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I am not a flier and here is my passport

There is a brouhaha brewing over on Jarvis Island. Seems like in nearly every forum I go to catch up on the happenings with Zwift, I run into this discussion. It is something I’ve noticed, but just didn’t let it get in the way of my experience. The topic is the presence of “fliers”.

A flier is someone who flies around the virtual island at speeds at or above Tour de France winning levels. This can be frustrating for other users because 1) it is hard to ride along with someone that can go that fast, and 2) it takes a good deal of the fun going for the jersey competitions when someone is posting times well above what you can. So, people are looking for ways to minimize the impact of, or better yet eliminate, the fliers.

Check out this related post: EPO – Elevation Protected from Outdoors.

Fliers come in two varieties.

Ignorant. Now, I don’t mean that in a pejorative way. Point is they are just ignorant to the way the system works. Most of these folks are using non-power based trainer or rollers. They probably do not have the right pressure in their tires or have the resistance set improperly on their trainers. This causes an inaccurate reading by the Zwift engine that calculates their power. They are amped to see themselves beating everyone on the island ignorant to the fact that it is all a virtual lie.

Cheater. I’m not sure how many of these folks are out there. My guess is the vast majority of the fliers fall in the ignorant category. However, there could be those who enter incorrect data in order to gain an advantage. For instance, Zwift uses your weight to help determine your power to weight ratio. Basically, the heavier you are, the more power you must produce to go a particular speed. A lighter person is able to reach that same speed with less power.

Things get interesting because a heavier rider can typically produce more power (assuming the same fitness level between the heavier and lighter rider).  So, if the heavier rider lies and puts the weight of the lighter rider as his own, his power to weight ratio goes into pro levels. This becomes especially noticeable on climbs.

Well, it got me to thinking. What is my power to weight ratio? I also had to consider time. You see a rider can sometimes produce very high power to weight ratios, but there is a limit to amount of time he can hold it. So, producing 1000 watts of power is very doable for a number of seconds, but to hold it for several minutes is… well, I wish!

So, I am opening the files to go on record that if you see me on the island riding a bit faster than you, I’m not a cheater, and best I can tell I am not ignorant. Here is my “electronic passport”.

Power Curve

Power Curve

Above is my Power Curve for the last six months. This includes both riding on Zwift and in the real world. I do think that reading above 1600 is bogus and due to a misconfigured power meter. My best high end power numbers in a sprint tops off around 1500 watts. As I have ridden on Zwift — especially with the Kickr trainer — I have a hard time getting over 1200 watts.

As time goes by, the numbers get even more reliable. So, my five minute time is a reasonable 390 watts. You will see that start dropping dramatically to the 30 minute level and then the bottom drops out at a little over an hour when I’m spinning along at 200 watts.

Now, on a given day, my weight fluctuates between 172 and 174 lbs. Today I weighed in at 173 — or 78.5 kg. With these two numbers I am able to determine my power to weight ratio.  So, at five minutes my power to weight ratio would be 4.97. In a sprint — for about 10 seconds — you’ll see a number like 14.02 as my watts per kilogram. Here is how the above chart would convert:

Watts per Kilogram

Watts per Kilogram

This leads us to the factor of time. This is often shown as the number next to “Functional Threshold Power” (FTP). This is the power that you should be able to hold for an hour. However, because most people don’t just go out there and ride that hard for an hour, there are tests you can do that use shorter rides to give you your FTP. Really, this doesn’t necessarily measure your ability as a cyclist. It also doesn’t mean that your test numbers will translate into an hour effort. However, it is a good benchmark to use when setting up a training plan with power.

Strava's Estimated FTP

Strava’s Estimated FTP

Thing is, I haven’t taken one of these tests in over a year. Back when I was racing I got up to 315 watts for my FTP. Last year I barely tipped 300 watts. Since I don’t know what my test results would be now days (nor do I care that much), I just follow along with Strava’s estimated FTP. It tells me that I’m clocking in at 308 watts. Based on how I’m feeling, that seems about on target with past results. However, I doubt seriously I could hold that wattage for 60 minutes. I’m guessing it would be more around 265 to 275 watts.

What does all this mean? Well, I don’t know for sure. That gives me a watts per kilogram of 3.92.

When it comes to Zwift, it means that I can knock out an 8 second Green Jersey sprint consistently and sometimes squeak into the 7 second realm. I can climb the Col d’Zwift in 53 seconds almost every time and on a good day have broken the 50 second barrier. Recently I’ve been focusing on getting my lap times down and this week knocked out a PR of 7:10. Considering my real world abilities that seems to be pretty consistent with reality.

Here is the other thing to consider… after I get that 8 second sprint, you aren’t going to see me knock out the Col d’Zwift in 50 seconds. I can put out some good amounts of wattage for short periods of time, but then my match is burned. If I ever land the triple jersey (getting all three jersey’s on the island) it is because 1) I got each jersey on different laps, and 2) the stronger guys aren’t on the island.

Oh yeah, and because there were no fliers.

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Getting a kick out of the Wahoo Fitness Kickr

Friday was a frustrating day. Work did not go well at all. Last second changes to some event plans, some process failures that lead to some embarrassments, and then just normal stress of soon coming deadlines. About mid-afternoon, I saw a chance to get some work done and have a little fun in the process.

I headed home where I planned to watch some required software training tutorials (about 4 hours worth!) and ride my trainer while I was at it. If I was going to have to sit for a couple of hours, I figured I might as well sit on my trainer. I could work my legs even if I wasn’t necessarily working my mind.

Things got more frustrating as I kept getting phone calls from work dealing with the above issues, the tutorials were a bear to find in the online system, and Zwift released an update that for my machine contained a bug that forced the launcher into an infinite loop. So, my afternoon turned into a mixture of giving instructions over the phone, searching for online videos, and deleting files to reinstall my Zwift. Multitasking anyone?

So, finally, at 5 PM, I had gotten through several tutorials, Zwift was finally installed, and I told my assistant to go home because there was no progress to be made on our issues until Monday morning. After another tutorial, I tested the new Zwift update and headed up for dinner. It was about 8:30 PM before I finally made it back to the trainer to get the workout I had hoped to started around 2 PM.

With the way things were going, I was afraid that I would relive the issues of Thursday evening. I rode the trainer for about 2.5 hours. Everything was pretty good for the first hour, but then I started playing around with the Wahoo Fitness apps while spinning with Zwift. They led to the connection between my computer and the trainer to drop. I couldn’t get it reconnected and so rode the last hour plus in “dumb trainer” mode.

Now, finally on Friday evening I logged into my Zwift profile and started to spin. As you begin the initial straight there isn’t any elevation. So, I wasn’t sure if the Kickr was working or not. Then I approached the first kite marking the finish of the Green Jersey Sprint. This was the first kick up in grade and I could feel it!

The Kickr was working. You might ask, what does that mean? Well, the Kickr is a “smart trainer.” Not only does it measure your power as you produce it, but it also can receive signals from software applications that cause the trainer to adjust its resistance based on those signals.

Compare a lap between my CycleOps Fluid 2 trainer (a “dumb” one) using a Quarq crank mounted power meter with the Wahoo Fitness Kickr trainer (a “smart” one). Resistance on the CycleOps is relatively constant. The only way to increase the resistance is to shift to harder gears. In other words, it would be like riding on a flat road with a normal bicycle. So, when you ride on the virtual Zwift Island even the hills are “flat.” Zwift compensates by slowing your virtual speed on the island. If you want to climb in a respectable time, your brain has to see the drop in speed and tell your legs to ride faster to compensate.

Now, the Kickr changes all this. When you approach the climb, Zwift sends a signal to the Kickr indicating the change in grade. The Kickr can then use electromagnetic resistance to give the sensation of a topographical change. So if you ride with a constant cadence at 0% grade and then start a climb on Zwift, the Kickr will begin to build resistance to match the amount of grade you are experiencing. A 3% grade is going to engage a little lest resistance than a 15% grade.

A smart trainer like the Kickr is the missing element to a product like Zwift. It truly turns your experience into one as road-like as you can imagine. It allows you to immerse yourself in the experience in a way the dumb trainer does not allow.

I have not yet experimented with the many other software options that pair with the Kickr. I can certainly see the training benefit. For instance, if I am doing an interval workout on the trainer. With the dumb trainer I have to keep one eye on the watch and the other on my wattage display. Then I get lost in the myriad of rests, efforts, and repeats.

With the Kickr you can set up a training session that preprograms the Kickr to guide you through the repeats. The trainer holds the resistance pushing you to maintain the proper wattage. When it come to rest, the trainer releases to allow you to spin. It then engages once again when it is time to start your next interval repeat. You can focus on your effort and not keeping up with what interval you are on!

I hope to be back with more on the Kickr as I get used to it. However, I think the way I can best describe my experience and what I think of the trainer is this… that Friday evening after a frustrating day at work, I got off the trainer with a smile on my face. I rode for an hour and got my first ever triple jersey: Green Jersey Sprint, Polka Dot Jersey, and Orange Jersey.

triple

Ride on!

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EPO – Elevation Protected from Outdoors

Dopers! Dopers, the lot of you! EPO – Elevation Protected from Outdoors.

I stepped on a landmine yesterday. I got a notice that there was a comment posted to the Zwift Club discussion page on Strava. It brought up a point I had not considered before and which even when I read it did not take very seriously. Then the shrapnel started flying!

It would appear that the person commenting was not a Zwift user and was upset about people using Zwift using elevation data in Strava — specifically for climbing challenges. Here, I’ll let you read it for yourself.

Using this Club to add elevation is just wrong, you’re not out really riding and don’t tell me the trainer is just as hard as real climbing. I was just out in a blizzard climbing real hills with a real headwind. Trainers are an essential piece of training equipment, to use them to cheat on elevation is weak. Post your rides as what they are, trainer miles and nothing more. I use a trainer but have 0 miles posted. You are not riding a bike, your front wheel is not moving, spare me the BS roller riders as you never left your cozy house or wherever it is that makes you feel warm & fuzzy. Cheaters!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 11.07.13 AMFor fun I responded with the following line, “Dopers! Dopers, the lot of you! EPO – Elevation Protected from Outdoors.” I thought that would be the end of it, but is seems that lots of other people wanted to also make their own smart alec remarks. Then, as these things often do, it turned kind of nasty.

However, I’m not here to dwell on that. I actually began to wonder what really is the difference.

First, let me point out that folks using Zwift cannot simply mark the ride as a trainer ride. If they do that, it removes all the GPS data and basically destroys any record of what you did on Jarvis Island. So, that is not an option.

So, let’s turn our attention to “climbing” on Zwift’s Jarvis Island and riding uphill in the “real world.” Obviously, riding a trainer in your basement is not the same experience as riding out on the road. While it might not be like comparing apples to oranges, it can be more like comparing oranges to grapefruit. They look very similar, but are different. At the same time, eating an orange doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat a grapefruit.

I went out Tuesday and rode for 2.5 hours covering 33.5 miles and climbed 4,386 feet. Earlier in the month I had joined the Strava Climbing Challenge not because I thought I would accomplish it, but because I like to see how close I can get to meeting the goal. I was somewhat surprised when that ride put me over the bar and I earned my little virtual badge.

As it turns out, I made up the majority (though not all) of the remaining 9,052 feet on my trainer riding the virtual road and climbs of Jarvis Island. Wow, that is a lot! It took me by surprise.

So, how long did it take me to do that? In an attempt to find out, I went to my century ride completed earlier this month. I rode the trainer for 5 hours and 40 minutes. I covered 100 Zwift miles and climbed a total of 5,203 feet. This effort was accomplished on a dumb trainer.

Each lap on Jarvis Island is 155 feet when going counterclockwise and 157 feet when going clockwise. This means I would need to complete 59 laps to amass over 9000 feet on the trainer. Averaging 10 minutes a lap would mean I would need to ride nearly 10 hours on the trainer. To be honest, giving myself 10 minutes on average is kind of generous.

Compare that to repeats on Paris Mountain’s Altamont Road. Each repeat would net me 850 feet (to the towers). It would take me on average 18 minutes per climb up with 5 minutes down. So, basically 11 repeats would have me in the saddle for under 4 hours and 30 minutes.

I’m not here to pass judgement on which of those two options is the harder feat. Having done both, I can say it is a draw. Each has its own pain, but in different ways. If I had to make a choice of which I would prefer to use to gain the elevation, it would be Altamont. Mentally, that is definitely the easier option.

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Now, throw in the option to use the Wahoo Kickr with Zwift and the grapefruit starts looking and tasting a lot more like an orange! When using the dumb trainer to climb on Zwift, the only thing that really changes is the time it takes to “climb.” Yes, you could get your elevation by spinning along at 75 watts. However, it would take you absolutely forever!

With the Kickr you will come to a standstill if you try that. Why? Because just as the real road combined with gravity creates a greater resistance when you climb, the Kickr begins to build resistance into the trainer according to the “virtual” grade data sent to it from Zwift.

So, in this case, if you were to put a virtual Paris Mountain in Zwift, you would find that it would basically take the same wattage to overcome the resistance on the trainer as it would on the road. Granted, it could not be exact because of environmental differences. I’m convinced though that it would be close.

My conclusion? I probably will not join a Strava climbing challenge in the future if I know that the majority of my time will be spent on Zwift. At the same time, I am not going to sweat it out if I happen to join a challenge and have a few Zwift rides sprinkled among the efforts.

I love the road. A virtual world can never replace that. I love to climb. Caesars Head, Sassafras, Skyuka, Paris Mountain, and other grades in my beloved Upstate will always call me with a stronger voice than a virtual island. If there is one thing I don’t like about Zwift it is the fact that it does not have a Paris Mountain type climb on it.

At the same time, do not call trainer rides — especially those using technology such as Zwift and trainers such as the Wahoo Kickr — pansy rides. I’d even go so far as to say you cannot call it cheating. The effort is the same and the surrounding environment is not germane. If you are riding in a blizzard to get your elevation and someone else is climbing in South America, do the people in the lower hemisphere not get to count their feet?

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What a day and what a ride!

Some days you ride just to go fast. Some days you ride just to enjoy the beauty of the day.
The best days are when both just happen.

For the last several weeks I was planning for a weekend event. My team and I got right to it when our guest began to arrive on Friday. We worked late into Friday evening and then started all over again on Saturday morning. Then I enjoyed going to a nephews wedding, but that led to another late evening.

Sunday didn’t find me out on the roads. With Sunday services at my church and an afternoon visit with the in-laws, I was unable to get in the saddle until late that evening when I worked a little to calibrate my Wahoo Kickr trainer to work with Zwift.

Monday evening I once again had an evening obligation. Once again I was mounting up on the trainer for a late evening spin. Thanks to a new chain from Sunshine Cycle Shop my Kickr experience was the best yet. Still, I was getting very tired of my basement and was longing for the road.

windingroad

So, on Tuesday I took the afternoon off from work. While I typically will ride my bicycle from my home to my target destination, this day I loaded up my bicycle and headed to the intersection of Highway 178 and Highway 11. My goal was to ride up to the top of Sassafras Mountain and then on up to the Continental Divide just past the South Carolina/North Carolina border. From there it would be a relatively easy descent back to the truck.

Wow! It was awesome! The day was beautiful with temperatures in the upper 70s. While the wind picked up later in the ride, the breeze was welcome as I began the climb and for the most part the mountains and trees surrounded me sheltered me from strong gusts.

I will admit that I turned onto the road to begin my climb of Sassafras with some trepidation. This climb is a killer! 4.4 miles up an average of 8%. Notice I said average… As you climb up the 1,764 feet to the top, you hit stretches with grades up to 20%! My goal was not to get a PR… my goal was just to keep from getting off the bicycle.

Thankfully, my Felt F1 was up to the challenge. That 32 tooth sprocket in the back really came in handy on the first first wall I hit. I felt like I was just creeping along (probably because I was). However, I was able to keep the pedals spinning around and finally made it to the overlook without having once come to a standstill.

sassyfelt

Then it was time to have the joy of descending what I just suffered to ascend. It was so much fun to let the bike run. I only wish the ride down could have lasted as long as the ride up. Where I creeped up earlier, I hit the speed of 59 mph at one point.

Then with Sassafras out of the way, I headed up to my next objective: the Continental Divide. Had I more time I would have continued on to Rosman. However, the divide would be a good target and would allow me to get back to the truck in time.

It was at that stage that wattage, speed, and anything to record went out the window. I was just enjoying the sounds and scenes around me. Traffic was nearly non-existent and other than a single cyclist who I saw descending as I climbed, I basically had the road to myself.

greatdivide

I then took a break at the birdshot scared sign marking the point where water made the choice to flow to the Atlantic or the Mississippi. I was happy to think that like the water, I was going to have gravity give me a hand on my way back to the origin of my adventure. I let the brake loose and carved my way to the finish.

Frankly, I didn’t feel that great about the ride. Sassafras seemed like a complete failure. I knew I wasn’t putting out much wattage and that meant there was no way I could have been going quickly. My mind went to Strava and I recalled that the last time I descended 178 I was with another rider and that should have given me better times.

When I got home and uploaded the data, I titled the ride, “The ride on which I prove I am getting old!” I then looked at the dashboard to find 25 trophies. Granted, the vast majority of those were duplicate segments (a topic for another day), but there were a good number of PRs there… including my climb up Sassafras.

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Yes, I was slow compared to the dozens of riders ahead of me on the leaderboard, but I beat my previous PR (back in 2011) by three minutes. The same thing showed up on my descent off of 178. The little PR trophies sprinkled down the segment list. I guess I’m not feeling the effects of age quite as much as I thought.

At the time, I was trying to pick myself up by thinking, “Well, some times you just ride because of the beauty of the day.” My competitive nature replied, “Yeah, but some times you just ride to go fast!” It struck me then that the two are not mutually exclusive and there are those rare times when you can live out both of those objectives at the same time. The best days are when you start out targeting one of them and end up accomplishing both.

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Back to the island

Bronchitis done it is time to get back on the bicycle. I’m not sure what my next goal will be, but I know I need to get moving again. My body is well rested, but now I’ve got to start ramping up my fitness again.

I’m not sure what my next goal will be. I had originally planned to do the River Falls race in the Greenville Spring Training Series. It was originally slated to be held February 28. However, it was postponed due to weather and is moved to March 14.

That was exciting to hear at first because I wasn’t ready physically to race on the 28th. I started thinking about getting myself ready for the 14th. Then I looked at the calendar and my plans came crashing down. I have to work that morning.

So, I’ll just turn my focus to improving my fitness and then see what comes along for competition. At least I might be ready for the Tuesday Night World Championship rides. Of course, holding serve on the Saturday morning Sunshine Cycle Shop group rides is another objective. You don’t always have to pin a number on to enjoy a little competition!

That is definitely true of Zwift and my new friends on Jarvis Island. When I first started riding there, I would see less than 20 people using the online game with me. Now, I regularly see 100 or more. Eric Min, the man behind the system, says that he has seen over 300 though currently the software only shows around 100 to the participants.

Check out the “computer game” in the video I created during a ride this past Tuesday. By the way, some of the riders have started a Tuesday Night World Championship ride on the island. They all log in at 6 PM EST and then do a warmup lap. After that, it is just racin’ for the next eleven laps.

I can thank Zwift for what fitness I have and I’m pretty sure that when I get a chance to move it to the road, I’ll be better for it! Let me tell you, I enjoy Zwift and will even ride it on occasion during the good weather season, but I CANNOT wait for the time change and spring to come so I can put real rubber down on real asphalt!

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I was not dead. Just mostly dead.

Has it been seventeen days since my last post? In some ways it doesn’t seem that long ago and yet in other ways it seems like an eternity. Today I’m just dropping in to let you know I am still alive.

In those three weeks, I have been on the bicycle two times. Both of those times in the last three days. I can chalk up the hiatus to a nasty bout with bronchitis.

This is the first year in several where I have been hit this hard. There was a time back in the early 2000s when I got this gunk like clockwork every spring. It was actually the bicycle that I believe rescued me from that cycle.

The exercise on the bike brought me in my 40s the best health since college — maybe even high school. Sure I’ve had a cold here and there and even some bronchial issues, but nothing like this most recent attack. I was laid low for an entire week. The nagging and seemingly continual cough lingered through this weekend.

I do wonder if perhaps my January workouts affected me. I really went hard and my fatigue level was high. Yes, I was fit muscularly, but I was tired. It was right as I was considering a break that the mess hit me. Maybe some bug found me when I was weak and I’ve been paying for it for the last three weeks.

Anyway, I’m back! I was able to ride the trainer last night with only one attack of my cough. Seems I get it early in an effort and then once I begin to cool down. Once I am going I seem to breath the best.

I’m looking forward to spending some time on Zwift Island and then finding my way outdoors. Already I’m feeling an excitement about the coming time change. The days are growing longer and soon will be warmer. I can’t wait!

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No race for me today

I am typing this in a medicated stupor. it is either that or convulse with cough and cough. I feel like I’ve been through an abs crunching routine driven by a drill sergeant. My chest hurts, my diaphragm is sore, and my head is woozy.

I was hoping to get out to the Greenville Spring Training Series race today. I knew it would mean that I would have brave the cold temperatures, but I was excited that my morning had opened up and could race. Then Wednesday morning it hit.

It started as a little tickle in my chest. As the day went on, I found that the tickle was turning into an itching sensation and the coughing was starting to grow worse. I feared for my session I was supposed to teach at my church that night, but I was thankful that I made it through with only a couple of interruptions.

By the middle of that night though, all bets were off. My wife ended up moving to another room   because of my fits of coughing. And so it has been for the last two days.

I get some relief by breathing over a humidifier. I’ve never liked taking medicine much, but this time I went after it. I want to knock this thing out as soon as possible. I still have my sights set on my original plan of February 28’s River Falls race.

A side benefit of all this is that my time off the bike has resolved the pain in my calf muscles. My fatigue has also come more into line so that while my fitness had dropped a few points, my form is moving into the positive area. That should be good for when I am able to get back on the bike.

So, good luck to your brave souls heading out into the frigid temperatures to race. To my friends on Zwift Island keep the roads hot. Once I can beat this cold, I’ll be back!

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Sir Crampalot

A little help here, people. I’m having an issue for which I would like to find an answer before this weekend. Actually, not just an answer, but a mediating solution.

Last week I rushed home from work to join Nathan Guerra as he was completing a 5-hour epic trainer ride on Zwift. He was raising money for a program that uses bicycles and racing for youth. My plan was to help him along for his last hour.

Well, I did make it on the trainer in time to join him. He was coming around the island and I was spinning trying to get loose before he caught me. I knew once he did, I was going to have to ramp it up to stay with him, much less give him some pulls.

Unfortunately, he caught me a little too soon! I was not adequately warmed up. However, I did my best to not only stay with him, but give him some drafting help along the way.

I have to admit that I was very happy when he reached the end of his ride. I was feeling pretty rough. Soon after we said our goodbyes, I started to cramp in my calf muscles.

I limped around a bit the next day and then began to feel a bit better, but there was the underlying tightness that hung around. I tried to spin it out on the trainer by going easy. I felt some relief once my legs warmed up, but back in the office the next day the tightness had definitely returned.

Then in the race on Saturday, the cramp in my left calf hit me hard. It was in the exact spot — to the upper outside portion of my calf muscle — as the cramps from my ride with Nathan. On Sunday I could still feel the knot.

I have been rolling the affected spots. I have been trying to warm up more and stretch more after my rides. I have drank electrolytes and water. Still, as I sit here I can still feel that tightness.

I’d like to race again this Saturday morning. However, it is going to be a crit-like race and that means a lot of sprinting. If I can’t get this thing worked out, I’m not sure if I can make it through the 45 minutes or so of the event.

Suggestions? How can I keep this from happening? How can I get ready as much as possible for the Saturday? Help!

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Things are not always what they seem

One of my most embarrassing moments on a bicycle was at the conclusion of a race where I made a jerk of myself. This was compounded because I thought I knew something had happened and I responded to it. Turns out what I thought happened didn’t.

Life lesson learned. Don’t react to what you think happened. Act when you know the truth.

I was finishing the final lap of a race on the BMW test track course. Being a relatively new racer and trying to pick up as many points as I could, I sprinted for the line hoping to get inside the top twenty. In doing so, I zipped around a couple of riders who (older and wiser) were winding it down as they approached the line.

One of them was a teammate of mine. I know I frustrated him because I was a noob. I tended to do stupid things — not dangerous, but tactically infantile.

As I went past, I heard something a long the lines of “What the —- are you doing? You’re going to ——- hurt somebody!” Now, first of all. This was a true statement. I shouldn’t have altered my line to weave through the slower riders. Basically, the race was over. However, nobody likes to be cursed at.

Well, I got angry and assumed it was my teammate who had had words with me in the past — though not cursing. I went off on him and said some things in anger. I even posted a tweet expressing my anger.

Guess what? It wasn’t my teammate. It was the other guy. Actually, the more I’ve taken the time to understand my ex-teammate, I realize that isn’t anything he would do. Now, he might silently rip your legs off in the next race, but he wouldn’t act out like that.

I had to publicly apologize for my stupidity. I’ve grown to respect his racing knowledge and abilities even more as I’ve grown to understand the “rules of the peloton.” Now I’m glad I had the opportunity to race with him and am enjoying his son seeming to follow in his footsteps.

Now, that brings us to this weekend. Yesterday, I posted the race video on YouTube. Before I watched the video, I crafted my race report. I ended up having to change my post after I watched the video because something I thought happened, didn’t.

Toward the end of the last lap, Darrin Marhanka came around me. Almost immediately, Rodney Dender also came sailing past on his way to bridging over to the break. From my vantage point on the front, it appeared that Darrin had pulled Rodney up to the front to launch him and then move over to control the pace.

On the video, I realized that wasn’t the case. Darrin came up through the field alone until he got to his teammate, Chris Knetsche. You can see Darrin say something to Chris and then move up to come around me. You then watch Rodney attack from further back in the field.

Even seeing the video, I thought Darrin was coming to Chris to let him know Rodney was going to attack and they should settle in to hold back the pace. What I saw happen seemed to be consistent with that. However, even your eyes can lie.

What happened was Rodney had told Darrin that the break looked dangerous and that the team should work to bring them back. Marhanka had come forward to tell Chris that they needed to move to the front and help pull (which would have made me happy).

Darrin had no idea that Rodney was going to attack at that point. He was not coming around me to hold the pace for Rodney’s attack. He was coming around to start working. Of course, when he saw Rodney take the flyer, he eased off to allow his teammate to get the gap.

This is what makes racing a bike so interesting. It is so much more than pedaling as hard as you can. There are strategies and politics going on constantly. It is kind of like life!

However, just like in life, your assumptions can get you in trouble. Don’t act just on what you THINK happened. It is always good to OBSERVE what happened. Even better, it is a good idea to talk to people and find out what ACTUALLY happened.

It will help you understand tactics better. More importantly, it will help you avoid messing up relationships.

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Race Day – Part 2

It is done. I have returned to the peloton. Today I completed my first official cycling race in several years. I came to the line with trepidation and left with confidence that the field hasn’t passed me by. There is a little left in the old man after all.

I’ll just break this down lap-by-lap as best I can. If anyone reading this watched the race or was in it with me, I’m very interested to hear if your experience matched mine. I’m often amazed at how people can be in the same race and their accounts can vary.

Pre-race

My family was spread out all over the place. My wife and daughter were heading up to Charlotte for a wedding shower. My oldest son was already in Charlotte for a conference. I was left with my youngest son who I ended up taking to his cousins house before packing up the bike for the race.

Getting signed in and warmed up was uneventful. I was able to get in a full lap, some stretching, and a potty break before coming to the line. I’m thinking about 40 guys (and two gals). We all gathered by the start for about five minutes hearing announcements and waiting to get the command to go.

Lap 1

There really isn’t a lot to say here. The group started out at an okay pace. I settled in about mid-field and tried to stay out of the wind. It seemed everyone was pretty content to just get warmed up. Thankfully the pace was constant and there was no need to alter my line or brake.

Perimeter road was awesome! The majority of it is newly paved. It was a joy to ride. The temperature was also great. Starting off it was a little cool, but it was absolutely perfect racing temps by the end. The only environmental challenge was the wind which was a crosswind and headwind for most of the event.

As usual, the field started to spread out once we got over the railroad tracks. Then is was a high speed dip before the climb up the the start finish. The field was starting to string out and by the time we got through the start finish, a break had started to form.

Lap 2

I started the second lap on Rodney Dender’s wheel. The Trappe Door guys were out in force and later that would have a big effect on the race. As a matter for fact, it started to make a difference during this second lap.

Once Trappe Door established a mate in the break, they began controlling the field.  The primary break ultimately was Shane Martin, from Harrisburg, NC, Patrick Waddell, of West Jefferson, NC, Erik Peterson, of Greenville, SC, and Todd Mion, of Greenville, SC.

Seeing the gap growing and realizing there was no organization to chase, I decided to move to the front and actually began to make some headway in bringing them back. Most of this was in a crosswind the entire length of the railroad track stretch of the course.

Having done my work, I wanted to let someone else move in to help nail back the break. I flicked my elbow for the rider behind me to pull through. He didn’t come. So, I looked back to find Chris Knetsche of Trappe Door.

So much for that idea. He had no obligation to move to the front. That being the case, I continued to pull down into the dip and then back up the climb toward the finish. It was at this point, I saw a flash of black, red, yellow coming by me on the left. It was Darrin Marhanka who was setting up Rodney to launch and bridge over to the break. Darrin, seeing Rodney successfully get away, settled back in the field to get ready for later damage.

Pulling the field across the start line to begin the third lap.

Pulling the field across the start line to begin the third lap.

Lap 3

I continued to pull in hopes of motivating some response, but no one came. I knew if I kept this up I would not make it to the end. If this was the way the field would race, then I would race in kind. It was on the climb up by the golf course that I faded back into the field to live to fight another day.

The point is, I knew I was not in shape to bridge over to the break. If I managed it, I would be slobber knocked and they would spit me out. That wasn’t my objective. Getting racy is fun, but not at the expense of cracking and ending up finishing a tough windy course alone!

So, I settled into the top 10 to 15 of the field and tried to recover for a final effort near the end of the race. The field slowed which was frustrating, but it also worked to help me recover. It also put us in a position where we were neutralized as another classification group (a two-man break) caught and passed us.

Lap 4

This lap was pretty much a repeat of the third one. The break was still up there though by the end of this lap Rodney Dender replaced Todd Mion for Trappe Door. Marhanka and Knetsche continued to cover most everything else that moved.

I made no big efforts and settled in just trying to stay near the middle of the field — which by this time was beginning to shrink. There were a few times where I watched an acceleration in front of me and had to put out an effort to catch the wheel in front of me.

I got a shock when I glanced back once to find I was on the tail of the field! Out of the 41 starters there were now only about 25 of us in the break and “chasing” field. However, I was hanging on and actually starting to feel stronger.

The feeling became fools gold when I got in a pace line that formed about halfway through the lap. “Ah,” I thought to myself, “now we can get somewhere.” It was probably too late, but if people were willing to work, I would do my part. The line fell apart on 3M hill and I was feeling a little worse for wear. So, back into the field to recover.

Lap 5

By this lap, I had definitely burned at least two matches. Once again I was starting to dangle toward the back. Then before I knew it, I was back at the front heading into the golf course climb. I decided to soft pedal and fade toward the back to conserve some energy. I knew I would  get back closer to the front as we descended off the hill.

Unfortunately, it was right then that I lost the battery in my rear GoPro. The front GoPro would soon follow suit. I hate it that they did not last through the entire race.

The pace was still good during this lap. The biggest challenge was making sure you got in the right position for avoiding the wind which had begun to pick up as the day warmed. I think I did a decent job of it and once again started to feel good as we began the sixth and final lap.

Bell Lap

I felt I had been smart on the fifth lap. I didn’t do any pulling and for the most part had not needed to close any gaps that had formed. As I came into the final lap I was starting to feel racy again.

I had set three objectives for the race: 1) start, 2) race near the front, and 3) finish with the field. The first two were pretty much already accomplished. Barring an accident, I didn’t see me missing the third one either. My mind began to think that I might even get a better finished than I had imagined.

I settled down to conserve as much energy as possible. As I did I began to feel better and better about the finish. Sure, I wouldn’t take someone like Marhanka or Knetsche, but if I played my cards right I might land a top 10 out of the field sprint.

As we came off of golf course hill, one of the riders (who had been in the pace line and had attempted at least one flyer) started to taunt us for not coming to the front. I shared in his frustration that there hadn’t been a lot of racing, but I was not going to be his sacrificial lamb. In my mind I thought, “Where were you when I was trying close down the break?”

As we came over the railroad tracks, I settled in behind Knetsche. I figured he would be a good wheel to hold in the finish. I stayed there until we started down into the dip. Then I found myself coming up along the left side of the front of the field. A crazy thought came to my head.

What if I attacked early?  I knew at least four riders were in the break — maybe five. I didn’t think there were any chasers between them and us. If I could push the speed up enough to compensate for the bigger wattage guys, maybe I could hold on for a few places and land a top ten.

I was confident I could do it. I knew I was good for 600+ watts for 800 meters. The field sprint would begin in earnest about 400 meters out at the fire station. I would need to get a jump, a surprise, and then make people work to come around me.

I set my sights on a large tree on the right of the road. I knew this was within the 1K to go. I stayed in about 10th position until that point. I launched. I went up to 800 watts and was feeling pretty good! I was excited!

Then it happened. It was a dull ache at first. My left calf muscle was starting to cramp. Looking back, I can see my wattage dropping to around 600 watts. Then, right as we were starting to reach level ground with the finish right around a slight right turn my muscle seized. This was not one I was going to be able to spin through. It was like rolling along and then sticking a post down a hole. I was stopped cold. I could not turn my leg.

I yelled, “I’m out!”, raised my hand and moved as quickly as I could out of the way. I watched the field come around me. I was coasting. Finally, I took my left foot out of the pedal and used my right leg to propel me across the line.

Just like that I dropped from around fifth place to twenty-fourth.

Final Thoughts

10978549_10155190167705650_1129288318169213538_nI’m happy. I met my objectives — even with the problem at the finish I came across the line just off the wheel of the last rider in the field. Then when I went and looked at the rear facing video of my big pull on lap two I had to chuckle to myself. I really put a hurt on the field with that. Riders were strung out in a long line and I could see multiple gaps form. That was fun.

Yes, I finished twenty-fourth. Yes, the overall pace of the race worked in my favor. Yes, I’m sure I wasn’t as tactically astute as I could have been.

But you know what? I had fun. I can also bet you that people knew I was there. I was a participant and not merely field fodder.

It was a good day.