points leader and am close to locking up the actual leaders jersey which they award at the end. Looks like another pair of yellow socks for this coming weekend.
It's also worth pointing out that I got 3rd in the in the mixed 3/4 field. That result has me in second place overall in the series for that more difficult category. Here are the full series results.
Back to Saturday here's the full prose account of my day in the Socal Cross Prestige series:
The first race of the day was the Category 4. The field of 30 or so guys sized each other up at the start line. Guy with hairy legs - not a threat. Dude carrying that inner tube of body fat stuffed under his jersey – not a contender, just don’t get stuck behind him on the first narrow stretch. Muscular looking 23 year old in the skin suit – hmm, he looks fast.
On the whistle we were off, sprinting from the gun to get good position on the pavement before the race turned into the park and on to the grass. I was about 5 wheels back from the front and began the work of picking off the guys ahead one by one. The #4 man lost control on a loose patch of dirt and got tangled up in the barrier tape. One down. Number 3 was starting to breath so heavily I could hear him puffing from behind. His head started to hang down a bit and he was starting to crack. I went around him and never saw him again. The next two guys were just a formality and I found myself at the front again. Familiar territory these days. I dialed back my effort from extra hard to regular hard and settled in to do this for another 30 minutes.
Three quarters through the first lap and I took a look back over my shoulder, hoping to assess the size of my lead. It wasn’t much. On my wheel was the super fit 23 year old and he didn’t look like he was in any pain at all. On the next open stretch I poured on the coals hoping to crack the kid. I took another look back. Still on my wheel, he said, “I’m not going anywhere.” It looked like we had a real race on.
Into the section of 180 degree hairpins on deep, loose dirt, I blew the corner nearly loosing the front wheel. To keep from toppling over I had to pill a foot out and tripod it through the turn. The fit kid handled the turn perfectly and came around me. Pissed at myself I passed him on the next straight patch and drilled it again. I had to shake this guy. Checking back again, and he was still there, “You’re not going to drop me,” he reminded me. We were coming to the completion of the first lap and bunny hopped off the grass back onto the pavement to the start finish line. If I couldn’t drop him, I was going to make him do some of the work. I sat up and took my foot off of the gas. This annoyed him, “So that’s how it’s going to be?” he said, then started a sprint for the grass. It took a 100% of what I had to stay with him, but he wasn’t going to drop me either.
With a stalemate established we had locked up 1st and 2nd place. We could see a guy behind us holding down 3rd, but that’s where he was going to stay. The fit kid let off a bit and we both settled into the “regular hard” pace. The third and fourth place guys were somewhere behind us, but we sensed that they weren’t going to be a factor. Fit kid and I weren’t going to get rid of each other so took turns pacing for the next few laps.
Each time we got to the 180 hairpins on the loose ground Fit kid seemed to get through faster than I did. On the penultimate lap he asked if I was a road rider. “I could tell,” observed. On the bell lap the pace picked up again. That tricky hairpin was coming up again and I knew I had to stay with him through it.
Into the 180 for the final time and he played his card. Coming by me on the inside and peddling through the difficult section he opened a gap. I blew the turn again, and was chasing. Evenly matched, he wasn’t getting any further away, but I wasn’t getting any closer. The gap stayed the same even as we opened up our sprints to the line. Fit kid took first and I happily settled for second. We’ll played, Fit kid.
The Next two races on Saturday ended with mechanicals. In the 35+ ¾ I was holding down the third place position and gaining on the second place guy. He had gone out hard, opening up a sizable lead on the first lap of the race. I thought for sure that him and the first place guy were gone. But before the lap was over he was showing signs of fatigue. The line across the back of his shoulders had begun to bow down toward his handlebars, and his once big gap was shrinking. I was beginning to think that I had second place locked up for a second time, when disaster struck.
My back tire developed a fast leak. I tried to ride through it for an other lap but was beginning to loose control in the turns. To keep the bike upright I had to back way off the gas. Guys were starting to come around me. Second place gave way to third, then fourth and so on. Like the escaping air in my Tufo tubular tire, so went my chances at a result. Finally the bike became unmanageable and I pulled off into the pit and threw a tantrum. In the tradition of Danish Tour champ Bjarn Reese, I picked up my bike and threw it onto the ground. Thankfully no one was running a camera on me. It was without doubt an embarrassing performance.
Here's a great clip of a father/son team on what I estimate was the medio fondo. This clip features great image of the 15% grade where people were reduced to walking their bikes. Little Liam, like myself -rode all the way up.
Things had gotten a little dark. I was 85 miles into the GranFondo, with 25 to go, and I was entering what my coach called the "pain cave." It's the place where you're mind begins to give in to physical suffering and negative thoughts become a feedback loop of self doubt and pain. After a fast, long stretch south on highway 1 from Jenner the ride got hard again as the tailwind gave way to yet another vicious vertical pitch. It was hard to tell if the hoards of people walking their bikes up Coleman Valley Road were an motivator or a curse. At least I wasn't walking the bike, although it did look easier. One woman wore flipflops as she pushed her bike up the grade. Even through the suffering I thought to look at her pedals to check if they were "flipflop" compatible. They weren't. She had SPD's, but had the foresight to bring walking sandals.
When the grade of a road gets above 10% your ability to ride uphill becomes a matter on pure physics. You can be the strongest motherfucker on the planet, but if that strength is attached to a large frame then gravity is you're nemesis. Without going too deeply into power-to-weight jargon, the math is very simple. A 100lb person has to generate half the work (or watts) as a 200 lb person to climb the same hill. No work-arounds, no tricks, just Newton and his brutal laws of physics working against those of us who are closer to the 200lb end of the scale.
So there I was with the inclinenometer reading 16% - pushing as hard as I could sustain on yet another vicious ascent. Dragging a black, block of concrete like a diagram from a high school physics text book, hoping that the next rise would be the last, I was rescued. Just as I had drifted into the deepest recess of the ride I heard a quite toothy whistle over my left shoulder. Two short encouraging notes that turned my attention off of the wall in front of me to the left. There floating past me in a turquoise, white and yellow kit was Levi Leipheimer, out of his saddle making a mockery of the incline.
At once I came out of the pain cave. "Hey, hey, hey!" I shouted at him and sparked back to life. My suffering made a small but critical transformation from senseless to meaningful. What had been a lonely adventure in pain, was now a mission. My lower back still ached and my legs and lungs were still filled with fire, but it was worth it now. I had the chance to ride with Levi and I was going to take it.
As luck would have it, the next rise was in fact the top of the climb. The aweful incline became rollers and I began to get my momentum back. An Italian 3 wheeled scooter, bristling with bicycle wheels pulled up next to me. The driver turned to me to complain about the wind. "It's hard enough on his scooter," he commented in a strong unidentifiable European accent, "I couldn't imagine it on a bicycle." He accelerated past me, then slowed a bit. A short invitation to hop on. I pushed a little harder to get into the slipstream of the scooter. The wind noise quieted and my legs began to turn a little easier. In the scooter's rear view mirror I met the eyes of the driver. He had done this before. A smile cracked his face and he began to pull me along. Increasing the speed incrementally. My heart rate came down and I was moving faster.
At the rest stop, I had a chance to chat with Levi. After asking for a picture with him, I told him that he had snapped me out of a dark place. "Day dreaming, were you?" he said, smiling.
"More like a Nightmare."I told him. But that was over. For the next 25 miles over some more familiar and less punishing terrain, I rode on Levi's wheel all the way to the finish in Santa Rosa.
At the finish I heard Todd Gogulski announcing on the stage. I'd seen him at the start of the ride, MCing the start, but he was clearly too busy to bother. Him and I worked together on the Giro d'Italia at Universal Sports. He was less busy in the post ride so I had a chance to catch up with. He asked me about my health an how my broken collarbone was healing. An amazing finish had just gotten better.
The next day in the hotel lobby, my wife Janine saw the local newspaper on the table. "I found you again," she said. And there I was on the front page of he Santa Rosa Press Democrat, rolling across the finish with Levi Leipheimer..