Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mission Control at #USACrits Hyde Park Blast

I’m under a tent, under the Hyde Park Blast podium scaffolding in front of a bank of switches and red LCD clocks.  As an audio producer at a local radio station, I’m accustomed to banks of effects knobs and volume sliders.  Despite my alleged experience and University of Wisconsin degree in Buttonpushingology, I still feel like a caveman at Cape Canaveral mission control. 

The guy in charge of the lap timing at the Hyde Park Blast USA Crit Series Race stepped out for a soda, and asked me to man the controls.  His judgment has obviously been compromised by being inside this prison hot box all day.  Like every year at the Hyde Park Blast, It’s 90 degrees outside and 120 in the timing tent.  I remind myself, “Hit the red button when the leader comes through to reset the timer.  Hit the other red button as the pack rolls through.”  Race fans think the clock is run electronically with a bike sensor embedded in the start finish line.  Despite available technology, races are run by people at the root, in my case, a hot monkey in a tent with a 5 foot roof. 

The Timer Peers Between Podium Scaffolding Banners
Cowbells and cheers erupt.  I can see the rider from Patent It approach the start/finish line through the 3 inch slit in the tenting.  It’s like watching a pro bike race through a submarine periscope.  I hit the button, the lap clock starts.  Now 15 seconds later the pack storms down Erie Avenue into Hyde Park Square.  I hit the other button.  The split clock pauses at 00:15.04 while the lap clock continues.  “He’s got 15 seconds,” I hear someone shout.  Mission complete, and about one minute and 40 seconds till my next lap.

Solo Breakaway Burning A Big Match
Just behind the timing tent is the pit.  I’m holding a rear wheel in my right hand.  The rules seem a bit loose, especially to the guy in the Hawaiian shirt nearby as he watches a rider stop in the pit and get a butt-push out.  It doesn’t seem fair.  He taps on my shoulder and asks, “Why do they get to stop?  Why do they get to skip a lap?”  I explain. 

At the official’s discretion, riders suffering a mechanical problem are allowed a chance to get back into the race.  At the Hyde Park Blast, with a lot of riders a U-turn choke point, again at an official’s discretion, riders who got tailed off the pace early in the race due to a poor starting position are sometimes granted a second chance.  I get a nod and an eyebrow.  Stopping in the pit isn’t an advantage.  Riders refer to every hard effort as burning a match.  When you move up in the bunch, sprint or try to get away from the peloton, you burn a match.  Once the box is empty, the fire goes out.  You’re done. 

A rider with a flat rolls in.  The official nods.  As the rider lifts the rear of his bike, my mechanic friend undoes the quick release and removes the flat wheel.  I whip the fresh one into the bikes drop-outs, finesse the cassette into the chain and close the quick release skewer.  With a hand on the rider’s lower back, my buddy escorts him to the pit exit lane.  The pack rounds the corner.  The official nods and the rider gets a turbo boost push back into the race.  I turn to Hawaiian Shirt Guy and pick up the conversation. 

Remember that match burning, I ask.  The stress of getting a flat at 28mph is burning a match.  Coming into the pit and hoping you get a good wheel change is burning a match.  Getting your bike back up to 28 miles an hour is burning a match.  That guy is 3 short of a full box now.   10 laps later the same rider makes the slice of the throat gesture to the official and exits the course, all burnt up.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

#Strava Segment Creators Shitting Bricks

In a whirlwind of poop, riders across the world who have created Strava segments are shitting bricks.  In the slipstream of a lawsuit surrounding a segment in Berkeley California’s Tilden Park where a rider died allegedly trying to capture the Strava KOM virtual crown prize, riders who have ever created a Strava segment are replacing the chamois in their bike shorts with adult diapers.  They are remarkably super cushy.

A Velo News article states, “Two years ago, William “Kim” Flint lost his life descending a hill in Berkeley’s Tilden Park, braking suddenly to avoid a car and losing control of his bike.  According to his family, Flint was chasing a new fastest time on the popular cycling website Strava.”  People commenting on the story who only wish to be identified by made up names and silly looking avatars contend Flint’s family are a bunch of stupid heads for suing Strava.

The family and the lawyer should both be ashamed.

The state should take down all county line signs because they may cause bike riders to sprint and crash.

Cyclists who use Strava now fear it’s only a matter of time before lawyers figure out that segments are not created by mysterious evil genies.  No doubt, riders listed in the top 10 on leaderboards are also totally freaking out and feeling like total douches at the thought that their good fortune from a mother of a tailwind, a car-free day or the draft of fast group ride could goad others into riding beyond their physical and environmental limitations. 

The people who left the app running on their phone while traveling in their car and accidentally posting personal bests from San Francisco to San Diego haven't slept in two years and were last seen huddled together rocking in the fetal position under a tree.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cyclo Christmas Hand-Me-Down Style

He’s ridden over 4000 miles and doesn’t own a pair of bike shorts.  Up until Friday he’s been riding in long black thermal tights (see photo).  It was near 90 when I unloaded the cycling care package on my brother Friday afternoon on our visit to see family in Milwaukee.  He said it wasn’t too bad riding a Wisconsin summer in tights, “You get a nice sweat going, like a wrestler in training.”  I choked back my scoff at his naivety and Midwestern practicality.  He’s got kids.  Even with a solid corporate banking job, I suspect there’s some sort of crazy rationalization between spending $40 on bike shorts and his children eating dinner.

That's my brother.  That looks like a booger.
Riding in tights is probably one of the reasons my brother dropped the beer belly and is down to 150 pounds since he started riding last year, that and the fact that he’s oblivious to the weight of bike accessories.  Attached to his bike is a headlight and battery, a steel attachment for a kiddie trailer, a heavy duty rear rack and saddle bag that feels so heavy I unzip it to make sure it’s not hiding an Easter ham.  It’s not, but there’s enough tools in there rebuild Milwaukee’s Northern Suburbs should a tornado strike while riding.  I tell him we won’t need the lights for our ride.

4000+ Miles on Marin and Conti Race Kings
The wired bike computer on his Marin 29er crested over 4000 miles in the past 14 months.  He looks great, but being only my 2nd time seeing him since he took up cycling, I’m still not used to him looking as thin as me.  I can feel the brotherly competition between our mileage and weight brewing.  His Conti Race King tires are balding.  His jawline is as sharp as a granite cornerstone.  From his tightly cinched belt, he still hasn’t comes to grips that he can wear 32 inch jeans and Banana Republic size small fitted tee shirts.  Either that, or he thinks his kids will have to skip dinner if he buys a good looking $14 T-shirt that fits.  I figured 4000 miles of riding a 30 pound 29er in tights for more than a year proved a commitment to the sport worthy of some hand me downs from me, the older brother.

Ohio's Serpent Mound
I pulled out a plastic Kroger grocery bag and whumped it on my mother’s kitchen counter.  His eyes lit up.  “Bibs!  Bro!  No way!”  He had no idea the Cyclo-Christmas I was about to drop on him.  It wasn’t only bibs.  It was two complete matching dark blue BioWheels team kits: bibs, jersey and a new-old pair of gloves.  I explained the design wasn’t a sperm, but a depiction on Ohio’s famous Serpent Mound.  He read the sponsor logos on the jersey pockets.  I hadn’t worn the shorts in nearly 2 years.  The stitching was frayed on one pair and the padded chamois on the other had lost a bit of loft, but to him they were his new bike shorts. 

Me and my Teammate/Brother Mike
Then I pulled out the second bag, a third…and, a fourth.  As big as 52 tooth sprockets his eyes widened nearly eeking out a tear.  “Arm warmers!?”  He questioned.  I had to explain how they worked.  The chuckle was worth the price of all the free bike goodies right there.  Bag #2 featured 2 complete yellow and blue kits with arm warmers, matching socks and gloves.  Bag #3 featured an even earlier vintage in pretty good condition.  I started to feel guilty for having all this still useable cycling gear sit in my closet so long.  Bag #4 featured odds and ends like a yellow and green 8 year old Verge thermal vest, a lighter wind vest, a set of Pearl Izumi shoe covers with a slightly broken zipper and a pair of Smith sunglasses with 3 different interchangeable lenses.  He grabbed the blue kit and slipped into the bathroom.

“Yeah!!!”  The kitchen erupted in cheers from my wife, my mother and me.  He looked sharp, like one of the guys on the team albeit a bit hairier.  Now I found a tear tickling the corner of my eye.  I’ve been racing bikes since the mid 90’s, and for the first time I was about to paceline with my brother.  We threw our legs over our bikes and put in a solid 40 miles, my wife and I and our new teammate…Mike.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dear Doper Revisited

This Is The Real Me
Dear Doper,

I just want you to know that every time I watch a race I fake cheering for you.  My cowbell is battery operated.  My screams are a smart phone app.  My camera doesn't have a memory card.  You thought when you raced up that mountain that I was on the sidelines pouring my guts out for you.  Turns out I wear a football helmet with deer antlers and hang out on mountain passes all the time.  It was all a sham.  
Remember when you saw me running with my Belgian flag and stabbing my devil’s pitch fork into the sky?  You thought you witnessed my pure emotion, elation, joy, anger, and sympathy.  But, that wasn't true.  I save my woo-hoos and tears for things I truly care about.  
Did you really think that when I shouted at my big screen, spilled my Mountain Dew on the carpet, and scared the cats by jumping on the cushions that I was truly cheering for you?  I was totally bluffing when the attacks unfolded.  I can’t believe you fell for the old pound the sofa and hide my face behind my fingers trick.  
When cases of doping in cycling arise, I wish that was true.  However, every time I watch a race, I show my true feelings and emotions for the sport of cycling.  I cherish my autographs and photos.  I plan vacations around major races.  That's the true me.  Whether it’s bonking and losing 20 minutes to the leaders or kissing the podium girl on the cheek, I expect I’m seeing the true you. 
Joe Bellante
(Joe Note: This is the 3rd incarnation of this post.  When news of doping in the sport arise, I revisit it and question it's relevancy.  Since the first post in July of 2007, my feelings haven't changed.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

#Injinji Toe Socks & Freak Toes

Toe Socks Take Some Coaxing With Freak Toes
“Get the camera.  Quick!”  Close to tears, my wife and I were laughing like kids who secretly stuck a price tag on mom’s butt at the grocery store.  I was putting Injinji Lightweight Mini Crew toe socks on my crooked toe feet for the first time.  Lesson #1: as you can see in the picture, toe socks take a little work, more if genetics prevented your toes from growing perfectly parallel to your feet.  Putting on toe socks is not as American fast food quick as slipping on regular socks.  It’s more like putting on a dozen pair of socks, one on each foot, one on each toe.  While they slowed down my time getting out the door, they refreshingly kept my piggies from fighting each other in my Pearl Izumi Peak II running shoes.

Click Here To Visit Injinji.com
Scott at the PR firm that handles Injinji Performance Toe Socks had his reservations.  He intrigued me by writing, “We also just started working with Injinji socks.  While toe socks might not be top of mind for cycling, they may have some crossover benefits for cyclocross.”  I looked down at my freaky feet and raised an eyebrow.  This guy has no idea how weird my feet are.  But I thought, if toe socks keep ‘em separated, they could be perfect for cyclists with less than perfect piggies that rub and bite each other.  I can’t think of another sport that requires wearing the same shoes for 4, 5, 6 hours at a time.  So rather than risk the perils of new footwear on a century ride, I decided to test them with running shoes first, a 4-miler through the hills out Cincinnati’s Mt. Lookout neighborhood.  My Offspring hypothesis that “you gotta keep ‘em separated” was correct.

If you look at my feet, (go ahead, swallow back that puke and take a quick peek), my little toe and ring toe, the Cashews, like to hide behind their neighbors.  My index toe is ghastly skinny and hammer cocked to the outside like Amy Winehouse before rehab.  My big toe was obviously transplanted from Fred Flintstone’s foot.  While I thankfully inherited my mother’s drive for exercise and health, the trade off was my father’s bent toes.  So, when I looked at the toe sock, with its perfect little symmetrical toes, I shook my head thinking this is going to be as comical as trying to fit in my wife’s sweatshirt.  It took a minute or two, but I managed to work every toe into his little sock.    

My Freak Toes Almost Look Normal in Toe Socks
Sure wearing gloves on your feet feels weird at first, but after a block or two in the shoes I felt myself saying, “These feel pretty good.”  2 ½ miles in, I had forgotten I was wearing toe socks.  I realized my toes weren’t sweat sticking to their neighbors.  The nail of one toe couldn’t bite his brother.  Whether perceived or actual, my feet felt noticeably cooler, maybe akin to gloves being less warm than mittens.  The toe box of my shoes felt noticeably more soft and smooth as if there was less rubbing between the shoe and toes.  I’ll reserve cycling judgment for another time, but given my first experiment, I’ll likely choose the toe socks next time I go out for a summer run, hike or walk.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sunday, We Raced The Train

A handful of riders were polled.  What makes a good group road ride?  They answered: a steady pace, the “best” riders in town, a challenging route.  Obviously those 5 riders skewed the results by having Bath Salts in their water bottles.  I’d answer with road rarity, pleasant conversation, good friends, animal sightings, blue skies, temperature in the mid 70’s, low humidity, great views, and a small general store.  If you said average speed, few stops or anything having to do with physically riding the bike, you need to stop treating your bathroom as a pantry. 

Rolling To Visalia on Decoursey Pike in Kenton Co. KY
Looks like I missed a good one yesterday,” Mitch, the owner of BioWheels bike shop, said to me Monday night.  “Yeah.  Great route.  Nice pace.” I tossed back too quickly.  Before my Bath Salt brain could dig for specifics, the phone rang.  Mitch answered.  I finished the conversation in my head as I concentrated on wrapping my wife’s handlebars with new tape and getting the spacing just right, no visible logos.  I’m thinking maybe it was the chat at the Visalia convenience store’s picnic table that made the ride so special.  I’m not sure what it was about, but it was light hearted, definitely not politics or even a hint of negativity.  Then I remembered the turn off the beaten path up a road called Moffett in rural Kenton County Kentucky.  To date, there are only 4 people on the Moffett Strava Segment KOM list, all of them on Sunday’s ride.  The climb crested at a farm with two horses at the fence, one umbrella tree an infinite amount of green rolling hills.

In Cincinnati, people rave about the Hyde Park Kroger grocery store with an in-house Starbucks, Sushi chef and wine tasting bar.  While the price tag of the designer jeans and shades of Eastside shoppers may rival the carbon fashion show I see on the Wednesday night ride, the best cycling food stops have no aisles.  There’s nothing better than leaning your bike under a hand painted sign that reads “General Store” and hearing your cleats clop across boot-worn splintering hardwood floors.  You better bring cash.  They make change from a lock box.  If they do take credit cards, the scanner is the analog beep-booop-beee type.  Better yet, they don’t sell gas.  In our area I’m partial to the Claysville and Rabbit Hash General Stores.  It’s a well earned 2 hour ride to either.  Third on my list is the store we stopped at Sunday in Visalia where 536 crosses the Licking River.  While it’s not as historic, far away or nostalgic, it has a picnic table out front.  If you approach from the South, it comes as a nice highlight at the end of a two mile one lane road that parallels the railroad tracks called “Vises Trail.”  Sunday, we took the turn off under the bridge and raced the train as its whistle screamed loud enough to raise goose bumps on my legs.

Technically, it is a barn.
Even after living here for 12 years, a former cheesehead, Kentucky horse farms still hold a mystique for me.  The horse farm on Sunday’s ride was small compared to those outside of Lexington.  There you’ll see horses along the white roadside fence with gorgeous shiny brass bridals, some even with their name on them.  In the distance, the freshly painted wooden fencing leads to an exquisite barn that makes your suburban home look like a refrigerator box under an overpass.  Periodically, you’ll see horses with hoods over their heads, ghost horses.  At first glance it seems a little cruel their eyes are covered up.  Yesterday the horses didn’t have hoods and their whole heads were swarming with flies.  I learn something every time.  The two, one brown one black, were grazing under a tree near the top of the Moffett Road climb.  It was the only patch of shade in their corral.  I felt bad our presence made them shy away and saunter into the sun.  Still it was gorgeous.  We were on top of a ridgeline, horses in the foreground and a sea of soft green hills and valleys in every direction.

What were we talking about again?