Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halfway Point Round-Up

Some KING bling!
Well, half the schedule in the 2011 Chicago Cyclocross Cup season's been raced, and I'm still struggling along near the bottom of the standings, including a couple of ignominious last-place finishes (quickly tells self that "at least you finished, and did not quit.." Whatever it takes to lessen the bruises on the ego...) Not making excuses, just pointing out the facts.

Sloppy, but getting it done...
I had a bit of an epiphany earlier this week on my way to work. I don't recall if it was someone calling in to a show on NPR, or some talk radio show of a more conservative bent, but the call had to do with fair compensation in the marketplace, return on investment, etc., etc. I suddenly realized that if I'm not performing as I should be on the bike, then it is because I have not WORKED HARD ENOUGH in training, and frankly, I don't even deserve to be placing even in the 50th percentile given my slackerdom in training. Fair enough. Makes sense.

A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless... Let's call him "Iron Chef") has indicated that he actually *likes* the pain and suffering that training and racing necessarily entail. Ok, beyond Iron Chef's relationship to that drama, and whatever it means to him, his outlook makes perfect sense. In a nutshell, it goes like this: Whoever has the highest pain threshold wins. Assuming of course, that that pain threshold on the bike is accompanied by speed and skill and endurance, etc. I guess that I simply have not "embraced" suffering on the bike enough to outdistance my peers in any particular cycling discipline. And of all those two-wheeled permutations, cyclocross certainly seems to require racing-specific training the most.

Slog, slog, slog...
Well, I'm most certainly looking forward to the rest of the CX season, and all of the suffering and crazy moments that will accompany such folly. On that note, I'll leave you with an excerpt from an old article by coach Scott Saifer. I believe the original title of the piece was "Are You Crazy Enough?" It was published in ROAD magazine a few years ago:

BIKE RACERS ARE CRAZY! The voluntarily withdraw from a normal social life. The get up ridiculously early; fail to seek promotion at work; risk serious injury, paralysis and death; take fragile expensive equipment into situations where it is bound to be damaged; and drive long distances, all for the chance to win a handful of inner-tubes, or maybe a small amount of cash. Even when there is cash on the line, it is generally less than the cost of the equipment, and far less than a rider could earn doing something more productive in the time spent training and racing. The chance of winning for most riders is about equal to the chance of crashing. It is quite a bit smaller than the chance of going home uninjured or empty-handed. Bike racers go into situations knowing that they are going to experience intense pain and often are looking forward to it. They enjoy the thought that they are going to be surrounded by people in pain and that they will be increasing the pain. They believe that the outcomes of races are important enough to justify tremendous risks and the investment of all those resources of time and money. The only consistent benefit of bike racing is that riders have things to talk about with other racers, things that make non-racers roll their eyes and yawn after a few minutes. Are racers as a group sane, healthy, well-balanced people? I think not. Most often racers are at least a bit masochistic, sadistic, delusional, misfit, anti-social or socially desperate, and often all six. Perhaps craziest of all, most bike racers believe, against extensive experience to the contrary, that sooner or later they are going to win a race. Like people who play the lottery, racers believe that the tremendous value of the payout makes up for the improbability of it ever happening to them. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Beautiful Fly-overs and Flying Ears of Corn

Flying corn.
Brought to you by: Genetic engineering 
Aah, lovely DeKalb, Illinois!.. Birthplace of barbed wire and Cindy Crawford... and the 2nd stop on the Chicago Cyclocross Cup series (also home to that "Harvard of the Midwest," Northern Illinois University. GO HUSKIES! Disclaimer: While it just so happens that I enjoy fruitful employment at NIU, I was not paid one penny for my enthusiastic shout-out). No doubt, Cindy and barbed wire are perfect bookends to the sublime beauty and pain that is cyclocross racing at Hopkins Park. Add to that, the one or two "mooooo" cattle sounds I made as the herd of fellow racers moved into the first series of corners on the course. Hey, I heard a couple of people laugh, and it was all in good fun to lighten the mood a bit on the first lap.  

Where "House of Style" meets "House of Pain"
Even though I was happy with my performance on the bike today (was not dead-last and did not crash), there's much room for improvement. Indeed, my team-mate Jeff actually was lined up behind me at the start, then managed to pass me, and after pausing to lose his breakfast (allowing me to bridge the gap up to him), he then managed to pull away from me again! It seemed that even the ears of corn *without* wings were moving faster than me today. Meh, no worries. I know what I need to do.

Site of ritual sacrifice for a good harvest
One of the highlights of the DeKalb-Hopkins Park Course is the fly-over. Basically, stairs up one side, a flat section for re-mounting at the top, and a steep ramp to roll down the other side. A bit sketchy in mixed company, but lots of fun nonetheless. This year, the edge of the roll-down ramp was much smoother at the point where it met the ground (unlike last year, where the 'thunk!' actually caused my handlebars to twist in the stem-clamp!). And who of course, can forget MY meeting mother Earth after an unplanned collision with a brave video camera lady? But, I digress...

From a technical standpoint, I was really impressed with how low a tire pressure can be run on my Vittoria tubulars. At a couple of spots, where grass turned to pavement, I could feel the rim bottom out on the rear tire, and still, no puncture! This would be simply unthinkable with a clincher setup. I also noted that my humble FSA headset became slightly loose again (after a recent tightening). Hmm, might be time to shell out for some Chris King bike bling! And finally, technology aside, I was much impressed with the speed and ferocity with which my much fitter fellow racers left me in their wake... especially the top guys in the 40+ category. They actually lapped me with about 2 laps to go and well, you know that expression about being passed as though one were "standing still"... Yeah.

Post-race grimace
The uphill barriers, followed by slick, off-camber downhill hairpins are also always fun. Adding to the enjoyment was the race marshal with the bullhorn who managed to offer up the perfect balance of heckling and encouragement to dull the pain just enough. At one point, she even had the gumption to give me grief for spitting on the course! Awesome. Thanks to North Central Cyclery, Half Acre Cycling, and Robots Powered by Love for putting on a great race!