It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. We’ve had a lot of changes in our lives — some really good and some really bad. I’m going to focus on the good and to that end, I am modifying this blog site to include our Green, Dream, Long Beach House. Stay tuned for more and check out our page, Cleave & Nina’s Green, Dream, Long Beach House, to see how it’s going.
My favorite mid-week bicycle race, the El Dorado Park Twilight Race Series, has a new name, Park2Park Race Series, and some significant changes. Some of it falls into the category of “what’s old is new.” Starting from the top, I knew that the race organizers, BIKEable Communities, were going back to racing every Tuesday evening from March through August. (Full disclosure: I am on the Board of Directors for BIKEable Communities, a non-profit bicycle advocacy organization, but I am not involved with planning, promoting, or organizing the series.) Last year the races at El Dorado Park were every other Tuesday, March through June, and then every week in July and August with a somewhat contrived arrangement of having a separate points series. I am okay with what happened last year as the organizers were figuring things out after a somewhat hostile takeover of the series from the former promoter. (I was less happy about that.)
The first race of the series always starts earlier in the evening — really late afternoon — because Daylight Savings doesn’t kick in until the second Saturday of March. Despite the early start time, I was able to get to the race relatively early. It was a good thing because the lines(!) were long. They were long because of a pretty good turnout of racers and because of a big, new feature: timing chips! I won’t get into the details, but the last line was for the organizers to attached the timing chip to your fork with zip ties. Also, prices were on the high side for a mid-week race. With one-time fees for permanent numbers and a 2-year timing chip “lease,” I ended up shelling out $50. Subsequent weeks will be a maximum of $15 but I hope that price will go down for a club discount. Because of the lines, the 4:45p start time turned into 5:00p. A 1-hour race with sunset at 5:50p meant that the end of the race would be in less than ideal lighting as the park doesn’t have street lights.
The race breakdown was also back to “normal” with Pro/1/2/3, Masters 40+ (instead of 35+), and Category 4/5. I don’t have the official numbers, but the turnout looked almost as good as in the old days — a far cry from the recent paltry fields that were partly due to the less than amicable transition between promoters.
I had five teammates in the field though only one was in reasonable racing shape. I had been off my bike for eight days after doing a 3-day stage race and then coming down with a mild case of bronchitis. I figured that I’d be very conservative until I figured out how I felt. The other Long Beach club had at least 10 racers and two other clubs had about that many so my team was definitely at a disadvantage. Fortunately, it’s JUST a mid-week training race.
The race started reasonably but the pace soon picked up as there were regular attacks and chases. No one got away and the first and second primes didn’t cause any breaks or splits as can happen at times. I was drifting around from near the front of the pack to the back. The pack had its usual “I want to be near the front but not at the front” majority which made for a few close calls, but everyone stayed upright. After the second prime I felt pretty reasonable so after my teammate attacked and got reeled back into the fold, I counter-attacked. No one came with me so I settled into a pace just to see how I felt. I got caught and had no trouble getting back into the pack. So far, so good.
Just after we got the two-to-go sign, I tried another attack. Again, I got a gap but still no one else was interested. This time I worked a little harder to get back into the pack near the front and when we got the bell I was in a good position. Unfortunately, a lot of people who weren’t in a good position were trying to get into one. Also I watched three teammates almost take each other out. The lead teammate brake-checked the second for unknown reasons and a third teammate almost hit both of them. At that point with all of the argy-bargy going on for the glory of winning the first mid-week race of the year and the quickly fading light, I figured skin was the better part of valor and I slowly filtered to back and off the back. Fortunately, everyone stayed upright and I was happy to roll in after the pack.
The promoters have also added some time trials to the series so there is a lot of racing available between the two venues (El Dorado Park in Long Beach and the Great Park in Irvine). I may go back to my mantra of racing is the best training after doing a bit less racing last year.
IndustryWeek has many articles about lean but this week’s commentary, Lessons From the Road: Building Behaviors Bedrock of Lean Success, by James Flinchbaugh, provided good support for my hypothesis that changing behaviors and habits trumps using methods and tools. Mr. Flinchbaugh writes:
“I have never seen an organization fail because they didn’t have the right improvement tools. I have seen many organizations fail because they didn’t have the right behaviors.”
You can do hundreds of lean (and other continuous improvement) workshops but if your organization does not change its daily behaviors, you’ll keep doing big, expensive lean workshops. The key is to have people learn and see enough in a lean workshop to then start doing lean behaviors which become lean habits. Your organizational culture changes when these lean habits are the normal way to do business.
I have rarely seen this in person but when I’ve seen “everyday” employees naturally doing and saying lean things, I know that the organization’s culture will have a hard time backsliding to the good old days.
My bicycle racing training was great in December and the beginning of January. Then I got the flu and the bottom fell out. On February 2, 2014, I am still feeling some ill effects but I am optimistic about getting things back on track quickly. I have to get back on track quickly because my first race of 2014 is on February 9th, the Roger Millikan Memorial Criterium. Additionally, one of my target races of the year is the Valley of the Sun Stage Race in Phoenix, AZ, on February 21-23. The best laid plans…
Total races (USAC and Senior Games): 62
- Road races (road, circuit, criterium): 48
- Time trials (individual, team): 11
- Track (team pursuit, time trial): 3
Pasadena Senior Games: Won 3 out of 4 races (20 Km road race, 40 Km road race, 10 Km time trial) and 2nd in 5 Km time trial. The real highlight was winning the 20 Km road race in a breakaway with a Cat 1 50-54 guy and a Cat 4 55-59 guy. The race covered men age 50-64 with each 5-year increment scored separately. We lapped the field and I managed to hang on for the win the 55-59 age group (2nd overall). I was never in a break that lapped a field before. Granted, it wasn’t a stellar field but the effort by all of us was pretty high because at one point we thought the field was catching us. These were my only wins in 2014.
El Dorado Park Training Series: This year marked a big transition in our local mid-week race. For some reason, I couldn’t get into the groove to the point of getting dropped in a couple of races. Finally, towards the end of the season, I started a break that stuck. I didn’t do well in the sprint, but initiating the break and staying in it was a big improvement for me this season.
Los Angeles Velodrome Racing Association Time Trials: I finally had the chance to be on a team pursuit team. The first bicycle race that I ever saw on TV was the team pursuit at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. Watching that race was the tipping point moment for me getting involved in bicycle racing for the rest of my life. I had the great honor of being asked to be on a team pursuit team with some friends (husband and wife team from NorCal) and the same Cat 1 guy from the Pasadena Senior Games. I had a great time doing the team pursuit and it really completed the circle of my cycling life.
The past two years I’ve gone to the early season Valley of the Sun Stage Race in and around Phoenix, Arizona. Even though the race just enjoyed its 21st anniversary, I hadn’t participated until 2011 because it was too early in the season based on my past training regimen. Now that the Southern California racing season starts in January, I feel that my fitness is sufficient to try to compete in and enjoy the event.
In 2011, a teammate talked me into going with a third teammate and all of us raced in the Masters 40+ race. In 2012, I went with just one teammate and each of us were in different Masters age group races. This year, I was alone as everyone who initially expressed interest in going, subsequently found reasons to stay home. At the last-minute, I booked accommodations for a solo weekend.
On a sunny SoCal Thursday morning, I loaded up the Prius with my time trial and road racing bikes and had an uneventful drive until I got to Phoenix in the middle of rush hour traffic. The last 15 miles of my trip to get to Landis Cyclery was pure stop and go driving. Made it in time to pick up my race packet and then stopped at a local sandwich shop for dinner before heading to the decidedly economical motel room that I’d booked online.
It was a good thing that I was alone. The rooms at the “inn” were adequate but the clients were kind of scary. I was given a room just off the lobby on the first floor. Within minutes of bringing the last load of stuff into the room I heard screaming from down the hall. Also, I found that when I opened the door to my room, the sickening smell of cigarette smoke poured into the room. I went back to the front desk and the night manager happened to be there. He explained that people smoked outside the back door of the building and when they opened the back door, the smoke rushed into the building. Fortunately, he understood my problem and quickly relocated me to a second floor room that was quieter and smoke-free.
Stage 1: Landis Cyclery Trek Time Trial
Between the rush hour traffic and room changes the night before, I was late getting to sleep and that timing carried over to the morning. I got to the race venue a bit behind schedule so my warm up for the individual time trial was minimal. My second race and fourth outing on my new Specialized Shiv time trial bike was a bit disappointing. I felt like I was going better on the out leg of the out and back 14 mile course and I also felt like I was faster coming back. The reality was I turned in my slowest time ever on the course. Looking at my race data, my speed was more consistent on the out leg than in previous years, but I was slower overall to the turnaround point. My return leg was actually a bit faster than in previous years but not fast enough. I ended the day in 21st place out of 32 starters.
I spent the rest of the day recovering and doing a little equipment preparation for the next day’s road race. A small aside, my wife and I are fans of the Food Network show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. If you haven’t seen it, the eclectic host, Guy Fieri, travels around the country and spotlights restaurants that serve high quality and imaginative meals in very casual environs. I was able to get dinner at one of these restaurants and had a nice pasta meal in preparation for the road race.
Stage 2: Safeco Insurance, Parrish Agency Road Race
The venue for the 2.8 lap, 46 mile road race is quite a bit south of Phoenix and my race was one of the first of the day. I faced what has become a routine 0-dark-thirty departure. (Why do race organizers think older Masters like getting up before dawn?)
Got to the start area and it was already crowded with team vans, motor homes, and cars. Found a parking spot that was a good half mile from the start line and got ready. Fortunately, this course doesn’t require a lot of warm up with a short neutral start and a long run-in to the only climb on the course. This year I was determined to just sit in the field, save energy, and wait for the climb to sort things out. Unfortunately, I was one of the racers that got sorted out. Just short of the summit, I was off the back.
I ended up in a chase group with five other guys. Everyone was willing to work though some worked harder than others. As we were nearing the end on the long rolling and slightly downhill leg of the course I was shocked to see the peloton just ahead. We turned on to the false flat, headwind leg and started closing. As we got close we were caught behind a small caravan of cars. My chase companions were unsure of how to proceed. I went to the front of our group and started moving through the cars like a professional racer in Europe. Okay, maybe not quite like a pro, but I still got us back into the peloton. My chase group companions were happy and some of them thanked me.
We were a few miles from the climb and I tried to recover but the second trip up the hill was almost identical to the first – close but not quite. Once again I was chasing with what became a similarly-sized group with some of the same people. This time we stayed in offthebackistan. I stayed with the faster climbers in our group the last time up the hill, finished 22nd out of 28 finishers, and moved up one place to 20th in the general classification (GC). Bleah (or meh as the kids say these days).
Stage 3: Grand Canyon University Criterium
The final stage on Sunday was a criterium which typically provides little hope for moving up on general classification. This year we were on the same course as in 2011, near the state capitol building in Phoenix. I got to the race early(!) and had plenty of time to warm up for this short, 25 minute race. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten how the roads on the far end of the course were quite bumpy. I had a bit too much air pressure in my tires which made for some loss of traction through the bumpy corners.
We started and the pace was reasonably fast. Despite the somewhat tricky handling of my bike, I focused on one of the best criterium racers in the field. I planted myself on his rear wheel and fought off a few guys who also wanted his wheel. (Actually, I think I held my ground when one other guy tried to take the wheel away from me.) I was going to attack at least once just for the sake of it but before I knew it the bell rang for the final lap of our 25 minute race. My wheel suddenly accelerated and I couldn’t stay with him. He won the race. I finished 17th out of 24 finishers. Amazingly, I moved up to 17th on GC, just one place behind my 2012 result.
I stayed long enough to watch the finish of the Masters 45+ race. Saw one of my casual SoCal racing friends win and “jawed” with an Arizona friend before heading back to the motel. Showered, packed up, and had a relatively quick drive back to Southern California. Finis.
I wasn’t last in any race and objectively I did somewhat better than last year but, subjectively, I still had a pretty lackluster performance. I started running out of gas about 5 Km before the end of the 30 Km individual time trial (ITT). I ended up 26th out of 34 with a time of 46 minutes, 30.54 seconds for an average speed of 24 MPH. In the road race, I stayed in the field until about 15 Km from the finish. I worked with some people for a few miles and then at the top of the finishing climb I was in a group of four. I sprinted in for 56th out of 65 finishers. The criterium was last, and I lasted 8 laps (1 Km per lap) and rode 1 more lap before getting pulled and with a DNF. It was the first time this year that I got dropped in a 55+ criterium. Overall, I give myself a grade of D for my results and a C+ for effort.
Race 1: 30 Km Individual Time Trial, Wednesday
I pre-rode the course on Monday afternoon and was relieved to find that it was a fairly flat course with about 400 ft of climbing. On Tuesday I rode the last 34 miles of the road race course very easily so on Wednesday morning my legs felt reasonably fresh. On Tuesday afternoon I went to registration and had my TT bike checked to see if it met the dimensional requirements set forth by the UCI. My bike passed (unlike last year when it failed), so I had a peaceful Tuesday evening back at our hotel room.
Nina and I got to the race relatively early and I got in a proper warm-up on my trainer. I saw a few racing friends and acquaintances but I was in a fairly solitary state before the start. There wasn’t much wind which I thought would work in my favor as a smaller rider with less power. My goal was 45 minutes or less which would have been 40 KPH (or 24.8 MPH).
USA Cycling (USAC) based our start times on our calculated seeding. Somehow they had me seeded 17th and I would have been ecstatic to finish in my seeded spot. We had 30 seconds between riders and theoretically, everyone starting after me was faster. One of our local referees, John Allen, was the starter and he counted down, 5-4-3-2-1 and I was off. I tried to start relatively easy but I am not good at that and pretty quickly I could see the guy who started 30 seconds in front of me getting closer. It took me a few miles to actually catch and pass him but I did so well before the turnaround point. No one caught me before we turned around.
The turnaround was laid out kind of strangely with three pylons. I definitely slowed down a lot to make the turn and as I headed back towards the finish I could see that a lot of people weren’t too far behind.
A couple of miles after the turn around, someone passed me. I know he wasn’t the guy who started 30 seconds behind me so he had made up at least 1 minute to catch me. I was able to keep him reasonably close without getting so close that I broke the rules. (There were a lot of officials on motorcycles patrolling the course to make sure no one was drafting another rider.) He pulled away from me on the downhill sections and I caught up a bit on the uphill sections. I was doing reasonably well until around the 5 Km to go sign. Another rider passed me and over the next 4 Km two more riders passed for a total of four riders. I couldn’t keep up with any of them as I perished more than once in those last kilometers.
I felt like I left what little I had out on the road. My breathing was the limiting factor as my legs did not totally give out. I managed to beat both of the guys who start just before and just after me, but ultimately I didn’t hit my personal time target.
Race 2: 84 Km Road Race, Thursday
I pre-rode the last 34 miles of the 52 mile course on Tuesday morning. Nina dropped me off at the bottom of the first significant climb and I rode very easy to the finish. The climbing was not as hard as I expected but even at an easy pace I could feel the altitude — especially when I got above 5,000 ft. I was also a bit nervous about the very long and fast descent. Mostly because I wasn’t sure how some of the racers would handle it and because it was pretty cold in the morning with temperatures around 40°F for the start.
We got to the start a little later than planned because there were road construction delays. We knew they were doing road construction but we didn’t expect them to be working before 7:00 AM. We found out later that they were working 24/7 on the road. Still managed to get ready with enough time to roll around thanks to a lot of help from Nina. We also found out that the start was neutral for the first 3.5 miles, until we got past the construction zone and hit the major descent.
I ended up wearing a mid-weight base layer; a jersey with arm warmers; light, long-fingered gloves; and knickers. My defense against the cold wind on the descent was a layer of newspaper between the base layer and jersey. It ended up being almost perfect for the conditions. We got the starting gun a few minutes late and started rolling out of the parking lot of Mt. Bachelor behind a pace car and a motorcycle. There were two short and fast descents in the neutral start and I saw a couple of people locking up brakes and one guy getting speed wobbles. All of this before they cut us loose.
Fortunately, everyone was relatively well-behaved on the biggest descent. I saw another rider get speed wobbles but he got his bike back under control fairly quickly. I kept trying to inch my way closer to the front while maintaining safe gaps. Per my Garmin computer data, we averaged 29.9 MPH for the first 15 miles which included the neutral start. About 20 miles into the race we got to the first climb. Since I rode it on Tuesday, I knew that it wasn’t very steep but it was relatively long — 4.25 miles — and it did have a couple of short steeper pitches. I got over this hill with the pack and we dropped a few people. Unfortunately, a long descent followed the climb and I believe that most everyone who got dropped also got back into the pack on the descent.
With 24 miles to go we made the turn on to Cascade Lakes Scenic Highway. We climbed a total of 950 ft over the next 18 miles. A lot of it was false flats with some short steeper grades that were often followed by descents or flats. There were a few breakaway attempts but nothing stuck and nothing broke up the pack. As we approached Devils Lake there was one last pitch and the pace suddenly picked up. It was ultimately too much for me as at that altitude (5,000+ ft), I suddenly felt like I was breathing through a straw. After a bit, there were six of us riding together off the back. Unfortunately, only three of us were working: the guy who would win the criterium later in the week and a guy with a Plan7 kit. Another guy, Mr. Sierra Nevada was sitting at the back and never rotated to the front despite some of my efforts to get him to do so. Even with just three of us working, we got to within 200 meters of the pack by the bottom of the final climb (not that it would have done me much good to get back in).
I was at the front of our chasing group at the bottom of the climb and I tried setting a hard, but not outrageous, tempo. Very quickly, Mr. Sierra went flying past me and started to disappear in the distance. The to-be criterium champ sat on my wheel for a bit but he fell off. Slowly, I started picking off a few more racers. As I was getting near the top of the climb (and still about 3 Km from the finish) I caught back up to Mr. Sierra Nevada. He saw me approaching — or heard me gasping for air — looked back and tried to accelerate. He didn’t get very far and then he sat up. I got on his wheel and he said something like, “I’m dead and just trying to finish.”
I said, “So am I.”
He continued to ride very slowly and soon someone who I passed earlier caught us. Mr. Sierra Nevada had no trouble getting on this guy’s wheel. Soon after that the Plan7 guy from Texas also caught us. Mr. Sierra Nevada let him through and I was not getting off of Nevada’s wheel. As we were coming up to the line, I could see exactly what he was trying to do and I wasn’t going to let him have his way — at least not easily.
Normally I don’t sprint for 50-whatever place when I come in with a group of stragglers. I am typically very glad just to end the pain without creating a few more seconds of it. However, this guy had completely gotten on my nerves. Since I am not a sprinter I knew that if I was going to spoil his “fun” I’d have to surprise him (based on how he blew by me at the bottom of the hill). I could see we were approaching the finishing chute so I jumped him from 4th wheel with what was about 200 meters before the line. Unfortunately, just as we hit the chute he came back around me and I couldn’t get back by him before the line. C’est la vie. Hopefully he had to try hard to get past me.
Race 3: 40 Km Criterium
I really felt like I was building for a reasonable race on Saturday. I had decent sensations in my legs and despite running out of O2 during the road race, the criterium was only at about 3,000 feet of elevation. I had a good recovery ride on Friday with someone who I’d met through an online cycling forum. We checked out the course I also had a nice, healthy dinner with a bunch of other (really good) racers and I hoped that some of their winning karma would rub off on me.
I’ll mention at this point that I was not sleeping very well. I was having vivid dreams and awakening a few times each night. I guess I was anxious and based on how I slept, I was really anxious about the criterium.
A bit to the dismay of my wife, we got to the venue early and I had ample time to check out the course and warm up. Unfortunately, just as we got to the course there was a bad crash in the women’s race that was in progress at that time. They had to stop the race and bring an ambulance on to the course. Not good to see.
I fueled up, warmed up, and emptied and I felt ready. The official opened the course for warm up laps and I did one lap (the first time I was on the course) and when I got to the start most everyone was already on the line! To top it off, unknown to me and for the first time in any of the races, we had to sign in. A bunch of us left our bike at the line and trundled off to the sign in table which was, fortunately, close by.
So now I’m really at the back of the pack for the start.
The race started just as I thought it would — really hard! I was able to pass a few people but it became obvious that I’d be lucky to hang on. All I could see was a strung out line of racers and I was working too hard just to stay on a wheel. Finally the elastic snapped on my 8th lap. I rode one lap solo and the Chief Referee motioned me off the course after my 9th lap. I told my wife that I’d meet her on the outside of the last corner regardless of what happened. While waiting for her I started sneezing and my sinuses got clogged. This pretty much happened last year too but it was worse this year. It wasn’t really my normal allergies because my eyes didn’t start itching but the symptoms lasted the better part of two days!
After watching the end of the race I changed and packed up the car. Next stop was a pizza place on the course. I haven’t had pizza since late June as I was trying to eat better and lose some weight. We got a sidewalk table and we were watching the Masters 50-54 race when my friend from Massachusetts came by after finishing 13th in the 55-59 race. We had a good chat before he took off to head back east via Portland.
That was it. Another year at Master Road Nationals and another mediocre performance. It was still a lot of fun and a great vacation. However, next year I will stay away from Bend and try the Summer National Senior Games in Cleveland, OH or the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, UT.