Monday, May 30, 2011

Bear Mountain descent and other thoughts

After talking about the Bear Mountain climb last week, I had the urge to go out there and take a video of it... well, the descent from the climb (since watching me huffing up the climb wouldn't be quite as interesting). The climb itself isn't really that difficult. It's a 4.5 mile climb at a little more than 4% with a fairly constant gradient so it's not hard to settle into a nice rhythm and just get up it without too much difficulty. The views are really great which is probably the reason why there are so many people who come up to the top of the mountain (mostly on cars, obviously). The only downside of the climb is that it's literally 45 miles from my apartment.... so to just go and practice climbing on that hill means that I have to ride a 100 miles round trip.

On another note, it looks like Contador won the Giro. I'm still not sure what to think about the whole clenbuterol thing. Without making a guess on whether he was doping or not, I personally think he should be handed a 1 year suspension because he is, under WADA guidelines, responsible for any level of clenbuterol in his blood. But that's just my opinion. Also filed under "my opinions" are the thoughts that he is still the most exciting and explosive climber out there and that his little pistolero hand gesture is still stupid.

The US National Road Race Championship is being held today at Greenville, SC (where George Hincapie lives). Some good names on the startlist so here are my thoughts:

  • George Hincapie will make a good showing of it but will be a marked man and won't be allowed to get free. Same holds true for Ben King after his long breakaway last year.
  • I really would want Ted King to do well, simply because he writes well and takes pictures of food.
  • Taylor Phinney will (unfortunately) not do well. The kid has had a tough week....
  • I think Tejay van Garderen will take the championship from a short breakaway. He looked really strong in the ToC last week.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Countdown continues

I received this in the mail the other day. It's a very nice packet of information sent to me from Custom Getaways (the group that I am using for my Etape trip). There's quite a lot of stuff in there, including pickup logistics, hotel planning, information about each of the major climbs that day, etc. As someone who generally enjoys planning trips, seeing a packet of information like this gets me very excited about the trip. Things are starting to become more concrete.

Of course, this also serves to scare me a little bit. As of today, there are 46 days left until the Etape and I'm still not 100% sure if I can finish the route. I've put in some decent mileage and climbing since the beginning of my training program back in February but I still have some lingering doubts. I think the main problem is that there are no climbs near NYC that come close to approximating some of the Alpine climbs. The longest local climb I know of is at Bear Mountain, which is only 4+% for 4.5 miles. Even doing repeats up Bear Mountain doesn't give me a sense of what Alpe d'Huez will be like. It's essentially a fear of the unknown.

Regardless of what happens though, I think it's going to be an awesome experience to go and ride the route along with thousands of other avid cyclists. I fully plan on drafting off of as many people as possible... I've even entertained the thought of using a bungee cord and tying myself to some of the stronger riders on the climbs. I'm sure they wouldn't mind. And I am excited about refueling with beer after the conclusion of the ride as the sun sets over the Alps.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bloomin' Metric - Ride Report (with video)

A damp beginning out of Norwalk
A few weeks ago, one of my friends (let's call him Teacher) suggested that we try riding the Bloomin' Metric. It was a ride that he had heard about for years and had always been interested in trying. Apparently many people had recommended the ride for its organization and beautiful route. Three of us (Teacher, Driver, and myself) did the ride this past Sunday and it was a really great experience.

(Just as an explanation for the names, Teacher is for the guy who taught me and my friends many of the rules and etiquette of cycling and Driver is for a friend who literally drives hours and hours to get to rides. He's driven as much as 10 hours in a single day to ride his bike.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

R.I.P. - Xavier Tondo

Xavier Tondo of the Movistar team was killed this morning in a freak accident at home in Granada while preparing for a training ride with his teammate Beñat Inxtausti. According to reports from the Spanish press, the garage door fell on him as he was leaving his home. A completely bizarre and tragic accident.

Tondo was a "late bloomer" who just recently began to make his name known at the highest levels of the sport. He turned professional in 2003 with the Paternina team but came into form and into the public eye during a breakout season in 2010 with the Cervelo TestTeam. He began to develop into a general classifications-type rider, coming in 6th at last year's Vuelta a España. He was then recruited by the Movistar team this year to be their team leader and won the Vuelta and Castilla y Leon this year.

One of this legacies is his anti-doping stance. He was widely praised for playing an important role in uncovering a doping ring in Girona. He did not want any publicity for his role and simply felt that he was doing what any good person should do.

Another loss for the cycling world.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Review -

"Athlete" home page
Over the past couple of years, I've used several types of "ride management" programs for the data that's recorded off my Garmin Edge 500. Several of the program are very training oriented, such as the excellent open-source program Golden Cheetah as well as (to a slightly lesser extent) Ascent for the Mac. I don't have much experience with any Windows programs because I'm a minion of Steve Jobs.

Aside from the standalone programs, there are several web-based training programs that are quite useful. Training Peaks is the first one that comes to mind and is one that I know several people use because it allows them to share their ride data quickly with their coaches.

Strava is a different kind of website though. Rather than focusing exclusively on training data, it takes the data from your ride and makes it "social". What does that mean?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Les Forçats de la Route

When I woke up this morning at 7am, it was 58 degrees and raining. Not ideal cycling weather. But I was anxious to get out on the road and get a medium-length ride in. Because of work and travel, I haven't been able to put in a 50+ mile ride in the past couple of weeks and today was the only day I had available until next weekend.

So I stared out the window as the rain came down. I watched the weather websites to figure out if there would be a break in the rain that would be long enough for me to get out for a ride. Instead, it started to rain harder. At 8am, it had turned into a torrential downpour. I started to get antsy but the weather radar showed that I might have a chance after 9am. At least by then, the heaviest of rain will have passed through.

At 9am, it was still raining. But by 9:15, it had turned into a light drizzle. I quickly changed into my cycling gear, hopped on my bike, and started rolling.

And then I realized... I had become one of Les Forçats de la Route.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Riding for the World Bicycle Relief

My apologies for not being able to post recently. Blogger decided to do some extended maintenance (AKA system failure) for the past few days so I haven't been able to write anything.

Some of my more recent readers may not know about this, but I will be raising money for the World Bicycle Relief while training and riding for the 2011 Etape. My initial entry about this idea is here.

I honestly think that this is a great way to combine a passion of mine (not falling off my bike) with a worthwhile philanthropic mission. The World Bicycle Relief has done some amazing work and right now is focused on providing bicycles to improve education. (Education is also an important part of my life, coming from a family of teachers and being heavily involved in education at work.)

If you are at all able, please consider donating to them. (It doesn't even have to be through me....)

The mission of World Bicycle Relief is to provide access to 
independence and livelihood through The Power of Bicycles.
It does this by:

  • Working with suppliers to improve bicycle design while ensuring all changes are culturally appropriate
  • Enhancing distribution with local sourcing, manufacturing or assembly as much as possible
  • Partnering with existing NGO, government and community-based organizations
  • Training field mechanics in maintenance and repair while strengthening the existing supply of spare parts
  • Measuring and evaluating the impact of bicycles and communicating the results to improve programs and increase awareness
As a side note, I am so excited that the Giro is headed into the mountains this weekend... especially up Mount Etna on Sunday. Should be a great spectacle!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tragedy at the Giro

Wouter Weylandt winning stage 3 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia.
It happens every few years. The sport that so many of us love takes one of us away. On today's Stage 3 of the Giro d'Italia, Wouter Weylandt suffered a terrible crash and died from massive injuries to his head. It is always shocking to hear about a young talent who is taken away before his career and potential are fully realized. It is a terrible, terrible tragedy and I cannot imagine the heartache and sorrow that his friends and family are suffering right now. It is even more tragic that his girlfriend is 5 months pregnant with their first child and he will never get to see his baby.

Go tell someone that you love them and give them a hug today. Life is too frail and fate too fickle to take any given day for granted.

Requiescat in pace, Wouter Weylandt.

Additional coverage:

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Welcome to the Grand Tours!

As of today, we leave the Spring Classics behind and welcome the beginning of the Grand Tour season. I know a lot of people prefer the classics but I've always been more a fan of the stage races. I'm not exactly sure what it is but I like the extended drama that they provide. Depending on the parcours, you have different protagonists in the peloton. It's like a cycling buffet... one day you have the sprinters, the next day the climbers, then the time-trialists, etc. Maybe it just has to do with my about-to-be-diagnosed ADHD.

The Giro d'Italia is an awesome race. Actually, both the Giro and the Vuelta are, in many ways, more exciting that the Tour de France. Maybe it's because the Tour monopolizes so much of the sports media. It's like the pretty sister that all the boys pay attention to. The (slightly) less popular sisters then work extra hard to get some attention. So the Giro and the Vuelta do some things that the Tour would never do... like that crazy mountain time trial up the Plan de Corones in last year's Giro.

In any case, I am excited that the Giro has started!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The problem of Greg Mortenson

Writing this entry saddens me.

A couple of weeks ago, "60 Minutes" aired an episode that brought up some significant questions about the authenticity of Greg Mortenson's book "Three Cups of Tea" as well the work that his charity, the Central Asia Institute, has done in Afghanistan. And as many of you know, one of the goals for riding in this year's Etape was to raise money for the CAI.

There are several issues that have been raised by the recent turn of events. Numerous sources have come forth to state that many of the stories included in Mortenson's books are either stretched or completely fictionalized. Furthermore, significant issues have been raised about his charity, the Central Asia Institute. There appears to be doubts about the claims that the charity has made about the numbers of schools it has built and actual impact it has had on the region. It has, in the 15 years of its existence, only provided 1 audited financial statement. And Mortenson has been accused of using the charity as his personal ATM, using funds to pay for his book tour (including a private jet) and other sundry expenses.

These are all disturbing accusations. After deliberating on this for the past couple of weeks, I've decided that I do not feel comfortable asking my readers and friends to send donations on my behalf to the Central Asia Institute. From this point on, I will only be collecting donations for the World Bicycle Relief. All donations that were previously designated for the CAI have already been forwarded to them but that page is now closed.

Unfortunately, things like this happen sometimes and it's disappointing. Though I don't doubt that Mortenson has done good in a part of the world that needs help, I cannot support a charity until I can be confident about its transparency and honesty.

In the meantime, please continue to support the World Bicycle Relief!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Five Boro Bike Tour - Quick Report

Coming off the Queensboro Bridge. Beautiful weather.
As I had mentioned yesterday, I rode through the five boroughs of New York on the Five Boro Bike Tour. Though I have fun on this ride every year, this year was particularly memorable because I had a chance to ride with my brother as well as the son of one of my cycling buddies. Sometimes, being on a bike isn't about going fast or climbing high... it's about sharing an experience with friends and family.

The ride, as always, starts from downtown Manhattan and winds its way through the canyons of Gotham until it reaches Central Park. In prior years, I'd make my way downtown to start at the "official" starting line but this year I decided to just catch the ride as it rode through Central Park. Doing this let me sleep about 2 hours later and avoid the crush of cyclists downtown.